MIKE BARNICLE ON HARDBALL: American troops sweat it out

American troops sweat it out as Iraq’s Parliament and Congress go on vacation. “Hardball” guest host Mike Barnicle talks to Rep. Duncan Hunter.


MIKE BARNICLE ON WTKK: Guest Col. Oliver North

Mike Barnicle Program, on 96.9 FM Talk, WTKK-Boston. Guest: Col. Oliver North, host “War Stories with Oliver North” on FOX News Channel.



Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., joins Hardball” guest host Mike Barnicle to discuss the imminent jailing of Scooter Libby and the progress of the war in Iraq. Scooter Libby could be in prison in six to eight weeks.




Guest: Evan Thomas, Newsweek Magazine, author, “Sea of Thunder”.


MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: A Day to ask, who were they?


May 31, 1998

At the intersection of VFW Parkway and LaGrange Street in West Roxbury there is a sign that stands like a silent sentry reminding us of a proud past filled with a quiet sadness that lingers still across all the years even though the American memory seems to have less and less capacity to recall the cruel and true costs of war. It is a memorial to brothers — Thomas and Gerald Keenan — who died in 1944.

Each day, thousands pass through the busy crossroads. And, each day, the sign is there, nearly invisible to those idling in autos: “Keenan Memorial Square,” the top line reads. “Thomas W. Jr. — US Marines, 1920-1944.” And, right beside the brief reference to that young man, “Gerald J. — US Navy, 1925-1944. Brothers who gave the supreme sacrifice for their country. For a long time I wondered about those brave boys. Who were they? Where did they live? When did they die? Who — and what — did they leave behind?

The other day along LaGrange, nobody seemed to know. It’s understandable; too much time has passed. People come, people go. Families move, taking local lore or the treasure of stories spawned on city streets to new ZIP codes and suburban destinations where the past is homogenized, packed away or even forgotten, like relics in an attic.

Fifty-four years ago, the United States was a different country. The dimension, the scope and the staggering casualties of a great war fought on two fronts had reached into every household. The Depression had been defeated. D-Day sent a coast-to-coast current of electric euphoria that was offset only by the continual drumroll and the sound of “Taps” that echoed in graveyards of small towns as well as big cities where so many families were touched with the tears and the toll of burying their heroic dead.

St. Joseph’s Cemetery is just a quarter-mile from the sign. And there, in a lovely grotto surrounded by the shade of a mature elm, a flat, stone marker was discovered in freshly cut grass. This is where Thomas and Gerald came after being brought home from their war.

Shut your eyes and you can see them still — and you can sense the society that mourned them after they lost their lives in battles that helped deliver the gift of liberty we open each morning. They returned to a place where self-pity was a stranger, where neighbors knew each other, where people actually volunteered for duty and willingly went without staples like sugar or gas because the cause was greater than any individual need, the collective will stronger than the smug selfishness thatoften sets us apart today.

But who were they? And what did they leave behind?

“I think you need to talk to my uncle,” said the young man who answered the door at the house where both boys grew up. “They know the story. And it’s still sad to talk about.”

Thomas and Helen Keenan had 10 children, seven boys and three girls. The father was a Boston firefighter. The family lived in West Roxbury. After Pearl Harbor, the oldest, Tom Jr., joined the Marine Corps. A few months later, his brother Gerald enlisted in the Navy after Roslindale High.

“Thomas died in the battle for Tinian Island,” his brother Joe, 71, recalled yesterday. “He died July 14, 1944. A priest came to the house with the fellow from Western Union. That’s how we were told: a telegram.

“Two weeks later, Gerald died when the Japs torpedoed his ship, the Canberra. Funny thing is, I helped build that boat at the Charlestown Navy Yard. It was a very difficult time. My parents never got over it.”

Both brothers came back to Boston together in death. They were waked at the old Legion Post in West Roxbury, blocks from their boyhood home, and buried side-by-side on Aug. 28, 1944.

Less than a year later, World War II was over. Germany surrendered the following spring. The Japanese conceded defeat in late summer, all because so many brave young men swallowed their fear and delivered their lives to a common cause not often recalled all these years later.

