My Gold Star Mother Has a Message for General Kelly: Go to Hell and Stay There

Photo by Jim Greenhill | CC by 2.0

My 93-year-old mother is a recipient of America’s ultimate booby-prize, the Gold Star: her beloved older brother John, for whom I was named, died in World War II when the B-29 he was piloting crashed in the South China Sea.  But our family has suffered in every declared American war going back to the Civil War, when my great-grandfather—another John—was grievously wounded fighting for the Union in the Battle of Richmond in 1862; we still possess his dog-tags, discharge papers, and the misshapen musket ball that a battlefield surgeon cut out of his stomach.  In 1917, my grandfather John, though already in his 40s, enlisted as a doughboy and fought in the trenches in France, where he was mustard-gassed, leaving his voice a husky rasp for the rest of his life.

My great-grandfather barely survived that musket-ball wound.  After lying unattended and bleeding in an abandoned schoolhouse for two days, following one of the Confederacy’s greatest victories, he was rescued by fellow Union soldiers and smuggled onto a hay-barge going up the Ohio River, and then he made a long odyssey on foot back to his Indiana farm.  When he came to the door, he was so emaciated that his wife at first had no idea who he was.  Had he been just a bit less lucky, and determined, I would never have been born.

But it was her brother’s death that left a gaping wound in my mother’s soul, a wound from which she never recovered. John was the older brother who introduced my mother to Picasso and Hemingway, to theater and photography, and first infused her with a passion for social justice.  He’d wanted to become a conscientous objector, and volunteered to be an ambulance-driver or stretcher-bearer, but my grandfather refused to hear of it.  We were a military family. After many screaming matches, Uncle John gave up and become a B-29 pilot like his brother Jim, whose miraculous landing of a bomber full of explosives when its landing-gear froze was a feat of skill that drew headlines in Stars and Stripes.  So my mother’s sorrow was compounded by her sense that her father was complicit in the death.

My mother now has advanced dementia, but even dementia hasn’t erased that particular grief: not long ago, weeping, she told my brother Rick that she’d just received a call: “brother John was executed today in a Japanese POW camp, and I don’t know how to break the news to Mother.”

The facts are mangled, but the pain is intact.  After 73 years.

Lynette Temple (middle) during a USO tour in the Philippines in 1946.

Presumably, this legacy of grief would qualify my mother for the freedom of speech that John Kelly refused to allow to the non-Gold Star reporters during his disgusting press conference last week, when he had the ultimate bad taste to pimp out the death of soldiers—including his own son—in the service of his master Donald Trump.

And though she can no longer focus on the Trumps and the Kellys and the other moral cowards that infest our airwaves—one small mercy, at least—I have spent enough long, bourbon-fueled nights talking politics and morality with her that I feel qualified to speak on her behalf.

“General” Kelly: you speak of an America where “women were sacred, looked upon with great honor…That’s obviously not the case anymore as we see from recent cases.”  What America was that? Was that the America ruled by the pussy-grabbing boor and likely rapist whose shoes you lick so cravenly? “Life — the dignity of life — is sacred. That’s gone.”  Was that the America that murdered one million Iraqis for a lie—while knowing full well it was a lie?  “Religion, that seems to be gone as well…”  If so, Kelly, it was hypocrites like you who killed it, pouring your false piety like corn-syrup over the wounds you inflict so promiscuously on innocent human flesh.  “General,” you are clearly not that bright a guy—but you’re smart enough to know how to dehumanize a black woman; that’s one they must teach early on at West Point. You didn’t even have the decency to name the dead soldier’s wife, or their family friend and Congresswoman.  You just called her an “empty barrel” while telling lie after lie about her.  And your nose is so far up Donald Trump’s ass that you thought that, like him, you could lie with impunity—but he will pay for those lies one day, and so will you.

I give you credit for two things, Kelly.  One: at least we won’t have to listen to the liberals’ fantasy about “the generals” saving us from Trump any more.  Because, through all your lies, one truth emerged: “the generals” ARE Trump.  You, Mattis, and the rest of them will bear the shit-colored stigma of Trump for the rest of your dishonorable days.

And Two: in refusing to take questions from reporters who didn’t know Gold Star families, you showed us what actual fascism looks like.  So thanks for that, too.

I’m afraid my mother, Lynette Temple, can no longer speak to you herself, but on behalf of her, and the many people who know and love her, I’ll give you a very mild version of what she would tell you: “General” Kelly, go to hell.  And stay there.

John Eskow is a writer and musician. He wrote or co-wrote the movies Air America, The Mask of Zorro, and Pink Cadillac, as well as the novel Smokestack Lightning. He is a contributor to Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence. He can be reached at: