Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review May 30, 2001 / 8 Sivan, 5761

Mitch Albom

Mitch Albom
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Veteran scratches out the hatred -- HE saw the planes coming and thought they were ours. He saw them drop torpedoes and thought they were dummies. He saw the explosions, and still he thought, at first, even as the fires rose, that this was some kind of drill, some kind of exercise, and someone had made a really dumb mistake and was using live ammunition.

"Then this tremendous explosion blew us across the ship," he recalls. "We were covered in oil and soaking wet. I said to my buddy, 'Oh, boy, somebody's gonna catch heck for this."'

His name is Richard Fiske. He is now 80 years old. Back in December of 1941, he was a bugler on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He still remembers when somebody yelled, "Get your butts to the battle station! Those are the Japanese!"

It was his introduction to war.

It would be a long relationship.

Fiske not only survived the attack on Pearl Harbor - he still has the mouthpiece from his bugle - but he survived the bloody battle of Iwo Jima as well. That was considered a victory, whereas Pearl Harbor was a setback. But to hear Fiske tell it, there is little difference.

"Iwo Jima was horrible," he says. "We lost so many. In our group, we started with 37 men. We finished with six. The Japanese had 22,000 on that island and - G-d forgive us, I am sorry - we only took 337 prisoners. The rest died. When that many die in your hands and you live through it, you never stop living through it."

Monday wais Memorial Day, the day we honor those who served this country. Our attitudes have changed over the years toward war and soldiers.

Back in World War II, the nation was brimming with patriotism. We were proud of our servicemen and women, and we danced in the streets when the war was over.

The Korean War was less patriotic and more curious. The Vietnam War was a crevice in America's conscience. Subsequent military actions - the Gulf War, Grenada - are played out more on television than in our daily lives.

We have gone from pride in our soldiers to scorn to pride again. These days, World War II vets are held in their highest esteem since the end of that war. Movies and books - beginning with "Saving Private Ryan," followed by "The Greatest Generation," "Flags of Our Fathers," all the way up to this weekend's flag-waving "Pearl Harbor" - have nudged the World War II veteran from recalcitrant shadows to heroic heights. Some even seem to look back on World War II as "the good war," redolent of a simpler time when we knew who was right and who was wrong.

But the real veterans - men like Fiske - know better than to swallow Hollywood hype. Fiske was there. He saw the blood. He visits the graves. No amount of stirring music is going to turn that into a positive experience.

"When they dropped the nuclear bombs and the war ended, we were in our tents. They asked us, 'Why aren't you celebrating?' I said, 'For what?' They said, 'The war is over.' I said, 'Oh.' I just kept thinking of my dead friends on Iwo Jima. I didn't think there was anything to celebrate.

"I just thanked God it was over and we didn't have to kill any more."

Fiske lived with his nightmares. Finally, about a decade ago, he decided he no longer wanted hatred in his heart.

So he sought out his Japanese counterparts, including one of the commanders of the air strike on Pearl Harbor. He went to Japan. He met the man. They embraced. They wept.

Today, Fiske keeps up with several Japanese veterans. He has asked their forgiveness, and they have asked for his. Last week, at the Pearl Harbor Memorial, the 80-year-old bugler lifted the mouthpiece to his lips and blew taps one more time.

"I believe in defending the United States," he says, "but if you think war is going to solve anything, it isn't."

And he's right. Taking pride is good. But Fiske knows this: The best way to honor those who have died in wars is to scratch away at the hatred that starts them.

Comment on JWR contributor Mitch Albom's column by clicking here. You may purchase his runaway bestseller, Tuesdays with Morrie, by clicking here.


05/22/01: O.J.'s genius
05/15/01: No more kidding around
05/01/01: Haunted by the past
04/16/01: Before you file that extension...
04/11/01: Ever want to break an airport agent's neck? This guy did!
04/03/01: The best role models aren't on TV
03/19/01: 'March madness' is aptly named
03/07/01: I'm sorry, I apologize, I beg your forgiveness
03/05/01: Young fans' web sites become a Big Harry deal

© 2001 DFP