“Imagine no more heaven…”
— John Lennon
Imagine no more Earth. Imagine that this Earth exists purely for you and when you die it will cease to exist. Consequently, nothing will matter after you die. Not your kids, not your home, not the country you came from, not your religion, not one single solitary thing that you know in this life will remain after you’re gone.
Imagine that when you die, your passing makes everything you hold dear disappear. Now imagine that you know this before you die. What would you change? Would you still go to war?
Fighting wars is contingent on there being something, someone, or some way of life worthy of the ultimate sacrifice — continuing after you’re gone.
Samuel Stouffer, a famous sociologist, studied combatants. After interviewing veterans and reading soldiers’ diaries, he concluded that there was one common reason for war — to make the world a better place. And the soldiers believed that they made the world better by preserving and exporting their own way of life.
So you see, if the world stopped existing the very moment you died, dying wouldn’t help.
Vernon Smith died this week. He went to war, but he didn’t die there. Smitty, as his friends called him, went to Korea because his country asked him to go contain communism and preserve capitalism. Poor Smitty. I guess he expected capitalism to be more grateful, more respectful, and well, less greedy.
Smitty’s friends went to the funeral, but not all of them. Some already had funerals of their own. Before Smitty died, he dedicated himself to helping build a memorial for these men. There are 243 names listed on the Maine State Korean War Memorial. These men died because they, like Smitty, believed that the world would go on after them and that there was at least one thing, one person, one country, or one ideology for which they were willing to lay down their lives.
There’s a problem with the Maine State Korean War Memorial: It’s not on government land. For some unexplainable reason, no such land was available. I actually heard the reason that it’s not on government land but it’s still unexplainable. See, several people explained it to me — but none of them made any sense.
Anyway, because it’s on private property it’s vulnerable to the one thing that no war memorial ever should be vulnerable to — exploitation.
After all, we’re talking about capitalism.
Imagine that the Lincoln Memorial was on private property and all of a sudden the owners had financial difficulties. They might have to alter it to pay the bills. Lincoln has two hands — maybe one of them could hold a brand-name cola — the advertising premium could settle a few debts. Suppose the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery was still Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s lawn and his great-grandchildren wanted to sell the top of that particular hill for condos. Move the tomb and that property would sell like hotcakes.
No, memorials are far too precious to leave in private hands. Not because the private hands don’t mean well, but because private hands might lose track of what the memorial means to the men and women who fought and died. The very soldiers who purchased — with their lives — our respect and our remembering deserve to know that the respect and remembering will not change after they and their survivors die.
That’s why memorials are “cast in stone.”
Cpl. Wilfred Michaud of York County, Sgt. Arthur Dussault of Androscoggin, 2nd Lt. Richard Lucas of Aroostook, 1st Lt. Cyrus Morgan of Penobscot, and all the other Maine men who died in Korea deserve a memorial at least as permanent and as dignified as the rocky coastal state from which they came.
So, yes, there are some unhappy Korean War veterans who raised more than $100,000 to build and maintain Maine’s official Korean War memorial and while the details are numerous and unwieldy, suffice to say that these veterans are afraid that their memorial will change before and after they’re gone.
There’s another thing that soldiers die for: Peace.
Let’s hope Maine’s Korean War veterans get some peace on this issue real soon.
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.