Thomas Keenan was 23. His brother Gerald was 19. And yesterday — Memorial Day — was all about them.

MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Do this in hope, remembrance


May 17, 1998

BELFAST — A hundred children of parents from a poor, shattered neighborhood where the past always conspired to defeat any decent future streamed into Holy Trinity Church yesterday to make their First Holy Communion. All the girls wore dazzling white dresses and boys were dressed in light gray suits as entire families watched, dizzy with pride.

“It’s like a fashion show,” the Rev. Matt Wallace said. “Most of these people go into debt to buy the outfits. Father Wallace is pastor of Holy Trinity in the Turf Lodge section of town. He is 55, a priest for 28 years, and he brings an infectious laugh and wonderful sense of humor to a parish of 6,000 people living in an area smaller than Beacon Hill. The church is the focal point of the community. It is a large, square cement-block building with a flat factory roof, located high on a hill above Center City, all right in the shadow of a British Army facility.

“Lock your car,” he advises visitors. “We share cars around here. Nearly everyone belongs to the D.L.A. club. That’s disability living allowance, and without it there wouldn’t be a single car in Turf Lodge.”

He and Father Patrick McCafferty were in the sacristy putting on their chasubles and stoles for Mass. The church was packed for a simple ceremony that manages to offer hope and optimism to an area more familiar with funerals after 30 years of violence.

“This church opened on Bloody Sunday,” Father Wallace recalled. The people here have suffered a lot but they are the most forgiving people you’ll find. And I think that this is the last community in the Western world where the extended family is so important.”

The pastor, two altar boys, and Father McCafferty strolled to the altar promptly at 11 a.m. Everyone rose as voices from the grammar school choir filled the building while the service began.

All the doors were open for a breeze so at the Offertory the sound of an Army helicopter overhead competed with the song, “We Love You Jesus.” Due to the huge numbers receiving, communion took 15 minutes to complete as the place filled with the light of flash bulbs as youngsters, hands folded in prayer, accepted the host and new responsibilities.

After Mass, everybody flooded on to the driveway between the rectory and the church where most of the adults lit a smoke before lining up for family pictures with the two priests. “Like I’m a rock star,” Father Wallace laughed.

Maria Coogan stood off to the side of the happy crowd, cigarette in hand, surveying the long line of two-story attached stucco bungalows as if each building contained a single story with a separate memory. Across the years, Turf Lodge has lost 27 men in a struggle rooted in politics, economics, and religion; a bitter, bloody fight that seems to have lessened a bit recently and might even recede more with this week’s vote on peace.

“Billy Gibson lived right across the street,” Coogan said. “He was 15 when the soldiers murdered him. Sean Savage lived two houses up; he was killed in Gibraltar. Died for his country, he did.”

“Terry Enright was the last we had,” Father Wallace pointed out. “They shot him to death in January. He was a wonderful lad. Worked with Catholic kids as well as Protestants. A youth worker, he was. Wonderful man.”

“Why was he killed?” the priest was asked.

“Catholic,” he replied.

“Then there was Brian Stewart,” Maria Coogan added. “He was 9 when a British soldier murdered him; the soldier’s name was Mark Thien. He did a year in jail and he’s back in the Army today. I don’t think there’ll ever be peace in Northern Ireland. Too many splinter groups. Too many bad memories.”

The parish population has an unemployment rate of 35 percent. It is presently enduring the horror of teenage suicide and rising drug usage. But yesterday, with marvelous weather and all these terrific children, smiling and almost saintly in their appearance, the past disappeared for a morning while a whole community took time out to concentrate on this country’s one true future.

MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: Scars of past critical today


February 22, 1998

He was thinking across all the lost years this week as he witnessed three important people sitting on a stage in Ohio like a collection of houseplants, incapable of explaining why we are on the verge of dropping tons of bombs on Iraq to do a job that actually requires a single bullet. The presentation was jarring because it reminded the man of so many things that took place three decades ago, each of them, in retrospect, various acts of a play critics were unable to close.

