Monday, May 29, 2006

Forgetting To Remember: The 2006 Memorial Day Concert

( Photo by Getty Images).

Flight Lieutenant Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill returns from Iraq after her second tour there. Press coverage of the war dead is not restricted as it is in the US. Note the presence of the military band. She is one of 113 British military killed thus far in Iraq.

British war-dead and veterans are honored on one day, Remembrance Sunday, in November. Various commemorative events occur around the day, but the day itself is always marked by a church service, a solemn procession to the Cenotaph where the Queen and other dignitaries lay wreaths, and the entire capital of London observes a minute of silence. A "missing man" formation flies overhead.

In Westminster Abbey there is a huge stained-glass window with panes for each of the US states in honor of all the Americans who fought and died in WWII. It is very moving to see.

Impressions of the 2006 Memorial Day Concert

Joe Montagna (an actor with no particular professional, political or personal connection to the U.S. armed forces that his personal website discloses) but who has hosted, at least in part, previous Memorial Day gigs, begins the proceedings by asking the audience to acknowledge the service of the troops still serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Who aren’t dead yet! Minute one and already the whole point of Memorial Day is starting to get lost.

Some internationally acclaimed mezzo soprano is then brought on stage and starts singing “oh-oh ay ah oo eeh ay e ahh eeee aye” and then I realize it’s supposed to be the “The Star Spangled Banner”—it’s history and joy and meaning beaten to death by her overactive epiglottis. Fortunately she sticks to the short version.

Joe introduces co-host and “star of CSI” Gary Sinise--no doubt a vital qualification for anyone presiding over the honoring of everyone killed in the service of the US since 1868.
Oh wait, Gary’s also a Republican. Or maybe he got invited for playing a destitute double-amputee vet in Forrest Gump? Now why didn’t they show the clip of him drunk, with hookers, or trying to kill himself?

Gary introduces General Colin Powell, recipient (he mentions) of 1 Bronze Star and 1 Purple Heart—just a little bit less than Kerry’s tally which was subject to not only mockery but an organized and lengthy smear campaign.

Powell then waxed lyrical with references to Lincoln—um haven’t we been hearing that a lot lately? (example:,2933,197197,00.html) and comforts the parents widows and children with ever helpful “blessed are those who mourn”.
After declaring that “Five-hundred recently returned troops are the spirit and strength of America” he went down to the front rows to shake hands with some camouflage-uniformed troops. Gary Sinise does some hugging.

I wonder why they weren’t in dress uniform for such an occasion?. Powell was, but then he’s an ex-general and an ex-Secretary of State with benefits.

Back to Gary Sinise, who introduces Leann Womack who sings her hit love song “I Hope You Dance” from her hit album “I Hope You Dance” released in 2000, pre-9-11 and three years prior to the Iraq invasion. Way to be relevant, Leann!

I can just imagine the spouse of a crippled soldier singing along to “I Hope You Dance”.!

Then it’s into “God Bless America” sung by the USAF’s Daniel Rodriguez, reprising last year’s performance. So far, so not-mentioning dead soldiers.

Just to mix things up we then get some WWII film footage of B-17’s and out come Charles Durning who is not only an actor (and IMHOP a fine one) but also has 1 Silver Star and 3 Purple hearts from serving in the USAF.

He recounts how when he was shot down over Germany, the locals intercepted him and beat the crap out of him before a Wehrmacht officer saved his ass (though some of his crew mates were indeed killed). It seems the locals were pissed off by the fire-bombing of Dresden. Starved in an SS-run prison camp he was again rescued from death when the Wehrmacht took over and disobeyed Hitler’s instructions that the prisoners all be shot.

Hmmm, regular soldiers treating POW’s humanely? No lesson to be learned there, I’m sure.

Then the US Army Herald Trumpets play a piece by Wendell. It sounds great! .

Then it’s on to “Big and Rich”, a country duo who sing a song inspired by a Vietnam vet’s personal story. Very pedestrian but at least it isn’t Darryl Worley singing his 9-11 song “Do You Remember” (which is actually very stirring). The major line is “so the eagle flies thru a clear blue sky, 1965, the 8th of November” and the another refrain “doing what he had to do”.

Yeah, that was a noble war and really well commanded too.

Back to Gary Sinise who quickly mentions that Vietnam vets didn’t get much of a welcome home, but never mind that, what about the National Guard, yeah? Not only are they 50% of the forces deployed in Iraq says Gary proudly (because Iraq is the 51st state) they also did a bang-up job during Katrina and Rita.

As a special treat John Schneider of “Dukes of Hazzard” fame bursts into a song about the National Guard “…proud to be the guard, protecting freedom…protecting dreams…”

Great singing voice, atrocious song. The he goes into a little monologue with accompanying footage scored with some pastoral music, wives hugging their soldier husbands, scenes of bits of Baghdad getting shot to bits but no-one getting killed.

At what point are we going to get to anything resembling a memorial? OMG here we go….

