51. Memorial Day

From Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, 1996

31. The city has a war memorial given to it by the Marine Corps in 1956, a souvenir of Korea. It is a Douglas F-3D fighter painted above and below in the gray and white of a shark.

In the mid-1950s, the Marine Corps donated gutted fighters to cities if they would haul one away to a public place and have the plane repainted at intervals.

Douglas Aircraft, the region's biggest employer, called the F-3D the Skyknight.

There is the head of an Indian painted on the side of our Skyknight. The Indian may be a Navajo. He looks like the Indian on a Navajo Freight Lines truck. Both Indians have blue eyes.

The Marines gave the city the jet fighter, lacking any operating gear, as a pure husk, as a toy.

And it was, for a time.

The city had the shell of the jet brought here from the next county, laid it belly down, with no landing gear, flat on the scraped ground in a new park. Children played on it.

For two years the F-3D lay as if its pilot had made an oddly successful, wheels-up landing between the jungle gym and the swing set.

32. Almost at once, the F-3D began to hurt children, who broke arms and legs jumping from its wings.

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To protect the children, the city put its jet on a twelve-foot high, white, concrete pylon that swept the F-3D forward, like a mid-1950s hood ornament. Up there is where the future lay safely.

The county construction crew fixed the plane in a gentle climb. It does not look ridiculous or particularly military. Besides, sycamore trees obscure it from the boulevard.

The pylon was marked with one plaque--a dedication to the Korean War dead of the city. The plaque has the names of city council members on it and no one else's.

33. Every Memorial Day, we go out to the park and honor our dead.

We gather under the wings of the war memorial with some members of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans. The women's auxiliaries participate. The mix of men and women is about equal.

In recent years the number of those attending has grown. About 150 veterans and the wives and widows of veterans attend.

A unit from the high school Navy ROTC presents the colors. The Legion post commander says a few words. The mayor says a few words. A guest speaker chosen by the Legion makes a patriotic speech.

They read the names of all the old men of the Legion, VFW, and DAV who have died in the past year. It is a fairly long list.

The city council members read the names of young men from this suburb who died in Vietnam. It is always the same list of thirty-two names.

Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir, published in 1996 and reprinted in 2005, consists of 316 short, numbered sections. The photograph on this page is from the author's collection.

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