“During the Cuban missile crisis, I was working at the Peace Corps during the day and going to Georgetown Law at night,” Harold Pachios said yesterday. “And I can recall Kennedy coming on TV to make the case for the blockade. He had charts and pictures and he explained the whole thing to us “I was thinking about that when I saw Madeleine Albright at Ohio State,” Pachios continued. “Where are the pictures? Where’s the evidence? They haven’t made the case yet.”

Today, Hal Pachios is a wonderful lawyer in Portland, Maine. He left the Peace Corps to work at the White House as an assistant press secretary to Lyndon Johnson, who had a dream of building a great society only to see it evolve into a nightmare, concocted by his own hand, which he was unable to remove from a bomb bay door over Vietnam.

Now, Pachios is talking about Johnson and a morning in 1966 when the two of them were at Bethesda Naval Hospital after the president had a gallbladder operation. Later, Johnson would pull his shirt out of his trousers to show reporters the scar from surgery. But that day in the hospital, he wanted to visit the wounded from a war that was killing the whole country along with LBJ’s good intentions.

“We went to a ward filled with wounded Marines,” Pachios recalled. “There was a small room with two beds in it off the main ward. It was for patients with severe head wounds. There were two Marines in that room.

“I’ll never forget it. The president walked in — I was with him — and we looked at the two Marines and it was shocking. They were children. Just kids. Maybe 18 at most.

“Johnson was stricken,” Hal Pachios said. “That’s the only word for it. That’s the only word I can use: stricken. Both boys were dead; they just didn’t know it yet.

“It was pretty rough stuff. It’s one thing to order bombing and move troops around, but then to go see the victims and realize that these were the children we send out to fight these wars, it’s tough,” Pachios pointed out. “People accuse Johnson of many things — some true, some not true — but I can tell you he was not insensitive to the price those kids had paid. I can tell you that for sure. He was shocked.”

All these years later and we’re treated to the hideous spectacle of another president at a different time who can’t even explain a ludicrous situation with a young intern, never mind clearly define the reasons why America might bomb an entire people because of our consistent failure to deal with their dictator. It’s as if the FBI decided to take out all of Brooklyn and Queens simply to get John Gotti.

That Iraq is not some Third World sewer seems lost on many of those in charge here. It is a huge nation of middle-class citizens who live without aspirin, penicillin or hot water and are used as human shields by their government to protect a butchering madman — an international crime boss, actually — who surely must have posed just as great a threat to world security in November as he does in February

So, the logical questions: Why now? And why mutilate innocents when, by Clinton’s own admission, there is no guarantee we will eliminate Hussein or end his ability to develop chemical and biological weapons?

Earlier in the week, speaking from the unthreatening environs provided by a Pentagon audience, the president smugly informed America it must not dwell in the past because the future had to be secured. But the past is critical to any assessment of action today because it is proof that when a nation’s culture becomes confused or corrupted by the foolish maneuvers of isolated leaders intent only on clinging to office, the scar left on our society is real and lingering. When the dust settles, we will see that hitting Iraq is not some antiseptic Nintendo-64 game where smart bombs leave no victims.

America is many things. However, a culture capable of glibly and safely easing itself into the 21st century after playing a lead role in the slaughter of innocents is not among them


American troops land on Normandy beaches during the historic D-Day, June 6, 1944.


The Boston Globe

June 7, 1994

By Mike Barnicle

ST. JAMES, France – On a stunning, cloudless afternoon, when the green grass of the low, rolling hills flowed like a brilliant emerald wave in the soft breeze, a long ribbon of schoolchildren marched in procession to honor 4,410 American boys buried beneath 28 acres of French soil liberated with their blood 50 summers ago.

More than 4,000 boys and girls had been summoned from this agricultural region 12 miles from the Normandy coast and they all walked in silence, each carrying a white cardboard box containing a single white dove.

It was well before the pageantry involving world politicians began yesterday at places named Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach, and there were no famous people present to give speeches. Instead, farmers and office workers, housewives and schoolteachers, young French families and frail grandparents came by foot and by car from miles around to pray, stand or simply stare at the graves of so many assembled strangers whom they never knew, never met but never forgot.

