It’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day. And so, of course, Putin’s President, with the irony born of someone without a soul or a keen eye for history, chose today of all days to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
Naturally, that means anybody who “looks” Muslim will become even more of a target than they have been since Trump took us all down the gold escalator into hell. It is now open season on “others” here in our nation of immigrants.
So what can we do about it?
I will admit that the safety pin movement left me feeling decidedly unhelpful. It’s a nice thought, but it never made me feel like I was actually standing up for anyone. Or like I was doing something to help people being targeted.
But a while back I saw this article that offered some practical suggestions that have some meat on the bones. Really! Click on the link. Cause I’m not going to tell you everything it says.
Anyway, I like to think that I would be the kind of person who would stand up in any situation to protect those in need. But frankly, I’m overweight, slow moving, and cowardly. They don’t make superheroes who look or act like me. So the odds are NOT in my favor. Besides, when something happens around me, I never have a clue what’s happening. I generally stand there, looking around, confused. Immobile. Saying “WTF” with my mouth hanging open. Quick witted I may be with words, but actions? Not so much.
But the Vox article showed me a way to help when someone is being verbally assaulted, in situations where I am most likely to see it happen. It’s brilliant. And relatively safe. Win-win.
Here’s an example. Say you’re in Target, passing by the children’s section, when you hear a man harassing a woman in a hijab. He’s big and burly, and you want to help. You also don’t want him to target you. Still, you can’t just walk away, turn a blind eye. You’re a good person! You wouldn’t be able to look yourself in the mirror if you didn’t help. But how?
Why, act like an idiot, of course. Me, I’m a natural! At acting the idiot, that is. Not being one. That’s the role of the racist.
You interrupt the jerk. Wander in between him and his victim as if you’re looking for something, and can’t quite find it. Request his help. Be totally oblivious. Give the poor target the opportunity to get away. Think Roseann Rosanna Dana.
Gilda Radner as Roseann Rosanna Dana.
Or, in an equally ditzy way, pretend to be the friend/shopping buddy of the woman being mistreated, and in an oblivious way whisk that woman out of the children’s department and into the table linens.
“Sylvia!” said in the most nasal tone imaginable, “THERE you are. You were supposed to meet me in the shoe department … you come with me right now before they’re out of the size 7s…”
Read the article. Learn steps you can take to help folks who may really need your help. Because it’s a Brave New World out there. And it helps to be prepared.
Today of all days, it’s important to recall these words, from the U.S. Holocaust Museum:
The Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words. The Museum calls on all American citizens, our religious and civic leaders, and the leadership of all branches of the government to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech.
If you were a news junkie during the George W. Bush era, you’re already experiencing deja vu. That sinking feeling already makes your eyes roll automatically when Putin’s President appears. It settled into the back of your neck from the whiplash as you shake your head and shout “no, no, no, no, no, no, no!” over the latest outrage or tweet. And it’s there in the pit of your stomach, when you try not to vomit whenever you see the color orange.
Yup, it’s started. The Deluge. The Flood. The Trump shit storm.
During the Bush years, I would just be ready to pounce on one issue, when another hit the fan and took the wind out of my sails. Resistance is hard if there is just so much to resist.
How, I worried in the days since November 8, will I survive Trump. I feared a heart attack. A stroke. Getting so scared I’d shit in my pants. Of course I worry about the last one sometimes during a scary movie.
Anyway, I’ve come up with a strategy for a hybrid Resister/Surviving Human. I’m going to become a political centaur!
Google Image. No shit will be given by this filly.
I’m going to take my mother’s marital and parental advice and apply it to my activism. She said:
Choose Your Battles!
Me, I’m going to try to focus on issues I know about and/or that are closest to my heart. The ones I write about here on FiftyFourAndAHalf.
But that won’t be all I do. I will look for and follow the lead of others who are knowledgeable about other issues, and I will try to help to the extent I can. It’s not hard, really, to make calls to Congress and the White House. Really, it just takes a minute. You or I can even just cut and paste and hit “send.”
But I will try my very best to keep my blood pressure — and my outrage to livable levels.
George W. Bush kept us all off balance because there were so many things to be outraged about, that we couldn’t keep it up. Different bad presidents need different tactics.
And Trump will make the Dubya years look like a walk in the park. And that park is in Baghdad.
A public service announcement brought to you by FiftyFourAndAHalf (courtesy of Dailykos.com)
Who is Mike Pence?
I mean besides Donald Trump’s VP candidate who gets almost no coverage in the press.
He’s the guy who decided to defund Planned Parenthood!
