This year, July 4th is especially significant for me.
June 30, my sister, Flo, her husband Carter, and I, drove to Grafton ND, for an event to honor two casualties aboard the USS Arizona, Dec. 7, 1941: my Uncle Frank Bernard, Grafton, and another Walsh County sailor, Floyd Wells, Fairdale, ND. Frank was 26 when he died; Floyd was 24
At the beginning, the events origin was somewhat mysterious to me. A man had written some months earlier that he had a fragment of the USS Arizona, and was going to gift it to the Walsh County History Museum in Minto. Later, the curator of the History Museum confirmed the gift, and said that there would be a ceremony, and we were invited to attend. The donor declined to identify himself by name or where he was from. Still, this was an invitation I did not want to refuse.
We arrived just in time for the ceremony. The fragment was small and authentic (see below), and was hand-delivered by the owner, a Florida man who had purchased it at an estate sale. It was encased in a glass frame with a photograph of the wreckage of the Arizona. Beside it were two vases with two red roses, one for each family. Another plaque identified the givers Dad, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne in WWII.
The gifting ceremony was brief and extraordinarily meaningful: an Honor Guard, 4-gun salute, Taps, invocation, no oration…. It was extraordinary. I am very grateful to the donor and to the museum. Before leaving the area, we went to the grave of the parents of Frank and our Dad, and our grandparents at the Catholic cemetery in Grafton, and my sister left the rose we had been given. (Henry and Josephine Bernard died in 1957 and 1963, and had lived their entire married life since 1901 in Grafton, and Henry 8 years or more before that. But the graves are the only reminders they existed in that place.)
Back home the evening of July 2, I prepared for a talk I’d been asked to give to a group of primarily international young people at a conference on Global Citizenship organized by the group ARK for Peace. My topic was on “Servant Leadership” within the general area of Democracy and Freedom.
As part of my talk I decided to invite my friend, Frank, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison about 1970 for the crime seeking to destroy Draft cards.
This day it was obvious to me that he had things he needed to say, near 50 years after his imprisonment at age 26 (which ultimately lasted about a year). His talk was powerful, and he had a very attentive audience, and afterwards he thanked me for the opportunity he had been given, at age 75, to tell his story. (See postnote at the end of this post.)
Turns out his one year sentence effectively continues. He has a prison number, and he’s not sure it would be safe for him to leave the United States and be able to return – even 50 years later. He feels a prisoner in the same country in which he has lived his entire life. “Democracy” and “Freedom” are tainted words in this country of his birth. His sin was to act on his protest of the military Draft in one of the dark times of this country of ours.
As I awoke on the morning of my talk, I had a thought which I wrote down and read at the beginning of my own talk to the young people: “Peace is messy. Anything that can go wrong, will. But compared to war, peace is always the better alternative. I choose peace.“
Peace is not easy. I said to the group that in a later rendition I might take out the word “always”, mindful of our worlds own past. A participant disagreed. One war simply begets the next, and on and on.
Those folks Frank and I talked to on Wednesday were, and are, their and our, future.
I wish them well.
Thank you, Judy, for the invitation to speak.
POSTNOTE: Frank gave me an 80 page publication on his life, “The Vietnam Era Oral History Project” published by the Minnesota Historical Society based on interview conducted by Kim Heikkila in 2018, and published by MHS in 2019. More can be found on the internet at the website on the Minnesota Eight. Note especially the links to Earthfolk and Outlaw Visions in the right hand column at the home page.
Frank Bernard in Honolulu, late 1930s
COMMENTS (More at end of post):
from Frank (co-leader on Wed): I am deeply and truly grateful for the opportunity you opened for me to speak and listen. Your work is praiseworthy. Peace,