Remembering the Quiet, Unsung Heroes

W.J. Astore

Six years ago, I posted this article for Memorial Day 2011.

This Memorial Day, let’s remember and learn from our heroes who are gone from us. For me, my heroes are my parents, both of whom grew up in single-parent families during the Great Depression. Let’s start with my Mom. Our concept of “hero” today often works against moms; our culture tends to glorify our troops and other people of action: police, firefighters, and other risk-takers who help others. But to me my Mom was a hero. As a young woman, she worked long hours in a factory to help support her mother. She married at twenty-seven and quickly had four children in five years (I came along a few years later, the beneficiary of the “rhythm method” of Catholic birth control). As a full-time homemaker, she raised five children in a working-class neighborhood while struggling with intense family issues (an older son, my brother, struggled with schizophrenia, a mental disease little understood in the early 1970s).

honeymoon
My parents on their honeymoon

Despite these burdens and more, my Mom was always upbeat and giving: traits that didn’t change even when she was diagnosed with cancer. She struggled against the ravages of that disease for five long years before succumbing to it in 1980. Cancer took her life but not her spirit. I never heard her once complain about the painful chemotherapy and cobalt treatments she endured.

My father too had a difficult life. He had to quit high school after the tenth grade and find a paying job to support the family. At the age of eighteen, he entered the Civilian Conservation Corps and fought forest fires in Oregon; factory work followed (where he met my Mom) until that was interrupted by the draft and service in the Army during World War II. After more factory work in the latter half of the 1940s, my Dad got on the local firefighting force, serving with distinction for more than thirty years until his retirement. He died in 2003 after a heart attack and surgery, from which he never fully recovered.

America’s heroes are women and men like my Mom and Dad: the factory workers, the homemakers, the blue-collar doers and givers. And as I think about my Mom and Dad, I recall both their loving natures and their toughness. They had few illusions, and they knew how to get a tough job done, without complaint.

There’s so much we can learn from women and men like them. Personally, I’m so sick of our media and our government telling us how scared we should be — whether of violent crime or violent tornadoes or bogeyman terrorists overseas. My parents recognized the hard-won wisdom of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

But today our government prefers to abridge our rights (see the latest extension of the so-called Patriot Act) in the name of keeping us safe and less fearful, a bargain for those who exercise power, but not for tough-minded people working hard to scrape a living for their children (thanks again, Mom and Dad).

My parents weren’t worried about threats emerging from left field. They had real — and much more immediate — challenges to deal with right at home. In this spirit, I still recall my Dad talking somewhat heretically about the Cold War and the Soviet threat. His opinion: if the Americans and Soviets are stupid enough to nuke one another, a billion Chinese will pick up the slack of human civilization. No bomb shelters or ducking and covering for him. It was back to work to support the family by putting out fires in our neck of the woods.

willy
An old polaroid of me and my dad, circa 1980

And that’s what we need to do today as a country. We need to put fear aside and band together to put out fires in our neck of the woods. Together we can make a better country. In so doing, we’ll honor the heroic sacrifices of our families and ancestors: people like my Mom and Dad.

God bless you, Mom, Dad, and all the other quiet and unsung heroes of America.

7 thoughts on “Remembering the Quiet, Unsung Heroes

  1. My sentiments on your honoring article about your parents and their like are the same as John’s, above.

    Regarding wars and those who ‘Fight for Our Freedoms’, we haven’t fought a war for our freedom since the war of 1812, and arguably, the Civil War. All other involvements are of choice or corporate wars.

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    1. Speaking to your point about our corporate wars, the blog Moon of Alabama (May 29, 2017) has a good take on “American forces” (whatever one might mean by that) and what (or for whom) they “fight.” See: U.S. Wants Control Over Anbar And Beyond – Iraq and Syria Will Prevent It. Just a sample:

      “The U.S. is casting its net over the desert between Iraq and Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan to install military bases and power-structures that will guarantee major influence in the area for the foreseeable future. A part of that plan is to develop Sunni proxy forces that will keep the government forces of Damascus and Baghdad out of the area. Another part is to privatize important infrastructure to keep it under direct U.S. control.