In the blue sky above the startling cemetery, a lone French paratrooper dressed in the uniform of the 82nd Airborne drifted lazily down to the sacred ground below. As he landed, a little girl took his hand and led him toward the chapel at the edge of all the marble headstones where the two of them joined the mayor of St. James several local dignitaries and a few members of the French and American military as they saluted history’s fallen legions.

A band played the national anthems of both countries. Then the children, one by one, stood alongside all the stone monuments and placed a lovely, lonesome daisy on top of every grave. All was quiet as the children opened the boxes and momentarily held the doves in innocent hands before releasing them in unison, the white birds soaring off in squadron toward England and ports all these brave dead boys sailed from at the start of their last summer, 1944. from Massachusetts. And their names represent a unique cultural tapestry. In death they blend together, all of them beyond prejudice, envy or the resentments that often weigh us down today. A few of them were: Douglas Perry, Robert Cahill, Ralph Parenteau, Robert Lamb, Vartan Panagian, James Huard, Alfred Cloutier, Herman Lindsey Jr., William LeClair, Clifford Oliver Jr., Walter Potter, Carl Savlone, James Starr, Joseph Tuohey, William Walsh, Edgar Whittaker, Daniel Esposito, Lucien La Croix, George Nawn, Thomas Duffy, Stephen Jakstis, Frank Mello, Bronis Lipskis, Michael Halprin, Nathan Gurwitz, Edward Drakopolos, William Breed, Neil Manning, Francis X. Kelly and Earnest W. Prussman from West Newton who, on Sept. 8, 1944, won the Medal of Honor when he destroyed two German machine gun bunkers before being killed by enemy gunfire.

You wonder now, all these years later, what the dead might have done: Who among them would have been doctors saving lives, teachers strengthening young minds, laborers building roads and cities, homes and highways, farmers growing crops, salesmen, police, firefighters. You wonder about the children some of them left and the families they were denied. You wonder about the parents of the 20 sets of brothers buried here, side by side, and how anyone could ever handle such great eternal grief.

These are the heroes who all died young. They missed sunsets and baptisms. They went without 50 World Series and 50 New Year’s Eves. They never stood at the door, anxiously waiting for a daughter’s first date to arrive or witnessed their kids’ junior proms and college graduations. They never saw men landing on the moon or a fax machine. They were not allowed to walk on a beach with the girls they loved or hold the hands of grandchildren who would have asked about their great crusade.

In our increasingly selfish country where everything and nearly everyone is part of some special interest, where defining any enemy or current threat to live or moral values is as difficult as peering through the murky fog that envelops this French coast, it is stunning to realize that these 4,410 and millions of others sailed to certain danger with no thought of conquest or profit. They came because they were asked and because they were needed.

And today the French here do their best to remember. The local people, far from the glamour of Paris, live in an area of centuries-old villages where nearly everyone still depends on the land. These citizens are the French equivalent of our Midwesterners, open, honest and grateful for what they have been given.

For the past few weekends, they have come in droves to the American cemetery. While D-Day has become a television spectacle in the United States, these simple folks who manage to get by without 100 cable channels, CNN, MTV, microwaves and ATM machines on every block recall their history and those who helped them. Unlike so many of us at home, geography never insulated them from sacrifice.

Now, as the sun began to set, the people began to leave the cemetery in groups of twos and threes, quietly, with respect, the way you would leave a church or temple after prayer. And as they headed toward their cars and homes and their rural lives, the only sounds in the gathering dusk were the bark of a single dog, the crowing of a rooster somewhere in the distance and the rustle of the wind that provides these boys eternal companionship


US soldiers gather around trucks disembarking from landing crafts shortly after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches, June 6, 1944. 


The Boston Globe

June 5, 1994

By Mike Barnicle

STE. MERE-EGLISE, France – “Where is Robert Murphy?” the old trooper asked.

“He will be here soon,” the woman in the shop told him. “He comes all the time. He is like one of us. Wait, you’ll see.”

The man’s name was William Lundquist. He is 71 and he stood straight as a sentry in the raw drizzle yesterday at the end of a narrow alley between two homes directly across the village square from where American paratroopers of the 82d Airborne Division dropped from the sky just after midnight, June 6, 1944, to liberate first a town and, inevitably, a whole continent.

