(Historical context: This is dated two weeks after the assination of Robert F. Kennedy; two months after the assination of Martin Luthor King Jr. His oldest son, me, was 13 and not involved with any of this, and didn't know about this speech until a few months ago, when mom sent it along with his HS yearbook.)
But the wizardry of 1968 brought you back intact. You're beautiful. You're more beautiful than ever. A woman isn't worthy of hthe name until her hair is flecked with a strand or two of silver. A man is but a callow youth until you can wee his forehead. I mean really see it.
For some of us, this is our first time voyage to 1943. May I confess how I prepared for it? I pulled down the class yearbook from a top shelf and fliped through the pages, just looking at pictures of us --our class. It was a test. How many people could I recognize by their caces along? Did I flunk out! I was able to pin names on just five faces. Don't ask me who they were. It's too embarrassing. I can tell you this: One of them wasn't me!
But, gradually, a trickle of memories became a river, immersing me in a flood of recollections --all pleasant. Time has mercifully erased any unpleasant ones.
The Herald. Wilbur F. O'Donnell. Mr. Mockler. Mr. Harper. Miss Fitzgerald. I had a real boyhood crush on her. Boyhood! I wrote to her all the time I was in the Army and sent her a Valentine every year. Jim Reagan. Dan McCleon, Mary Lon, Mr. Fitzpatrick -- you all marched by.
You were all beautiful. All wonderful.
You were beautiful and wonderful, but you weren't real. No one was real. I wasn't real. The world wasn't real. It was too easy. Too uncomplicated. There must have bee Poverty in our day, but perhaps we were too busy hiding that hole in our shoe to notice it. There must have been Violence in our day, but evidently were were too busy watching the team "hold that line" to see it. There must have been racial inequality then, too, but wasn't it going to be a perfect world once the war was over? Weren't we going to insist on that?
If the 16-year-old editor of the best-selling weekly at Holyoke High School had anything to say about it, it was going to be a better world --or he'd know the reason why.
Here's a frament of what that young upstart wrote on Oct. 23, 1942:
"...We, who will be 18, or very near to 18, upon graduation from hish school, do realize what we face...Do we feel that we are bing wronged, that it is not our duty to fight in battles which are the result of mismanagement by the preceding generation?You know, I envy the boy who wrote those words. That punk kid who, among other things, decided --for me-- that I was going to be a newspaperman. That punk kid who was me 25 years ago. I envy him because the war he and his classmates fought was such an obvious and purposeful war that it caused no doubts. The enemy was Mephistopheles, evil incarnate. Or side was Sir Lancelot of Camelot, sweetness and light.
"No!...A cancer must be cut from the face of the earth. That is why we ask for the assurance that this cancer be removed completely, when the day of victory comes.
"...We do not wish to be martyrs...We'll go across, many will come back disabled, many will not come back, but many will come back to face a better world.
"All that we ask, that we have a right to demand is this: When victory is won, guarantee us that our children, or any children of any generation henceforth, will never have to face another war of this nature."
That boy certainly would not have believed it if someone had told him there would be other wars, most of which would be much less clear-cut in purpose --an average of more than one new war every year since those words were written.
That boy did not understand that sometimes both sides in a combate believe they are defending the faith, fighting for basic rights, or seeking the Holy Grail; that in the absence of a willingness to give up part of a nation's sovereignty, nations will be fighting more wars to defend the faith, protect basic rights, and find the Holy Grail.
That Holyoke High School senior of 1943 would have to grow up --a lot. Twenty-five years later, maybe, when his own sons were 18 or about to be 18, only then might he have a glimmering of the doubts assailing the younger generation; a generation called on to fight yet another huge war, this time without even the dignity of a rallying declaration of war.
Today's swinging, committed younger generation might have been us if we had to face their world of impossible complexity. Some of us, no doubt, would have been pacifists and conscientious objectors. Some of us would have been "liberating" college buildings. Yes, some of us would have been retreating into the phantom world of marijuana, LSD, and methadrine.
Generation gap? What a gap! Difficult as it was for us to bridge a quarter-century gap tonight, that was much easier --so much easier-- than we can span the chasm between us and our children.
But span it we must, and we must take the initiative. Because our own youngsters --many of them-- will not or cannot. They simply reject the world we've bequeathed them and they will not fight our wars unquestioningly as we blingly accepted the bequest of our elders and fought their war.
I, for one, thing they're right. Infuriating but right. Intemperate but right. I think they're saying, with Galilero, the earth "does move," I think they're saying, with Martin Luther, "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise." I think they're saying, with St. Joan, "I did hear voices." I think they're saying, with Patrick Henry, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
Perhaps, when we next embark on a voyage in time to our high school days, we and our children will have bridged the gap between us and charted a course, rogether, toward a new set of wars: War against violence. War against hunger. War against disease. War against inequality.
Those wars truly will be the final wars.