So tonight, when (if) you watch the VP Debate being held here in Virginia, remember that misogyny comes in quieter forms too. Like from those gentlemen who simply want to make sure that women have lots of babies and no access to healthcare screening for breast and ovarian or for sexually transmitted diseases.
It’s a health issue.
It’s an economic issue.
It’s common sense — keep public funding of organizations who serve the public.
Elections Matter. Vote on November 8. And not for Pence!
This story kind of haunts me. I change my mind about it all the time. I try to work it out in my mind, but I can never be certain of what really happened. So now I’ll let you think about it, too.
In late June 1998, John, Jacob and I took my Dad, then aged 81, to Normandy, France, to visit the D-Day landing beaches, museums, the works. Dad was a WWII vet – he was in the U.S. Navy during the War, stationed on two different aircraft carriers in the Pacific. He fought in some of the big battles in the Pacific, as a gunner on an SBD Dauntless, a seriously cool little plane.
Dad was always fascinated by the D-Day landings, and he’d always wanted to visit Normandy. The planning, the strategy. The very real possibility that it could have failed. And he had lost friends there. Two of Dad’s closest childhood friends died there, they’d gone ashore at Omaha Beach. So when he came to visit us in Switzerland, we took a road trip.
The folks in Normandy, well, they love Americans. We stayed in Sainte-Mère-Église at a lovely farmhouse on the outskirts of town. The owner of the farm treated Dad like royalty, even though he told her he was fighting in the Pacific. The trip was, my Dad said forever afterwards, one of the highlights of his life.
Now, you know what happened on D-Day. The invasion began when the Allies sent paratroopers into some of the strategic areas slightly inland from the Normandy Beaches they would invade later on that day, on the morning of June 6th. There were many problems with the drops of these paratroopers. Some of the most dramatic stories came from survivors who dropped into Ste. Mère-Église.
You see, that night, June 5/6, there was a fire in the town hall. All the townspeople were out, along with the German occupiers, trying to put out the fire. It spread to several nearby buildings.
Ste Mere Eglise on fire, June 6, 1944. Photo credit: Normandie44canalblog.com\archives
Into the midst of this chaos, American paratroopers fell. Many of them were shot by German troops as they dropped, butchered. Others were caught on trees, on buildings –including John Steele. Steele had parachuted into the middle of town, and his parachute was caught on the church steeple. Steele played dead for many hours, with the church bell ringing in his ear, watching many of his fellow paratroopers die. Steele was memorably portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie The Longest Day.
There are still parachutes on many of the buildings commemorating the landings.
Things changed, the Allies won, the day/night. Ste. Mère-Églisewas the first town liberated by the Allies on June 6, 1944. D-Day. It was a vital victory for the Allies, for the French, and for the world.
John Steele survived and returned to Ste. Mère-Égliseafter the war.He opened up a restaurant that became a huge draw for tourists, including us. Our first night in town, we had reservations. But we were early, and the restaurant wasn’t yet open. So we went to a cafe/bar around the corner to get a drink while we waited for half an hour.
John, Dad, Jacob and I sat at a table, excitedly talking about our tour of the town. Ste. Mère-Église is seriously cool for all ages. There are still parachutes hanging in trees, on buildings. It is still a real town, but it is also a memorial to the men who fought and died there, and a place that welcomes veterans with affection and gratitude. Unlike much of France, the folks in Normandy remember. They made us feel very welcome
So sitting there at the table having a drink, we enthusiastically recounted what we’d seen so far. With two history buffs in the group, Jacob and I learned a lot from John and Dad. Placards explain the events of the night so that it is easily followed. We chatted about the history, explaining more to Jacob. We had seen so much already, and it was only our first night! The next day, we would visit the beaches. We were excited.
A man standing at the bar behind us was pretty excited too. Quite animated, in fact. But perhaps that was just because he had had three or four drinks too many.
“Damn, if I had it to do over again,” blared the drunk American at the bar. He followed it up with a string of obscenities that made my Dad, the sailor, blush. Then the drunk caught sight of me and 7-year-old Jacob. He wandered over to us and offered us his apologies. We politely accepted them. But he didn’t seem to take “no problem” as an answer. He introduced himself as Howard Something-or-other, and stood talking with us about how he had retired to Normandy.
Stupidly, I asked “What brought you to Normandy?”
“Well,” he said with a twinkle in his eye, “I happened to drop into town one night…”
“Oh, uhh, wow,” I said, looking skeptically between John and Dad. They didn’t seem to believe the guy either.
But Howard proceeded to tell his story:
“Yup,” he said, “I dropped in here one night. I landed in the cemetery over back by the Town Hall, which, as you know, was on fire.”