Lundquist, originally from Hartford, was with the airborne, but yesterday he stood beneath a street sign halfway up the cement wall that read: “Rue Robert Murphy.” The 100-yard length of pavement is named after Bob Murphy who, at 18 on that dark night half a century back, had come all the way from Boston to tumble out of the darkness and into the rescuing limbs of a huge, sprawling chestnut tree within the walled courtyard of Madame Angele Levrault’s backyard. She was the town teacher, and when Murphy hit the ground, Madame Levrault ran frightened from the outhouse that is still here, next to a basketball court where children clad in Nike sneakers and sweatshirts play.

Murphy is a 68-year-old Cape Cod lawyer. He is famous throughout this peaceful village. And Bill Lundquist, whose life after war took him all the way to California and decades of steady employment in the aircraft industry, had been waiting patiently to meet him. Both men and thousands of others – American, British, Canadian and French – were all over the Normandy coast yesterday, saying hello and saying goodbye. They had come to recall and reflect upon that great and awful moment when freedom was purchased at a huge cost on D-Day. All of them are old and somewhat gray now, some limp, some wrestle with the emotion of the moment as they stare at a remarkable scene through history’s wounded eyes. They are not here for any speeches or applause. They have, instead, come to stand on the stage one final time and take their generation’s last bow. For those who suffered, struggled and sacrificed here, the anniversary at Normandy is their curtain call.

“I was 19 years old,” Morley Piper remembered. “I was a platoon leader with Charlie Company, 3d Battalion, 29th Infantry Division. We landed on Omaha Beach and I still remember the noise and the light from the ship’s batteries behind us as we came in. It was something to see.”

Piper lives on the North Shore and is an executive with the New England Newspaper Association. He grew up in Canton, Ill., a place of 10,000 people where the bitter hand of the Depression still clung to the economy like a strangler’s claw when Piper enlisted in the United States Army.

“It was a different, a different country,” he pointed out. “As a matter of fact, when I signed up, so did my father. They were taking them as old as 40 and he joined right along with me. He served stateside. That’s the way it was.”

You would need the skills of archeology to find the lost land all those young boys left voluntarily to sail to their fate in battlefields like Normandy, Anzio, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, all in pursuit of an ideal called freedom. Then, they left a nation commonly known for opportunity. Today, we have been invaded with a false sense of entitlement – a shabby replacement for individual attainment – and litigation outweighs liberty.

But the generation that crawled on their stomachs through a shower of steel and shrapnel on these beaches, the boys who climbed a 10-story tall, straight-up cliff called Pointe du Hoc, all of it in the face of withering German gunfire, were not philosophers or politicians. They were simply Americans: Catholic, Jewish and Protestant; Greek, French, Irish, Italian and Polish. The sons of wealth as well as poverty, sons of doctors, engineers, poets, farmers and street sweepers, they came because they were called to a higher duty by their government.

“I left a life,” Leonard Weintraub was saying. “I was a lawyer in New York City. I had a life all worked out and all of a sudden I was a soldier.”

Weintraub, in his late 70s now, stood in the sun alongside Utah Beach where he came ashore at 9:30 in the morning on June 6, 1944, with the 9th Infantry. There was a souvenir shop 50 yards from where he stood, looking up and down the caramel-colored sand, whipped by a 30-mile-an-hour gale off the English Channel.

“There is nothing you could ever write that could describe what I saw and what took place here 50 years ago. The death, the destruction, the incredible desecration. It was enormous. Nothing would ever prepare you for a scene like that.

“I wasn’t supposed to be a soldier, yet here I was carrying a rifle, willing and ready to shoot people. I never wanted to kill anybody but I had to. That’s what we had to do and we did it.

“My parents were immigrants. They came to New York in 1903,” Weintraub said. “I remember the Depression with all its difficulties and I certainly remember the Army and fighting here on D-Day. Where we are standing right now,” he said, “they called it Liberty Road that morning because we came off the beach here. And if you asked if I think this generation could do what we did 50 years ago, the answer is no. No, I do not think they could – or would – because unfortunately the country has changed too much and so have we… . It is all kind of sad.”

