“. . . the heart within them screamed for all-out war!
Like vultures robbed of their young,
the agony sends them frenzied,
soaring high from the nest, round and
round they wheel, they row their wings,
stroke upon churning thrashing stroke,
but all the labor, the bed of pain,
the young are lost forever.”
Agamemnon (by Aeschylus)
Seventy-three years ago today, this day, October 22, 1942, a man died. He was a 2nd Lieutenant in the USMC, 35 years old, and was ‘lost forever‘ to the world when he was killed in action somewhere in the South Pacific. Fogerty was a relatively early American victim of the Second World War’s mass carnage, and his remains were among the first interred in Pu’owaina, today known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu Hawaii.
In the late summer of 1992, I visited Hawaii and spent a couple of hours wandering the confines of Pu’owaina. “Pu’owaina” is a long extinct volcanic crater on the island of Oahu. When one looks outward from its makai rim, the field of view includes Diamond Head, the city of Honolulu, Pear Harbor, and the vast sprawl of the Pacific beyond. The opposite view (ma’uka) tends to focus not on the distant Ko’olau mountains, but instead on the floor of the crater and the thousands of foot-stone grave markers that lie embedded in the lush grass, just below the ascending white marble stairs and columns which define the aptly named Garden Of The Missing.
Overall, the entire of Pu’owaina.is a somber place, one where visitors speak in hushed voice as they listen to the messages which emanate — in silence — from the hallowed ground. What struck me the hardest during my silent wander through the first rows of foot-stones was a single detail on a single marker — and especially the irony implicit. A month or two later and safely back on the mainland, I still and often found myself reflecting upon that marker and the ironic detail that had first gathered my attention. And so it was that 23 years ago, on this date, I wrote the following . . .
JOHN FRANCIS, R.I.P
Reflection after fifty years
John Francis was a soldier.
2nd Lt., United States Marines.
B. February 17, 1907.
D. October 22, 1942.
So reads the foot-stone which lies in shadow of marble pillars,
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific,
The year John Francis died
Dawned in fateful aftermath of Date of Infamy
And saw the world engulfed in war.
Young men across the globe heeded call to arms
Not knowing of their fate
Though each and all feared the worst.
As private prayers pursed their lips
Battles raged In Europe, Asia, and across the Pacific –
And everywhere, young men fell into the dark abyss
Of deathly silence –
‘Last full measure of devotion’ now complete,
John Francis went to war in 1942 –
A Massachusetts Patriot
Descended of those who gave up all to leave their homeland
To seek a better life in a place far removed from what they knew –
A place removed from war.
And when the call to arms was issued
He was ready
To climb aboard a ship and sail
Toward battles already raging.
His duty, he knew, was to lead the fight –
To keep the flame of free men alive atop the pyre
Of human hope.
He didn’t know his fate, of course.
Such things are not written in advance for men to read.
John Francis fought the valiant fight until that fateful day –
October 22, 1942,
When then there came another call –
This time from his God.
John Francis died.
John Francis was interred with honors due
Beneath the Emerald grass of Hawaii
In a somber place – a place which makes the living beg
The question and ask their God or gods –
Fifty millions dead –
Perhaps we’ll never know.
I found myself staring at the foot-stone of John Francis.
It was in an early row of graves, close to the ascending stairs.
The marble columns and the Garden of the Missing
Gleamed above the grass of the cemetery.
I lingered there, humbled,
Recalling things, histories,
For on the day John Francis died
Another life began, a full half-world away –
There was a birth, you see –
And the newborn heard no gunshots as he took his first breath.
Nor was he able to wonder if John Francis had heard the noise –
The summons of his God –
Which claimed his last
John Francis shares a date with me –
His final day upon this earth
Was my first.
And after fifty years had passed I promised him –
As I stood in sunshine, free of war, alive
Upon his grave –
That I would ne’er forget
Those were my thoughts a near quarter century ago. Today, on the seventy-third anniversary of John Francis Fogerty’s untimely death, I still find myself wondering if there will ever come a time in human history when a child might be born on a day where no one will die — anywhere — in yet another war. I wonder also, has there ever been, across the entire span of human existence on this earth, a single day when a birth anywhere was not coincident with a wartime death?
Aeschylus’ Agamemnon spoke of the situation circa 480 B.C.E., and sadly those words still, to this day, perfectly describe the consequences of mankind’s greatest failure: his never-ending propensity to engage in yet one more war . . .
“Dear gods, set me free from all the pain,
from the watch I keep . . .
“I mustn’t sleep, no — . . .
“I sob for all that’s come to the house. So badly
managed now. Men die and things go down.
Oh for a blessed end to all our pain,
some godsend burning through the dark.”