Friday, November 11, 2011
Veterans Day 1971 - 2011
Veterans Day is the day we honor our nation's military veterans, it also marks the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I, that formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
But on this day we honor those who have served, it is impossible to not honor those who served and didn't come home.
Truth be told ... the Grateful Dead never spent much time topping the charts. Most of their fans were too broke, too stoned and too poor to buy an album (now days known as a CD) but somehow the "Dead" got a lot of air time on "album rock" stations. If you were a "Dead Head" the concerts and tours were the real attraction ...
In the far reaches of my mind I can tell you about listening to Jerry Garcia and the "Dead"... Very young at the time I remember a second cousin of mine recording songs off the air from one of the few "Stereo" FM stations around. He actually got the station to give him each day's play list in advance, and he would record selected songs on his big brother's reel to reel tape recorder.
Once a week or whenever the reel was full of recorded songs, my aunt would ship it off to a Navy FOB address. This would take the reel to some place called "An Loc" that was near Saigon, were as best I could tell they had another reel-to-reel player that worked just fine in a place called VIETNAM.
I pictured a souped up amplifier, a mess of wires, a tape player and speakers big and loud that would pump music throughout some rain soaked camp like in the MASH TV show. From some letters sent home I figured marines played cards, smoked Marboro cigarettes and drink Budweiser by the case.
I still remember the photo of him, the older cousin I had never met, Marine Dress Blues, the American Flag, and the 2 stripes, on the wall of a farmhouse in rural Illinois. The screen porch, dog house sized well house and farmland that stretched for miles in all directions.
Out there about 80 miles east of St. Louis the sounds of the "Dead", Stephen wolf, and Grand Funk Railroad, Iron Butterfly and even some Motown would echo across the corn fields. Late in the evening the music would compete with the crickets and the dampness of the darkened countryside.
My cousin, maybe two or three years older than I, took to this task with a purpose and dedication that surprised me. At the appointed time he would run to his brother's room with myself trailing close behind, flip the switch to "RECORD" and we'd listen to "I'm Your Captain" or Hendrix "All Along the Watchtower" while the needles jumped in time to the music. Waiting for the song to finish, he would carefully "fad" the input level to zero, stopping the process just in time to avoid any commercial interruptions.
All that summer, the ritual of recording would continue at the appointed time my cousin would sprint to his brother's bedroom. Anytime my grandmother and I would visit, I would "tag" along with my cousin recording and listening, all the while wondering what it must be like to be in Vietnam. That summer I was fascinated by the reel to reel recorder, the war and the music.
But the summer humidity soon gave way to the crisp cool air of fall in the heartland of America. Then one afternoon a blue sedan with yellow stenciled letters that spelled out "US NAVY" on each door kicked up dust on the gravel road that lead to the farm house. As the dust cleared, the two marine officers entered the small farm house, removed their hats and the recording stopped.
I never asked why and they must have thought I was to young to be told. But I understood that the war that was so far away had come to rural America and my cousin would never come home.
To all who served, those who serve today, to those who gave their lives and to all their families, Thank You!
Cedar Posts Footnote: The Realistic Reel to Reel recorder in the photo above has been mine now for a number of years. I've never played the tape, in part because I don't need to, I know what is on it. Funny how we hold on to things for the strangest reasons.