Those who came – and those who stayed, in cemeteries and unmarked graves carved in the lush countryside – carried many of the same dreams young people lug today. However, the old soldiers were part of a remarkable, uncomplaining age of Americans, who bore the brunt of economic chaos and world disaster and responded heroically to both. There simply was no quit in them.

To them, this was a great crusade, a cause complete with symbols of good and evil. There were clearly stated objectives and a set of defined goals. And all of it was all so long ago that people unashamedly had respect and affection for their president, Franklin Roosevelt.

“My father was a doctor just like me,” Thomas Macdonnell, of Marshfield, Mo., was saying outside the stone cathedral in the square of Ste. Mere-Eglise where Bill Lundquist looked for Bob Murphy. “During the Depression, I chopped cotton for 75 cents a day. My dad charged $1 for house calls and 50 cents for office visits. He charged $15 for the delivery of a healthy baby.

“That was my world. It was small, simple and peaceful and it was filled with love despite the struggles. I joined the Army at 19 to help keep that world. My Army serial number is 17132441. A man never forgets something like that.

“I landed on Omaha Beach with the 1st Division at 07:15. My sergeant’s name was Charlie Jutkiewicz. He was from Massachusetts. It was a horrible, horrible scene out there.

“I can recall a boy next to me in the landing craft who was so convinced that he was going to die that he had all his hair cut off and he sent it home to his mother in an envelope along with a letter to Joliet, Ill., which was his home. We hit the beach and sure enough that boy got killed. I always felt badly that I did not know his name.”

Tom Macdonnell is a scrappy, wiry little man who walks with a trace of injuries suffered on Omaha and at The Bulge in December 1944. Today, he has eight children and “a backyard a mile long.”

“I would like to think my children, or their children, could and would do what we did here, but the answer is I don’t know. Nobody does. And God forbid we should ever be confronted with a situation where such action might be called for.

“I don’t want anybody to celebrate what took place here because an awful lot of people were killed. That’s one reason why I became a doctor. I had been involved in taking enough lives. I went home to save a few. But I think the world should remember. I think that’s important.”

Down the road from where old paratroopers gathered in Ste. Mere-Eglise, preparing to jump this afternoon in a recreation of their feat of 50 years ago, there is a dark graveyard at La Cambe where the remains of more than 5,000 German soldiers are buried beneath an umbrella of elms. Yesterday, a 72-year-old man from Berlin, Walter Scheel, stood, shoulders hunched, looking down at the grave of his brother Gunther, who died at 20 years of age on June 6, unsuccessfully defending Pointe du Hoc as Rangers scaled the cliffs.

“I was with a Panzer division near Paris,” Walter Scheel said. “It was three months before I found that my brother had been killed. It is all so sad, even all these years later.

“I feel awkward coming here, but I wanted to come. My brother and I were soldiers, not Nazis, and we were not much different from your soldiers. I can see that today. I have met many of them and they and I are not different. We are sad but happy to be alive.”

Inside the Cathedral of Ste. Mere-Eglise, Pierre Feuf, 82, played the organ donated by paratroopers who fought here. The old man remembers the strangers who came to save his country.

“They were a miracle from the sky,” he said. “We should never, ever forget.”

Above him, there was a stained-glass window, a mixture of reds, blues and yellows, assembled in the form of a winged crusader wearing an airborne patch, the phrase, “Ils Sont Revenus” stenciled in the panes, the phrase meaning, “They have come back.”

Outside the square was a blur of tourist buses, TV crews, concessionaires and gendarmes. And, always, there were the proud old men with their families and friends, returning to a spot where so many became forever young while the survivors defined an entire generation: They beat back a Depression, fought a world war on two global fronts, returned home, went to work, raised families, educated themselves through the GI Bill, purchased homes with VA mortgages, exploded into the suburbs, lived by the law, prayed and dreamed their children would be better off than they had been. It was the simple wish of a strong group.

Now, as a squadron of C-130s suddenly darkened the sky, William Lundquist, who earned $28 a month as a paratrooper in 1944, came across the street, still looking for Robert Murphy.

