We just went down to the area around the Gloucester House to take a pic of one of the the anchors of the USS Maine that is (used to be?) there. If anyone knows which one it is, clue us in because we couldn’t find it. It always surprises us to run into it down there amongst the tourists and fishing gear. We think about the Maine on Memorial Day. She was a battleship sunk in Havana Harbor during the revolt there against the Spanish. Why she went down is still unclear. Did she hit a mine? Was there an explosion in her coal bunkers? We don’t know, but it’s important to point out that the exact cause didn’t matter to the guys who were killed or to their families back home. We’ve been to all of the war memorials around Gloucester many times, each of them is poignant in its own way. The WW II memorial front and center on the Boulevard contrasted with the Vietnam one tucked away near the high school have always said more to us more about how the culture absorbed the impacts of those respective conflicts than any poem or song.
The Maine’s bower hits us differently, though, because it is an artifact. It’s an actual thing the guys would haul up and down, probably swear at, bruise their knuckles on. They would worry about it, some of them. “Is it set, is it holding?” But their worries about the anchor, like so many concerns in life, were not congruent with the actual mechanism of the eventual catastrophe.
Like so much of warfare today in the age of stand-off weaponry and even as civilians in a society where lives can be snuffed out in an instant by any number of means intentionally or otherwise, what came at those guys was a surprise. Death came out of nowhere. Everyone one of those guys had plans for that day that didn’t involve what happened, none of them saw it coming.
Humans have always glorified the concept of battle, as our most ancient texts show. But in the end, so many of the people we honor this weekend were struck down not taking a hill or leading a charge, but doing their duty and managing the unexpected in times of unprecedented crisis they did not expect. On the Maine, given the watch schedule of a ship, some of those struck down were even asleep when disaster struck.
Yet, rightfully, we honor them all the same. I think that in this, as in so many things, we have much to learn from them.
With thanks to those who have served,