Thoughts That Never Occured to Me… before

November 12, 2010

Veterans Day Parade in Branson, Missouri - 2009

My bride and I are planning a trip to Germany in the not too distant future. To prepare myself, I’ve been listening to a radio station in Munich. (My computer picks up the signal far better than my short-wave radio!) The station I’ve settled on has an interesting format; similar stations in the U.S. (which are difficult to find) call it “The Music of our Lives.” It’s a step beyond the “Oldies but Goodies”. Most of the music played was recorded in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. There’s some Rock n’ Roll, but most of the songs would remind the listener of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, and the like.

I’d estimate that eighty percent of the songs are sung in German; another ten percent are instrumentals, and the remainder are in English. Many of the songs are well known, but the English versions are not always by the original artists. Of course, I’m assuming the songs sung in English were U.S. originals. Based on what I’ve recently learned about German technology and a rich history of creativity, perhaps those songs originated in Germany and not in America.

Right now I’m listening to “Please Mr. Postman” and I think the group singing the song is the Carpenters. Go figure!

I was born in 1944 – about a year before the end of World War II. As a young boy, I would go to the neighborhood movie theater and cheer for John Wayne, Audie Murphy, Aldo Ray and others as they fought and defeated the Japs and Krauts.

It’s strange that I grew up considering anything labeled “Made in Japan” as junk, but had no similar opinion of German products. My memory tells me that the first products I recognized as having German origins were the Mercedes Benz and Volkswagen automobiles. One I saw as very high quality while I perceived the other as a pregnant roller skate of little value.

Today, it seems that the Japanese and Germans, along with the Koreans, are teaching Detroit how to make high quality vehicles. But that’s a story for another day.

Yesterday was Veterans Day. I always thought the U.S. did a fine job in recognizing the members of our “Greatest Generation”. As for our Vietnam vets, that’s another story, but it has improved.

On November 11, 1998, I was working in London, England. I was stunned when all activity in the office came to an abrupt stop at 11:11 AM. An announcement was made on the public address system and we were all asked to stand and observe a moment of silence. World War II had a much stronger impact on the British Empire than it did on America.

The victors certainly take the time to honor their soldiers, but what about the losers? Do the Germans and Japanese have parades to honor their citizens who fought so bravely, albeit for a losing cause?

I was recently told that the swastika can no longer be found anywhere in Germany; that it has been outlawed. However, another source tells me there is a museum in Berlin that displays many items of historical significance to the Nazi party, including the swastika. However, according to this source, there is very little to do with Adolf Hitler. If I was a German, I’d probably want to forget he ever existed.

Because of the war movies of my youth and the carry-over of anti-Japanese and German propaganda (that continues today in Hollywood) in my mind’s eye I see the enemy as blood-thirsty brutes who committed inhumane acts on our soldiers as well as on many innocent civilians. Let’s face it, it’s extremely difficult to view pictures of the Holocaust and see the German people in any other light.

And yet, I do. I’ve known a number of German nationals in my life and they are good fun loving people. It’s extremely difficult to imagine Horst, Chris, Joe, and my other German friends committing any act as brutal as those depicted in the historical documentaries.

“I was only following orders” is a defense that continues to be used to this day. Without having any factual information, it is my guess that the majority of the German and Japanese soldiers of World War II were fighting for a number of very simple reasons. First, they were drafted into the military and if they decided to go AWOL they could be shot. Second, they had to follow the orders of their superiors… or be shot. Third, when they faced the allied troops, they had to fight for their lives… or be shot.

It’s also possible that there were threats such as, “If you fail to follow orders, your families will be put in concentration camps or… be shot.”

Thus, I’m guessing that many of those soldiers were fighting because they had no choice. I’m sure each country had a number of combatants who bought their leaders’ propaganda completely and would be glad to shoot their fellow soldiers if that was necessary to insure the purity and harmony of their units.

But all of this is speculation on my part. I would love to sit down and talk with a German old enough to have been a part of the war effort… even if he or she was simply a teenager who gathered scrap metal for the war effort. As Americans who have never known a war on our own soil (in our lifetimes), it’s impossible to imagine how it felt to experience the exhilaration of the early Nazi victories, and how terrifying it must have been when the bombs started destroying their homes and cities. What were they told of the brutality of the allied soldiers? How much fear did they experience in the face of total surrender?

As for the Japanese, once again it is impossible for us to imagine two of our cities being totally destroyed by single bombs.

We lost the war in Vietnam – not because of any failure on the part of our military – but due to the ineptitude of our politicians. That ineptitude continues to this day.

In our country, it appears that we have finally learned to appreciate the efforts of our soldiers regardless of the situation that got us into war and the outcome of any military action. But how does a country pay homage to a military that failed to protect the homeland?

Again, I can only speculate. I would simply blame the political leaders who got us into the war to begin with. Then, I would honor and thank the soldiers who fought so bravely when they really didn’t have much of a choice.

I realize I did quite a bit of rambling with this, but it is an effort to wrap my arms around a subject that had never crossed my mind until I began listening to this German radio station.