Gary Sinise takes on the role of an actual National Guardsman, one of the “Black Sheep” (2nd Battalion, 256th Infantry Brigade; Louisiana) and recounts an encounter with an IED that left 7 dead at Wadi Al Hussein.

This is what it’s about, the service people who died for a worthwhile cause. No mention of non existent WMDs or how the troops would be greeted with flowers and sweets of course.

Then Diane Wiest takes the role of Kurt Comeaux’s mother (one of the "Black Sheep") and as she chews the scenery we see a picture of the Sergeant’s flag-draped coffin. It so happens that the Louisiana National Guard specifically ignored Rumsfeld’s blanket ban on photographing or filming the returning coffins, and actually invited the media. No mention that the ban is still in effect.

But never mind that; bring on the soprano to mangle “The Lord’s Prayer”! How about just reciting the prayer for crying out loud?

Sinise then returns with a solemn face and says “We are united in remembrance of the 2700 dead, 18.000 wounded…” (as the lovely Air on a G-string plays softly in the background) “…there is no way we can repay their sacrifice, but we can honor them, As we search to find ways to support you…pitch in, look out for the children, and together we will honor their (memories?)…”

I don't think we've hit 2700 US dead yet, but as then Dep. Sec. Defense Wolfowitz couldn't get his figures right either, I guess we should cut an actor some slack.
Why does anyone have to “pitch in”? Shouldn’t these heroes and their families be taken care of from our taxes? Oh yeah that’s right, the administration has cut their benefits. It’s not the government’s job to honor the troops they sent to war, it’s my job to help them and their families out even though I didn’t want them to go there in the first place, and for good reason.

And so we come to “Taps” the heartbreaking mournful trumpet solo that signals the end of a soldier’s service with its poignant and solemn notes. Finally! A touch of class to the whole proceedings; the proper and respectful way to end the evening.

But wait! There’s more! The not-Tom Wopat is back on stage and launches into “The roooooaaaad is lo-ong… ……..he ain’t heavy, he’s my bru-thah…”—yet another Vietnam reference (though the song was not written with Vietnam in mind, it was adopted by US soldiers who got used to carrying their wounded buddies on their backs).

And now” says Schneider, “we would like to salute everyone who served or are serving…” and the band strikes up ‘bum-de bum de bum’ with all the rousing WWII theme songs for each branch of the armed forces. And not a moment too soon—we won that war!

Which brings us to JCS Admiral Giambistani ( the quiet one), and Gen Peter Pace who is "honored to represent" for the next 30 seconds “2. 4 million…” et cetera. But before he can say yet again how well things are going in Iraq, it’s time for another song!

When I wonder, will they open the phone lines so we can vote?

It’s the internationally awful mezzo soprano, again! What is it this time? Has this woman never heard of consonants? All I can hear is a high pitched re-arranging of vowels; “waw ohn, waw ohn, ooh eeh ahh…”.
Jump cut to Joe Montagna (where has he been all this time?);
In these hard times of war, let us pray that not one more person will have to walk alone.

That makes as much sense as the soprano’s singing, which is still going on and–OMG! It’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone! That’s Liverpool Football Club’s anthem and when you hear 70,000 fans at “The Kop” sing it, it makes you not want to smash things up or start a fight in the most powerful way. I’m getting the opposite feeling in this “performance” though. Won’t somebody stop the insanity?

Ah, here’s Gary Sinise asking everyone to sing “America the Beautiful” but before I get a chance, the credits roll and we’re…into commercial!

Notable absences? Bush, Bush Sr, Bob Dole, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, McCain, Murtha, Cleland, Kerry ...Maya Angelou, et cetera.
Notable presence? The ghost of Lawrence Whelk.

So what was this about again?

Honoring those who fought and died for great and noble causes such as the consolidation of their own country and destroying slavery? Honoring those who fought and died to defend enemy turned ally France from a manufactured conflict in WW I?

Honoring those who fought and died to prevent a truly wicked regime from over-running a multitude of democracies and helpless populations in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific in World War II ? Honoring those who fought and died in Korea and Vietnam, trusting their government that Communism was a larger threat to the US and the world than Nazism?

Honoring those who fought and died on behalf of Kuwait?

Honoring those who have fought and died in a war begun by the US and who continue to fight and die for political rhetoric rather than reason? And is there any mention of those who have died besides them? Like the translators?

How are these dedicated people honored?

Their taxes pay for a crap concert but not for their mental and physical health. Their surviving families have to rely on handouts and charity. No parades for them, just the skulking return of their bodies in the night and in the shadows.

The only celebration of their efforts a pre-packaged musical extravaganza paid out of their own pockets, and the pockets of those who implored them not to go to war.

Whatever their own understanding, whether convinced of the cause or skeptical, aware of the consequences or ignorant, they all served and they all died. Not just brothers and sisters in arms, but in duty. They all accepted a a heavy responsibility, and the nation owes them in kind. They all deserve better than a 10th-rate broadway show.