      To privatize the Iraqi Highway 1 between Baghdad and the Jordanian capital Amman, is a major point in these plans. According to the NYT:

      As part of an American effort to promote economic development in Iraq and secure influence in the country after the fight against the Islamic State subsides, the American government has helped broker a deal between Iraq and Olive Group, a private security company, to establish and secure the country’s first toll highway.”

      The article contains a map and other commentary, but I’ll leave the perusal of that up to the interested reader. It seems that the U.S. government not only sells off American land and infrastructure to private corporations, but now feels disposed to sell off Iraqi and Syrian infrastructure as well. A truly enlightening read, as usual, but one more disgusting than I have time to elaborate on at present. So now we know for what and for whom our “heroes” fight and die. I wonder when “reports” of this development will appear on CNN and MSNBC morning, noon, and nightly “news.” You know, that “journalism” thing.

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  2. Regarding that Reactionary Panic, Mystical Dread, Abstract Angst, or just plain Fear Itself that American politicians and generals (but I repeat myself) love to flog for their own personal, political, and career-institutonal interests: no less a media-manufactured bogeyman than Russian President Vladimir Putin said in an interview with Le Figaro during his recent visit to France:

    “You [Americans and Europeans] made these things up yourselves and now scare yourselves with them and even use them to plan your prospective policies. These policies have no prospects. The only possible future is in cooperation in all areas, including security issues.”

    You can’t get any more succinct, to-the-point, and truthful than that. If this perceptive and competent man had truly “influenced” the recent U.S. presidential elections, then Green Party candidate Jill Stein would have won. No responsible world-class leader in his or her right mind would have wanted either of the other two “major” party candidates on offer to the disgusted American electorate. Corporate puppets, both of them, and not even very good ones at that.

    Frankly, I don’t find the Russians or their several-times elected president the least bit frightening, and I don’t think that too many other Americans do either. Somebody had better find a bigger and badder bogeyman.

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  3. There were no programs or mention of the Memorial Day Massacre of 1937. It happened on the South Side of Chicago near the Republic Steel Works. A strike was called and hundreds of workers and their families marched towards Republic Steel. The Chicago Police had lined up to block the strikers path. In what has now become a common excuse the Police felt threatened and opened fire – 10 people were killed, nine people were permanently disabled and numerous others were clubbed and shot. Perhaps needless to say a Coroner’s Jury declared the killings to be “justifiable homicide”.

    A newsreel of the event can still be found on the internet – However at the time in 1937 per WIKI – The footage contained in the newsreel was banned from being shown in Chicago for fear of causing unrest, and later the Paramount News company agreed to refrain from screening the event elsewhere.

    I went to work for Wisconsin Steel Works in South Chicago in 1966 as fresh faced 18 year old. Drafted in 1969 and sent to Vietnam as a combat infantryman I went back to the mill for few months and decided to use the G.I. Bill and go to college, in addition at the time the State of Illinois would pay your tuition if you went to a state school. I graduated with a B.S. degree in Finance in 1975.

    In 1980 Wisconsin Steel Works with out warning shut it’s doors, over 3,000 workers suddenly had no jobs. The corporate media and companies blamed the EPA. The mills had become accustomed to dumping their waste water into the rivers without any rules. Many of the people I worked with were WW 2, Korean War, peace time and Vietnam Veterans. I have no idea how these workers and their families could ever adjust. When I heard about the closing I bitterly thought we did not make the world safe for democracy, we made it safe for Multi-National Companies to leave the USA.

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  4. Thanks for the comments. One of the pleasures of writing is keeping and sharing memories of loved ones. My parents were mostly private people, but I don’t think they’d disapprove of me writing about them.

    They were both hard workers, and they both treated others fairly. You see this a lot among the working classes: good people, few complaints, willing to help others, perhaps because they know how tough life can be, and perhaps as well because others had helped them, and they wanted to share that. A generosity of spirit.

    On the national scene, that generosity of spirit is sadly lacking today. Greed, narcissism, and anger have replaced the generosity, selflessness, and equanimity — even grace — that characterized so many people of my parents’ generation.

    And I don’t think I’m overly idealizing them or their generation by saying this.

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