The questions that gave birth to this blog entry were in regards to the music. So much of the music this station plays were popular songs in war-time America. Were those same songs played in war-time Germany? Or were they banned because they were American?

For that matter, were German songs banned in the U.S. at the same time? Prior to the war, Germany and the U.S. had many things in common. Was World War II like a divorce? All of a sudden, I will dislike everything about you simply because it reminds me of you? I will overlook all the good times we had during our life together simply because we’ve now discovered some basic areas of disagreement?

It seems to be such a shame. Perhaps all sides should listen more to the music than the rhetoric. If we can get everyone to agree on the same tunes, maybe world peace isn’t so far away.

Yes, I am a dreamer.

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Branson – What a City!

November 19, 2009

Lu, Yakov, and meLu, Yakov, and me

Last week, my bride and I visited Branson, Missouri for the first time. What a city!

If you recognize that Russian in the above photo you know I’m taking liberty with his famous line – “America! What a country!” Yakov Smirnoff was one of the entertainers we saw during our stay in Branson.

The planning for this trip began several months ago when I received an email listing various destinations where we could stay for under $300 for seven nights. The one place on the list that we had not yet visited was Branson. Since we’d heard some good things about the place, we decided to go there to celebrate our tenth wedding anniversary.

Early on we decided to drive. The “hotel” was a real bargain and we wanted to keep the costs down to a reasonable level. Because Branson is about 600 miles from our home – and not easily accessible via Interstate highways, we opted to take two days to get there and two days to get back. For variety, we decided to go to Branson by way of Paducah, Kentucky, and return on a southerly route through Memphis.

Murals painted on the "Sea" wall

Paducah sits along side the Ohio River where the Ohio is joined by the Tennessee River. Obviously, the town was flooded many times before a series of flood control dams were built. Prior to the construction of the dams, walls were built with flood gates that could be closed as necessary.

Wall with a track for the gateTrack for the steel gate built into the wall.

Passing through the gate in the photo above, we had to walk down hill for quite a while before getting to the water’s edge. The river was a bit high that day, but would have had to rise a great deal (I’d guess roughly thirty feet) before reaching the wall. The wall was about fifteen or twenty feet high. If I was in the neighborhood of a flood that high, I’d begin building my ark!

Besides taking a walk by the river, Lu and I visited the American Quilters Museum. I honestly expected to be totally bored. What a surprise! I was amazed at the art work. The people who created the quilts displayed there would put Betsy Ross to shame.

After a good night’s sleep, we moved on to Branson.

All Aboard!

One of the first things we did in Branson was ride the Scenic Branson Railway. We took the dinner excursion which pulled out of the station at 5:00 PM. We made the reservation in August and never gave a thought to the end of daylight savings time. It was an excellent meal, but we saw little beyond the dark of night as we gazed out the windows.

The next event was the Yakov Smirnoff show.

Yakov singing "From Red to Redneck"

For the uninitiated, Yakov came to American when he was in his early twenties. At the time he could speak no English. Most of his humor deals with his misunderstanding of our language. For instance, he told of driving across the country and being encouraged by signs saying, “Right on! Red”. He also felt very welcome when billboards proclaimed, “America loves Smirnoff”.

The next day we took a ride on a showboat.

My bride waiting to board the Branson Belle

Inside the showboat

The show featured a number of acts, but our favorite was Todd Oliver with his talking dogs.

We saw two other shows while we were there – “The Twelve Irish Tenors” and “Broadway’s Spirit of Christmas”. We were not permitted to take pictures at those theaters.

Earlier I referred to our accommodations as the “hotel”. In truth, it was a condo with a full kitchen, living room, Jacuzzi tub, balcony and much more than we expected.

The "living" area of our condo

To make the entire trip even more enjoyable, I was able to use “points” to get free motel stays in Paducah and Memphis, and Lu won $100 worth of Shell gasoline gift cards. We had also bought gift cards through our church fund raiser for restaurants and grocery stores. Thus, most of the trip was pre-paid! What a vacation!

The motel in Memphis left a lot to be desired. It was along the Mississippi River among a group of deserted warehouses.

Abandoned warehouses in Memphis

There was one other highlight of our trip. While some people might not see it in the same light, we felt honored to have the next picture taken.

Lu, Oliver North, and me

Colonel North was in town for the Veteran’s Day celebration. In fact, Branson, Missouri has an entire week of festivities to honor our veterans. Watching the parade was another highlight for us.

An old fart showing off

When we first told our friends we were going to Branson, many teased us about going there to gamble. Well, it’s a good thing gambling wasn’t our main intention. There are no casinos in Branson.

But there are many great shows, museums, restaurants, amusement parks, and other attractions that make Branson a wonderful place to visit. We were told the average age of visitors is 57, but I assure you there is something to do for people of all ages. As far as I could tell, all the shows are family friendly.

I should also note that I am not being paid for this endorsement, but if the convention and visitors bureau of Branson wants to invite my bride and me back as their guests, we’ll be glad to go!