“I always wanted to meet the guy,” Bill Lundquist said. “I jumped with him. I’ve read about him. I’ve been here before and seen the street sign with his name on it. I just want to meet the guy.”

Another veteran told Lundquist that Murphy would be here late today. He was supposed to jump with 37 other old men in a tribute to the past, outside this village.

“Well, I guess it’ll have to wait,” Bill Lundquist was saying. “All I wanted to do was shake his hand and tell him – one old trooper to another – `Hey fella, you got the job done.’ “

MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: We died for the 4th of July



July 5, 1987

It’s the Fourth of July weekend. A time when much of America marches and sings and stops to do all sorts of different things for all kinds of reasons.

Where are you today? At the beach? On the front step? Down the Cape? Up in Vermont? Just sitting around the house hoping the sun will clear that clutter of clouds and provide you with the gift of a fine summer’s day? What are you doing? Making plans to have a cookout? Looking for your bathing suit? Cranking up a lawn mower? Sleeping late? Working maybe? Still talking about the parade or the fireworks that shattered the night sky? Monitoring kids as they move through the kitchen like troops on maneuver, all the while ignoring your questions about what they’re going to do and where they’re going to go?

Maybe you’re alone? Maybe you’re far from that particular place you might call home? Maybe you’re simply looking for a quiet spot where the breeze blows for you alone and the heat can never wound or stifle?

That’s where I live, in a sanctuary of private peace. A place that proves what life merely hints at: Death is the ultimate democracy, and all of those who are here with me this morning died, in a sense, for the Fourth of July.

Make no mistake, there are all kinds of people here with me. And they come from every part of the land you walk today: From the hill country of Tennessee, from the big industrial cities of the Midwest, from Boston, from Valdosta, Ga., and Culpepper, Texas, and Bellflower, Calif., Brooklyn, N. Y., too.

We are black and white and brown, and mostly young forever. That’s because we died during the permanent season of youth. We fell at places such as Okinawa and Anzio, by the Bay of Masan in Korea, along rocket-scarred ridges at Hill 881 South, looking through the mist toward the Laotian border, and in Grenada and Beirut as well.

We died for the Fourth of July!

It’s funny, but more than Memorial Day, more than November 11th, we always hope that who we were and what we did will be recalled at this time of year. Perhaps that’s because it is the lush edge of summer, a time when wounds seem remote and the concept of death is a stranger.

Shut your eyes for just a second and you’ll be able to see us, to hear us, too. We come from your hometown. You knew us. And, if you think about it for a minute, you can easily remember.

See that fellow over there? Well, on the Fourth of July, 1943, he was playing sandlot baseball in Clinton, Massachusetts. One year later, he took up residence with us because he had been claimed by a sniper’s bullet as he walked a hedgerow in Normandy.

Do you recall the fat kid who always made you laugh by turning on the hydrants and getting the cops mad during that hot summer of 1950 when the temperature was an unyielding adversary? He’s here. Been with us since Inchon.

And those boys who graduated from high school with you? Those kids with long hair and dreams of a decent future lived in a land that asked where Joe DiMaggio had gone and turned its lonely eyes to him? All those young men? They’re here, too.

They came over the course of a tortured decade, in a long proud parade — in numbers that never seemed to quit — from the A Shau valley, from Con Thien, from Camp Carroll and other miserable places that were quickly shuttled off to the shadows of history because America had chosen to become a land of living amnesiacs. But we remember.

We remember the hopes and dreams we had. We remember the families we left behind and the families we hoped to have someday.

We were poets and shortstops, schoolteachers and longshoremen, storekeepers and firemen, husbands, fathers, sons, lovers. Some of us were born rich. Some poor. Some knew glory before our last zip code was carved in stone. Some knew abuse and prejudice and the strictures of class.

Yet none of that matters now because there is no hate here. No unreasoning racism. No fits of temper, outrage or revenge. Not even much memory. Here, summer is forever.