He continued: “First, I crapped my pants,” he announced, looking straight at my 7-year-old son who was mortified. I was pretty sure we didn’t need to hear that.
“Actually,” he said, “I really lucked out. The cemetery had a tall stone wall around it. And the Germans were occupied with the fire and then with the guys who were dropping into the middle of the town square. Me, I hid behind some gravestones until I realized that, hell, a cemetery is no place to die. So I made my way out, and linked up with my buddies.”
We didn’t believe a word of it. For one thing, the guy looked way too young. Remember, it was 1998, fifty-four years after the Normandy Invasion. Looking at him, I could see Howard couldn’t then have been more than 60 or 65. That put him in grammar school during the War. Besides, there was just something about him. None of us believed him.
Howard was meeting someone, and we had a dinner reservation. So we didn’t pursue his story.
But the next day when we went to buy postcards to send back home, well, we saw something rather surprising: A postcard of Howard Manoian.
Our Howard from the night before. The drunk. The faker. The guy whose heroic WWII story we didn’t believe, and to which we only listened to a bit of, and then only out of politeness.
We felt really stupid at not having tackled the guy and listened to the rest of his story. Peppered him with questions. What a horrible lost opportunity. Imagine, to hear a first-hand account of what happened that night. June 6, 1944.
“Well,” said Dad sadly, “he was a bit of a weirdo.”
* * *
Fast forward to May/June 2009. The Sixty-fifth Anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
A few days before the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day landings, John sent me an interesting email. It was a link to a Boston Herald article that exposed “an American fraud.”
Yup, you guessed it. Our Howard was revealed in the article to have not “dropped into” Ste. Mère-Église, after all. The article claimed that military records stated that instead, Howard was part of the invasion force that landed at Utah Beach.
Even though I hadn’t believed him when he was standing next to me, I was really sad to read the story. Imagine living a lie for all that time. For sixty years. Howard had lived, part-time, in Ste. Mère-Église for decades. He had attended many D-Day ceremonies over those sixty-five years. He had been telling his story, albeit often under the influence, for many, many years.
And so I was sad. Yes, the guy had been “a bit of a weirdo” to quote Dad. And yes, he had been rather inebriated. But was he a fraud? Could “Weird Howard” have been living a lie for all those years? If so, how sad, how pitiful. But how could that happen, I wondered, to tell this lie in a place where veterans of D-Day flock? In a place where, I thought, sooner or later, someone would recognize him?
* * *
In traveling about, and especially visiting many battlefields with John, the history buff, I am often astonished at the images of what soldiers and sailors face in battle. But I have never been anywhere like Normandy.
When you stand on the beaches, you crane your neck to look up the cliffs to and look up at where the troops had to go, the price of what we often take for granted looms out of the ghosts. The cliffs are high, ragged. With no climbing skills at all, I can’t imagine trying to get to the top, much less with guns pointed and firing in my direction. And yet they did. Many died. Many were wounded. Many are still there, buried at the top of the cliffs, overlooking Omaha Beach. I felt an almost religious appreciation for the Greatest Generation‘s sacrifices. There is no physical place that to me represents the ancient struggle of good versus evil. It is awe-inspiring.
And really, it all started in and around Ste. Mère-Église.
* * *
In researching this post, I found conflicting information about Howard. Some folks say Howard was a fraud.
Others, including the French Government believe his story. And at the 65th Anniversary of D-Day, in 2009, the French Government awarded Howard their highest medal, the Legion of Honor for exemplary valor and service, even after the Boston Herald article “exposed him” as a fraud.
Howard in the center at the 65th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings (Google Image)
For the longest time, including when I originally wrote and posted this piece four years ago, I didn’t know what to think.
But today I find it hard to believe that anyone could live such a lie for over 60 years and not be exposed much, much earlier. He told his story over and over, like Mr. Bojangles, for drinks and tips. If he had gone ashore at Utah Beach, he would still qualify as a hero. Was “dropping into” Ste Mere Eglise somehow more heroic?
The folks who fought at Normandy, who fought in Europe and in the Pacific, regardless of in what capacity, division or from which country, well, they are all heroes. They all deserve our thanks.
More practically, the likelihood that Howard would have run into someone who recognized him from that day was pretty high. Folks return. Folks remember. I’m pretty sure at least some would have clear memories of who stood next to them on the landing craft or on a glider soaring silently above Ste. Mère-Église. Of whom they linked up with on the ground.
So in the intervening years, I have thought about Howard quite a bit. I wish we had heard more of his story. I wish, at a minimum, that we had bought him a beer (although he didn’t really need another one). I wish that Howard, who died in 2011, didn’t pass with a cloud over his head.