FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

A Discomforting Letter From a Comfortable Town

The author with Marianne Yoors, July 4, 2019, Rockport, Mass.

Once, on a good day in a bad war, as we lay in wait, four young men, unsuspecting of what lay ahead, walked into the perfect ambush, and we took no casualties. After we scavenged the bodies for souvenirs, silently, we marched away. An hour later, a colonel had eight gallons of ice cream flown out to us by chopper, and like children, we sheltered beneath the jungle canopy and devoured the rare treat, knowing the enemy could not harm us.

Most often, once a week ammo, c-rations and water were flown to us. Log days, we called them. Among the paperbacks the Army tossed into the red mail sack I grabbed The Gypsies, by Jan Yoors. The cover photograph depicted a group of boys–children really, with one youth–showing off, his arms outstretched, his face a hardening smile. In the background, a somber young man, hair rakishly swept back, stares directly into the camera. At age 12, Yoors had run away from home, joined a group of Gypsies, for 10 years lived and traveled with them, immersed himself in their pleasures and ordeals, their secret sorrows. His once popular book details the true Gypsy way of life, and their struggles to live in a world hostile to their nomadic freedom.

For several weeks in Vietnam’s scorching heat I carried that book, found sanctuary in it, brought home this paper souvenir, the last page, smudged with Vietnam’s unique red dirt, used as a diary to record our losses.

Fast forward to winter 2019. A friend from Rockport, MA, mentioned the name Jan Yoors while making small talk. I replied how I knew his book, how much it meant to me. By remarkable coincidence Vanya, Jan’s son, was my friends next door neighbor. He offered to introduce us.

On July 4th, at a Veterans for Peace gathering in Rockport, while a cluster of old timers sat, ate and gabbed before heading out to march in the town’s annual parade, I sat in the cozy living room of Vanya Yoors, with his wife Christine, their two dogs, and Marianne Yoors, Jan’s 93-year-old-widow, just then visiting from New York. Jan, known for his writing, photography and tapestry weavings, had two wives simultaneously, but that is a story for another time.

For a quickly passing hour, as if the terrible events were just then unfolding, Marianne, seated on a comfortable couch, recollected her war experiences in Nazi-occupied Belgium. The Germans had rounded up many of her friends, she said. Hauled them away. When her father was arrested she banged on the door of the Nazi commandant, defiantly strode into his office, and demanded to know her father’s whereabouts. There was nothing to be done, said the high ranking officer. The train had departed to Auschwitz.

“I could have done more,” said Marianne. For him, for all the others.

Vanya, who may have heard this story of survivor’s guilt more than once, knowingly disagreed.

You, a young Dutch girl with a Jewish father–a teenager, did all you could,” he replied. “All you could do

Jan had fought for the French resistance, said Marianne, was captured, incarcerated for months, then released, but the torture had taken its toll. Cruel scars covered his body. He was never the same. And never talked about it.

There is no inkling of torment in Jan’s vibrant book on gypsies. War is the subject of his Crossing: A Journal of Survival and Resistance in World War II. Marianne said her husband’s biography, written by a best selling academic, lacked the gut felt sensibilities of war, its grit, suffering, and sorrow. During all this time I listened attentively, making only an occasional remark.

“You were in war?” asked Marianne.

I nodded yes. “Vietnam.”

“It’s in your eyes,” she said. “I see this in your eyes.”

As Marianne related other events she had witnessed, her war time seeming to invade the very room in which we sat, I was impressed by her remarkable inner strength, though within her she contained much grief. Then it was my turn to tell a story. I told how one evening, 25 years ago, friends played a few minutes of a recording of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, a work commissioned in response to the Holocaust.

I was moved by it, and a few months later, while house sitting, I put on the same recording, turned off the lights, and lay back in a large comfortable chair. By the second movement I began weeping, then sobbing, and soon felt a great unburdening, as if something deep inside me, long held back, set itself free. When the beautiful sorrow ended, for hours on end I replayed the music, and continued to weep. In college I had written about war stress, but did not think I had it.

Perhaps Marianne might listen to this music? Perhaps, she said.

When it came time to leave Marianne wrestled herself up from the comfy sofa, stepped toward me, and proceed to clasp me in the arc of her arms. “Give me a hug,” she demanded. And I did. “No. Give me a real hug,” she said, and once, twice, three times, vigorously she pulled me to her.

I said goodbye to Vanya, to his wife, then off I went, to rejoin my friends, who were readying for the parade.

Under a blazing summer sun, the Fourth of July march, an annual Rockport tradition, covered one hilly mile and took two hours. Proceeding at an uneven pace, at times slow and steady, at times zipping along, six Veterans for Peace old timers, proudly bearing VFP’s black and white flags, a colorful banner, and jaunty anti-war signs, as always, brought up the rear. Ahead of us, a variety of civic and community groups, local sport teams, assorted clamoring bands and musicians, two wailing fire trucks, the occasional New England-themed float. For the entire length of the parade, along either side of the two-lane road were stately white painted century old New England houses–in front of them, crowds three and four deep, the lively people mostly white, and many perhaps of considerable wealth and privilege.

