Wednesday, March 21, 2007

watch this space

San Diego is a military town. There's a few naval bases scattered around the place and the marines have a couple of airports. Top Gun, the movie once described by a friend as America's way of getting over the failure of Vietnam, was filmed here. Up the coast, massive hovercrafts cruise across the beach and into the Pacific, Humvees bounce across the dunes and fighter planes buzz overhead, going through their exercises. Those tax dollars aren't going spend themselves are they?

If you go out at night San Diego, chances are you'll run into someone who works in or with the military. A couple of nights ago, I went out to a wine bar with Andy to celebrate the birthday of one of his friends. Californian wine is not a bad choice if there's no Australian grog laying about. The Merlot I was drinking reminded me of some of the stuff that has come out of the Mclaren Vale. Similar climate maybe? As our group started to thin out, I overheard the people behind me talking about Australia. I shoehorned my way into their conversation and chatted with them for about half an hour. The three guys all worked in the Navy and the girls as nurses. Funny how things don't change. The guys had seen a lot of the world, including a great deal of the port cities in Australia. One of them was telling me the time he had visited Perth. He and another sailor had gone out after an official navy event. Because of the nature of the event, they were both dressed in their full uniforms, so they stuck out like sore thumbs. As the night wore on and the bar hoping became slower, things got a little more groggy and fuses became shorter. They bumped into a group of about 10 students who took a particular disliking to them (thanks to navy guys connections with the war in Iraq), and then proceeded to shout insults at them, descending quickly into a fist fight. 10 vs 2. Not a good outcome. They said they were used to getting lip about being in the military and that everyone understood it was just one of those negative things that came with the job. Next week they're off to Kuwait.

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, a military cemetery on a hill overlooking San Diego, is set in a beautifully peaceful part of the world. Used as a burial ground as far back as the 1700s (by the Mexicans), it is a place where rest and reflection comes naturally to visitors and occupants alike. A few years ago, when the cemetery was running out of space to commemorate the dead, a wall was erected along the side of the hill facing the city. On the wall, marble tablets engraved with dates, names and religion are lined up in rows. The tablets remember people who have either died during service or who have died since they served. As they start at one end of the wall and work their way across it, filling it as needed. The closer you get to the end of filled tablets, the more recent the dates get. The end tablets baring 2007 are a little weird to see, especially when you see the birth dates are fresher than your own. I couldn't help noticing the blank spaces at the end of these tablets. They reminded me of Anzac Parade in Canberra. There, Australia keeps a collection of statues and monuments honouring the wars Australians have fought and died in. The few times I've been to Canberra, I've wandered up and down this road, checking out the monuments and playing a morbid game of trying to spot similar names to friends and family, occasionally spotting my own name amongst the dead. Reading these names and imagining the poor scared bastard who it belonged to has always got to me. But it wasn't the seemingly endless list of names or the numerous monuments that upset me. It was the empty spaces that had been purposely left for the monuments of future wars that was really spooky.


ElmoreGirl said...

In 2000, Jo and I visited the War memorial in Korea, on the anniversary of the war. I think it was 55 years at that time. We saw your name amongst the Canadian servicemen and it really got to me then.
Old GWB plans to fill the rest of those empty spaces in San Diego[and his crony JWH seems to agree].

ElmoreGirl said...

Re my previous post - it was 50 years in 2000 since the Korean War ! There was quite a large
expo-type display at the Memorial, which featured several floors of war memoribilia, life-size figures, and replicas of temporary shacks, etc, depicting how the local people lived and survived in terrible conditions. There were tanks and guns, cannons etc. At first I had not wanted to go there to see it, but it turned out to be the most affecting experience of the journey.