Don’t feel badly for us, though, because we are the lucky ones. We don’t worry about the world ending in a single flash of agony caused by ignorance and unreason. We don’t have to be concerned about the steady tide of poverty, the ocean of drugs, all the lost sense of history or the victory of money over the elements of compassion and justice.

We are beyond all of that. Above it really. Because we are all dead now. And we died for the Fourth of July.

MIKE BARNICLE IN THE BOSTON GLOBE: The relics of our might


September 4, 1985

AN HOA, Vietnam – Liberty Bridge straddles a bend of the Phu Bon river where the flat, brown water ends at the edge of shoulder-high grass that stretches toward the distant horizon and the tall black mountains that run all the way to Laos. The bridge, in the heart of Quang Nam province about 25 miles southwest of DaNang, was built by the Americans in 1968 and destroyed by bombing in 1970.

Seventeen years ago, fierce fighting turned the area into a free-fire zone, causing people to flee the land and the rice fields that sit under a brutal sun. Now, the relics of our might rest under a swift current that swirls over chunks of concrete and the rusted steel shell of a Tiger Tank buried in 10 feet of water by time and war. “Many men died here,” Pham Dinh Dan was saying. “When I come here now, I can still hear the noise of the planes and the guns and the screams of the men who died.”

Today, Pham Dinh Dan is 44 years old. When he was a younger man, he served with the 91st Sapper Battalion, regular Viet Cong forces who fought the Marines near the narrow corridors of orange sand that weave in and out of the tall, yellow grass that borders the river banks.

“There was compassion on both sides of the battle,” he was saying. “We had a bitter hatred for the American government that sent men here, but there were times when we would see a soldier killed and his friend would be crying over his body and I would stop firing.”

Pham Dinh Dan was standing by the skeleton of the bridge and talking to a group of American veterans who had been invited back to Vietnam in August. He has a strong face and warm, brown eyes that give a life to his words beyond any interpreter’s translation.

“How old were you when you became a soldier?” Ernie Washington, an American who fought in 1967, asked him.

“I was 17,” he answered.

“Do you have any children?” Tom Vallely, another veteran, who served in 1969, wanted to know.

“I have a son who is 16,” said Pham Dinh Dan.

“I bet he’s smart, just like his father,” Vallely added.

“No,” Pham Dinh Dan said in a soft voice. “He is not so smart. He is not smart at all, really.

“You see, 16 days after he was born, my wife and my baby had to flee this area when the Americans raided our village near Que Son. They had to go into the jungles to live and it was very hard on them.”

“They were sprayed by the chemicals many times while they were in the jungles. He was very young then, and the chemicals had an effect on him. So he is not so smart now,” he said, pausing for a moment. “But he is a good boy.”

To his right, on the north bank of the river, there is a small open shack covered with a tin roof where once there had been a Marine bunker. Three women and two small children sat in the shade provided by the roof and asked the vistors for cigarettes.

“Our job was to destroy the fire base because there were so many big guns here directed at the area. Big guns. Eight-inch guns that we did not have,” he was saying. “We lost many men, but we kept on with our jobs because we were fighting for our own land.

“Many years ago we fought the Chinese here. Then we fought the French. Then the Americans came and we fought them, too. We would have fought forever.

“But when the Chinese and the French and the Americans left, they left behind all the machinery of war. They left many weapons and guns. And they left long-lasting poverty, too.

“I think that without all those wars and all the battles we would have been able to build an economy here. Now it is very poor and many people still die because of all the unexploded mines left behind.”

“Since 1975, we have lost 1,500 people in this province alone from bombs and mines, ” Pham Dinh Dam said. “After the war, we had a clearing operation and we were able to put away 65,000 bombs and mines and booby traps, but from time to time they still explode and kill people out in the fields. Like you, it will be a long, long time before we can finally overcome the consequences of war.”

At the jagged edge of the bombed-out bridge, a few initials and a date had been scratched into the cement when it was poured 17 summers ago. Both the Vietnamese and the Americans bent down to look at what had been written:”MCB, Charley Company, 6-14-68.”

“That seems like a long, long time ago,” said Ernie Washington.

“Yes,” Pham Dinh Dam agreed. “I wish we could have talked like this before we started the war.