home about media center archive history letters subscribe

Sgt Denny's Rant

Summer Musings:
Debates on war and marriage, and
 leader's sweet summer vacations

Congress is on summer recess and the themed debate season of presidential contenders is in full swing.  When was the last time the average working American got to take off more than a month for a  summer vacation?  I think I was 11 years old the last time I got to do that.  In those days, in the 1950s in the far outer suburbs 60 miles east of the City, a boy could burst outdoors on a summer dawn and not be seen or heard from until he was starving at dinnertime and miraculously reappeared safe and sound after a day on his own.  I rode my Schwinn to the beach and swam in the ocean for hours, skateboarded (metal roller skates nailed to the bottom of a board), played Tarzan in the woods (there were still woods that had not been developed into housing and malls), had a hotdog lunch at the local soda fountain shop (I had 25 cents in my pocket and came home with change), played marbles (scared to death I'd loose my green cat's eye shooter), and perhaps even flipped baseball cards with criminal 12 year-old 'card sharks' in a spider filled-basement (oh dear, what those cards would be worth today!).  There was no schedule of organized activities, and no ozone layer depletion; just total freedom, sun, and sea.

My mother was a Holocaust refugee who'd arrived illegally at Ellis Island in 1938 without papers, after a seasick passage in steerage across the North Atlantic in wartime winter.  At first she cleaned toilets as a chambermaid at some dumpy hotel in New Jersey and struggled to learn English.  It was a triumph of her successful assimilation in the American Dream to have a child who could have the sort of summers in suburbia that I had, rather than having to hide from the Gestapo in an attic for years.  Her parents and all but one of her brothers were murdered in Auschwitz in the 1940s, the ashes of their bones buried in the snow beneath the barbed wire in the hell of Eastern Europe.

When I was twelve she enrolled me in Summer School to learn typing and speed reading.  I didn't like it one bit, but my ten-year military career in personnel administration proved she'd been very wise indeed.

In the summer of 1960, when I was 13, I began marching on picket lines for Black American civil rights and mowing lawns and pulling weeds from dawn until dusk.  I earned my own way.  By then my parents had divorced and I led a split-culture lifestyle: working lower middle class with my mother, and international diplomatic travel with my father, where we dined with ambassadors, senators, ministerial mandarins and such in a sumptuous splendor that made me think of the 'real' people for whose rights I marched for during the other half of my summers.  Ironically, he was representing post-war refugee restitution and rights.  My only regret is that I cannot now ask him, in retrospect, whether he realized that he was creating an activist for the disenfranchised.  So, my 'summer vacations' from school were interesting, informative, and formative.

Now, some 50 years later, I can only hope and wonder if our elected officials are spending their taxpayer-paid summer-long vacations productively.  I see swell news photos of our leaders smiling and waiving to the cameras from boats and barbeques.  There's a war on, isn't there?  Reservists' two-week summer vacation training time has turned into 18-month tours of hell in the deserts of the Middle East, from which they return blown up, blinded, and crippled for life --if they live.  In the summer, it's 140 degrees over there, and hotter under all that combat gear.  It may be time, this lovely summer vacation-time, for some of those who sent them there to grow up and at least show a little respect for their sacrifice.  Seeing them in scenic seaside luxury makes me want to throw up, frankly.

Last Thursday there was a gay-themed debate among the Democratic contenders for the Presidential nomination.  Incredible!  Just the fact of such a debate is a sign of progress.  But there's good news and bad news.  On the one hand, every last one of them agreed that it's time to end the ban on gay American patriotic volunteers serving openly in pride in our armed forces.  Well, there's a war on, isn't there?  But, sadly, all of the three leading contenders also agreed that marriage should still be reserved for straight people.  Pardon me for being a bit obvious here; so, it's OK for us to partake in the sacrifice of service to our nation in time of war; but, if we survive combat in the Middle East, we still can't come home and marry our sweethearts?  It just makes me want to throw up, frankly.  Maybe it's time for some of these would-be leaders to grow up this fine summer.

Denny Meyer, Editor, Gay Military Signal