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Thursday, August 25, 2005
I think we've seen this movie before
To start with, here is the Bush Vacation Death count : 75
The single worst day during the Bush holiday at Rancho Boraccho was Aug. 3 when 18 American soldiers died in action. A great many of those who died on that day were from Ohio:
Lance Cpl. Michael J. Cifuentes, 25, of Fairfield, Ohio
Lance Cpl. Aaron H. Reed, 21, of Chillicothe, Ohio
Lance Cpl. Edward A. Schroeder II, 23, of Columbus, Ohio
Lance Cpl. William B. Wightman, 22, of Sabina, Ohio
Lance Cpl. Timothy M. Bell Jr., 22, of West Chesterfield, Ohio
Lance Cpl. Eric J. Bernholtz, 23, of Grove City, Ohio
Sgt. Bradley J. Harper, 25, of Dresden, Ohio
Sgt. Justin F. Hoffman, 27, of Delaware, Ohio
Cpl. David Kenneth J. Kreuter, 26, of Cincinnati, Ohio
At the time this reminded me of something I had read some time ago.
Today I found it.
Originally published in the July 1969 edition of Ramparts, it's an article written by Jeffrey Blankfort entitled: Our Town: The War Comes Home To Beallsville, Ohio.
Here are some are some chillingly familiar excerpts:
I went to Beallsville a little more than a month after the town had buried its fifth son, Naval Corpsman Robert Lucas, in a plot of ground overlooking the high school where he and four other boys had been schoolmates. Three of them now lie with him in the same graveyard and another is buried a few miles away.
Beallsville, on the fringes of Appalachia, is a sleepy southeastern Ohio town, made up of a general store, churches, a post office, farms, frame houses and a cemetery. Intersected by three state highways, it is located 12 miles up a winding road from the Ohio River. The road is State Highway 556, but in Beallsville it is known as Rural Route3.
Viet-Nam has taken a toll from Beallsville that is 75 times the national average. ("They won't be getting many more of our boys," said Mayor Gramlich. "They drafted the last one of draft age this month.") The war has come home to Beallsville with unique severity, and America's confusions and contradictions about it are sharpened there: the acute conciousness of the waste, against the ingrained heartland patriotism; deep resentment over the lost sons, against the need to be proud of their sacrifice.
I talked to the parents about their sons and the war.
The Pittmans live in a two-story, many-gabled frame house on a farm six miles up the road from the Beallsville Corporation limits. With no one but themselves now, they use only the first floor. Mr. Pittman works at the Ormet Aluminum plant in Hannibal. In the fall they can peaches from their orchard.
Mrs. Maegene Pittman - whose son Jack was drafted at nineteen, was sent to the infantry, and became the town's first casualty - expressed it this way: "They just took him and that was it. We never knew there was a Viet-Nam or anything until he had to go. And to think in eight months we had him back and buried."
Hurt and bitter at the loss of their only child, Mrs. Pittman and her husband Earl, refused a military funeral. "Jack would have wanted it that way," she said. "He didn't understand the Viet-Nam thing any more than we do. We were bitter. We didn't want no part of a military funeral. I just think we have no business over there. If they were attacking our country, that's different."
Her husband saw things differently: "They're fighting over there with their hands tied behind them is the way I look at it. I always thought they ought to declare war and do it right if they're going to be over there."
"Why do you think we are there?" I asked.
He smiled. "Politics."
And you Mrs. Pittman?
She looked over at her husband and then back to me. "It's a political war."
As I talked with the Pittmans, I sat beneath a case containing a photograph of their son, and the trophies he had won at Beallsville High where he had been captain of the football and baseball teams. Before he was drafted, his mother said, he had taken "a little team of eight graders under his wing to teach them basketball. He was a good Christian boy."
"Being our only son, we just gave everything we had to our country. We've got each other," said Mrs. Pittman, exchanging glances with her husband. "But when you get our age you look for your grandchildren, your family to multiply. Now both of us is left with, we might as well say, no future. When you lose your only child, you don't have any future."
Duane Greenlee joined the Marines in January, 1966, at the age of eighteen. He was sent to Viet-Nam that July and served 44 days before he was killed.
Shortly after Duanes's death, his parents separated. His father, Duane Sr. moved to Bellaire, Ohio, a few miles from Wheeling, while his mother, three brothers, and four sisters relocated in Clarington, 12 miles from Beallsville.
I talked with Mrs. Greenlee over her morning cup of coffee.
"It don't seem like Duanes's gone yet. It's really hard. It hits me at times and it's pretty hard to take. I know what all the other mothers feel like. I wanted to go to each one of their funerals but I just couldn't. I just stayed away and thought about it as though they were my own boys. It's hard to talk about it."
"I knew all of the boys but Jack. The others had all been to my house with Duane at different times.
"I'm certainly proud of my boy. All his life he wanted to be a Marine. When he got home on furlough before he went over, we asked him if he was scared. He said he wasn't scared but he'd rather go there and fight for mom and dad and his brothers and sisters than have them come over here and fight.
"I have a son thirteen coming up and he can't wait to get in the Marines. He's going to. They're all real proud of their brother."
Do you know, or did Duane know, why he was over there?
"Duane really wanted to go and help out but he said he said he didn't know what he was going over there for. He wrote home in letters he didn't know what he was fighting for. He didn't see any sense in it and I don't see where we've gained anything at all by any of them being over there. I just wish it was all over.
"I believe if I had been President" she said, and dropped her voice, "I would have done like Hiroshima."
"Our kid, he done most of the farming," Mr. Ernest Schnegg recalled. "I was doing construction work down at the Norton mine. Charles worked three days a week at Timken Roller Bearings in Cincinnati and when he was off he came home and took care of things."
Ernest and Esther Schnegg now live and work in Barnesville, 19 miles south of Beallsville. Their farm in Beallsville, on which they raised eight children, can no longer support them. Mr. Schnegg works seven days a week at a greenhouse and Mrs. Schnegg is a nurse's aide at Barnesville Hospital.
Charles, their oldest son, was drafted on December 5, 1966, and one day short of a year later was killed, serving with the infantry in Viet-Nam.
Their oldest daughter, Shirley, seventeen, and Roger, now their oldest son at sixteen, live on the farm and attend Beallsville High School.
Mr. Schnegg was tired. He had been working hard all day and his pants were rolled up and his feet were bare.
"I was counting on Charles to work on the farm. He was a farmer. Charles was all I had. The government took him and didn't give anything in return."
To read the whole thing you can find it in the excellent Library of America Reporting Vietnam - Part One: American Journalism 1959-1969.