Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wesley Clark’s fun with guns

He’s selling it well. The former US Army general hosts a television show, classified as reality. Hardly. Real bullets, but strangely surreal. Action-packed missions that remind me of my days “playing army” in the back fields, junkyards, and urban landscapes of my West-End of Chester Pa. neighborhood. We used air rifles with dirt clump grenades. We watched episodes of Combat starring Vic Morrow. Rat Patrol. Our Fathers’ war.

This reality stuff is way cooler, but kids can’t play army outside anymore to practice squad tactics. Fun to watch this in your living room, though. Clark throws in a bit of patriotic heart into the meaty stew. Is this show giving honor to our women and men in uniform? Clark’s selling it. America appears to be buying it from the recent ratings. Clark makes the show serious.

Seriously. This show produced a few swirls of vomit in the back of my throat. I swallowed hard but couldn’t swallow Wes’ narration. Had to laugh when Mr. Palin got a little teary-eyed after his army play.

This bit of television entertains and surely sustains the romance of armed conflict, the thrill of victory, but cannot show the agony of a stomach wound, or a shrapnel sliced limb. The cardboard targets do not shoot back. Hollywood technicians rig the bombs for effect, careful not to deflect debris that could wound the stars.

The Gold Star Family members in America probably won’t watch Wes and his gang having fun with guns. Some veterans may be jealous of the veterans with lucrative contracts as technical advisors and trainers in this show. I cannot fathom seeing any of my Ranger Instructors, who trained Class 501-73, as ringmasters in this contemporary combat circus. Those sergeants were competent beyond measure. Clark would recognize their names. They served together in Viet Nam...Roy, Littlejohn, Burnell, Stuckey.............

But it doesn’t matter what the old folks think. Former soldiers may dream of past glories, tell stories, and try to remember names of comrades and places. Young people make the choices.

And this summer, in various training areas, soldiers train hard to earn their Ranger Tab. Gold Star Families take it a day at a time. Wounded warriors heal. New warriors deploy. Memories come at the oddest unannounced times. A fragrance, a sound, a flavor, a color evoke and provoke, dig on the soul. The temporal thrill of the hunt, the pre-mission jitters, the vomit swallows, all pale in comparison with the sweetness of home, the post-operation rest periods, the pre-op rehearsals, the reconnaissance, the arrival-home-embrace, the slow march to graveside and the slower walk as the years go on to those Vermont marble white blossoms. I remember walking with my son through Arlington Cemetery down a long lush grass row to visit the spot where his Uncle Dave, who wasn’t really his uncle but was because that’s what my son called him, rested and rests still.

I’m glad I watched an episode, just one, of Wes Clark’s American Grandstand. Are you buying it?

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