At every bend in the road, along each brief straightaway, the townspeople cheered us as we marched by. Long, almost joyful applause filled the humid air. Looking about, I detected an occasional look of chagrin, or reluctant knowing nod. During and after the initial years of Afghanistan and Iraq these same good people had booed and hissed as we strode by, taunted us with crude remarks, turned their angry backs upon us. For a quarter mile I pondered who or what had changed their minds; the question, I soon realized, was irrelevant. The citizens of Rockport had woken to the truth, and that was all that  mattered.

At a curve in the road, standing still, waiting for the bottleneck to clear, from my right came a sudden movement: a familiar figure ambled from the crowd, beckoned me toward her. Another immense hug. Vanya snapping the picture. Clearly our war experience was a bond between us.

A quarter-mile later, as the sun began to set, the spirited march, once past the judges reviewing stand, came to a welcoming end. Back home in Salem, rested up, I contemplated how that afternoon, in a comfortable and pleasant sea-side town, Marianne Yoors, aged widow of a WWII veteran–had told me her tales of a dreadful time, stories that demand our attention, so that presently, we do not relive her past, but act to assure our future.

References.

Jan Yoors website

New York Times, Marianne Yoors

Gorecki Symphony No. 3

 

More articles by:

Marc Levy was an infantry medic with the First Cavalry in Vietnam and Cambodia in 1970. His work has appeared in New Millennium Writings, Stone Canoe, Mudfish, Chiron Review, KGB Bar Lit Mag, and elsewhere.. His books are How Stevie Nearly Lost the War and Other Postwar Stories, and Dreams, Vietnam and Other Dreams. His website is Medic in the Green Time. Email: silverspartan@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
August 16, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Uncle Sam was Born Lethal
Jennifer Matsui
La Danse Mossad: Robert Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein
Rob Urie
Neoliberalism and Environmental Calamity
Stuart A. Newman
The Biotech-Industrial Complex Gets Ready to Define What is Human
Nick Alexandrov
Prevention Through Deterrence: The Strategy Shared by the El Paso Shooter and the U.S. Border Patrol
Jeffrey St. Clair
The First Dambuster: a Coyote Tale
Eric Draitser
“Bernie is Trump” (and other Corporate Media Bullsh*t)
Nick Pemberton
Is White Supremacism a Mental Illness?
Jim Kavanagh
Dead Man’s Hand: The Impeachment Gambit
Andrew Levine
Have They No Decency?
David Yearsley
Kind of Blue at 60
Ramzy Baroud
Manifestos of Hate: What White Terrorists Have in Common
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The War on Nature
Martha Rosenberg
Catch and Hang Live Chickens for Slaughter: $11 an Hour Possible!
Yoav Litvin
Israel Fears a Visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib
Neve Gordon
It’s No Wonder the Military likes Violent Video Games, They Can Help Train Civilians to Become Warriors
Susan Miller
That Debacle at the Border is Genocide
Ralph Nader
With the Boeing 737 MAX Grounded, Top Boeing Bosses Must Testify Before Congress Now
Victor Grossman
Warnings, Ancient and Modern
Meena Miriam Yust - Arshad Khan
The Microplastic Threat
Kavitha Muralidharan
‘Today We Seek Those Fish in Discovery Channel’
Louis Proyect
The Vanity Cinema of Quentin Tarantino
Bob Scofield
Tit For Tat: Baltimore Takes Another Hit, This Time From Uruguay
Nozomi Hayase
The Prosecution of Julian Assange Affects Us All
Ron Jacobs
People’s Music for the Soul
John Feffer
Is America Crazy?
Jonathan Power
Russia and China are Growing Closer Again
John W. Whitehead
Who Inflicts the Most Gun Violence in America? The U.S. Government and Its Police Forces
Justin Vest
ICE: You’re Not Welcome in the South
Jill Richardson
Race is a Social Construct, But It Still Matters
Dean Baker
The NYT Gets the Story on Automation and Inequality Completely Wrong
Nino Pagliccia
Venezuela Retains Political Control After New US Coercive Measures
Gary Leupp
MSNBC and the Next Election: Racism is the Issue (and Don’t Talk about Socialism)
R. G. Davis
Paul Krassner: Investigative Satirist
Negin Owliaei
Red State Rip Off: Cutting Worker Pay by $1.5 Billion
Christopher Brauchli
The Side of Trump We Rarely See
Curtis Johnson
The Unbroken Line: From Slavery to the El Paso Shooting
Jesse Jackson
End Endless War and Bring Peace to Korea
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: What About a New City Center?
Tracey L. Rogers
Candidates Need a Moral Vision
Nicky Reid
I Was a Red Flag Kid
John Kendall Hawkins
The Sixties Victory Lap in an Empty Arena
Stephen Cooper
Tony Chin’s Unstoppable, Historic Career in Music
Charles R. Larson
Review: Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime
Elizabeth Keyes
Haiku Fighting
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail