Skip to Content

Guns and Religion in a Small Town on Memorial Day

An anti-war vet in Trumpland

In this format of a mass meeting of the passive, a recognition ritual places a glimmer of the spotlight on those who’d performed military service, and when the names of the distinct services were called, a wave of random patterns of the seated and the standing rose and fell throughout the hall. One woman, the only woman present who served, had done so in multiple branches, answering the call for the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Air Force. Apparently her career had never been in doubt; only the uniform. When our teacher-emcee announced, “this is the good part,” the organist thumped his keyboard and each service’s song was sung in turn. This was her baby, and so the transplant from New Jersey had the last word, and enjoined her assembled neighbors “to keep the small town connectedness alive.” Her spirit had been revved up by an inner ecstatic charge, and the podium now became her pulpit. She offered thanks to “our Lord Jesus Christ, that we live in a country where we can sing and salute,” although I’m fairly certain this latter mark of obeisance is even permitted to followers of the Prophet.

Accordingly, suffused with the images of “dusty trails” and “caissons” and “the halls of Montezuma,” not to mention the militant “Jesus,” the crowd broke up, with some lingering at a refreshment table for a soft drink and a piece of celebratory cake. I stood briefly nearby with a fellow Vietnam vet, a man who still bore the name of a colonial German ancestor. He had come there in the same duds he would wear changing the oil on his truck – the concept of “dress up” is weak among working men in these parts. Leaning on the cane that eased his war wound, he told me that his greatest regret about going to Vietnam was that he could no longer be a motorcycle racer when he came home. He voiced his gripes about the VA and government waste. “They’ve got research projects studying shrimp on a treadmill forgodsake,” he blurted out bewilderedly. And naturally I had to ask him if he thought Vietnam was worth it. “We shouldn’t have been over there,” he mused, but he was “glad to have done his duty,” the default sentiment in this gathering I reckon.

Among those for whom the concept of class is not taboo, the moral of this tale should be obvious. But I can provide a more explicit political context that illustrates the class divide I experienced so viscerally at this Memorial Day event. Up the road near a town several lumens shinier than Waldoboro, I’d been attending meetings of the Indivisibles, the movement emerging from the Democratic Party to fight the Trump agenda. I asked a woman in the group’s leadership circle what in the Indivisibles’ program is oriented toward detaching low income constituencies -- among whom I clearly identify our militarized veteran neighbors of Waldoboro - from Trump’s base in the upcoming electoral cycle. She paused momentarily perplexed. What she finally managed, breaking off our contact with a dismissive wave, was that the Indivisibles were only intent on mobilizing their own base, not engaging with Trump’s.

story | by Dr. Radut