Sunday Pages: One Last Call of Duty

Semper fi.

Dear Reader,

There’s no coming back from this.

Jeffrey Goldberg’s devastating piece in The Atlantic, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers,’” has mortally wounded the president’s already-foundering campaign. Despite vehement denials by Trump, his third wife, and the trained seals in his press office, Goldberg’s reporting was confirmed by the Washington Post, the New York Times, AP, and, yes, Fox News.

The dirty tricksters have tried to change the narrative, to no avail. Twitter is awash in sepia-toned photos of servicemen and -women. Newspapers are writing reaction pieces. Old clips of Trump saying nasty things about John McCain, and John Kelly, and Gold Star families, have been exhumed. The president won’t shut up about it, because he feels he’s been treated unfairly. That the piece dropped as the Trump people announced that Stars and Stripes, the military newspaper, would cease publication at the end of September only drove home the point: the Commander-in-Chief has no respect for the armed forces, and is unfit to lead.

Joe Biden, whose late son Beau served in the military, was as presidential as any president in recent memory in responding to Trump’s comments. His gravitas provided a stark contrast to Donald’s infantile pettiness:

I took the unusual step of forwarding the Atlantic article to my mother, with the instruction to pass it along to anyone she might know. Email forwards still make the rounds among the Boomers, and their content is almost always MAGA; I wanted to give her some ammo. At the end of the email, I wrote:

I would give anything to watch Uncle Frank come back from the grave as a 48-year-old Marine vet who fought at Guadalcanal and kick the shit out of this asshole.

Uncle Frank was my mother’s uncle, her mother’s sister’s husband. He joined the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor, four months shy of the eighteenth birthday. He spent the Second World War in the Pacific Theater, fighting at Guadalcanal among other places. (I know this because I once interviewed him for a project for school, one of the best-ever homework assignments).

Both of my grandfathers also served in the war, but it was Uncle Frank who popped into my mind that morning. I felt like my uncle, the Marine, would have been especially pissed off being called a sucker by the feckless Trump. Frank was kind and funny and generous and selfless, but tough as they come. His speaking voice sounded so much like Lawrence Tierney’s in Reservoir Dogs that it was uncanny. When he was in his sixties, two kids tried to mug him on the subway, believing the tall, skinny older man with the Member’s Only jacket and the Hunter S. Thompson comb-over would be an easy mark. The mugging attempt was…unsuccessful. The night he died, in 1995, there was a thunderstorm so sudden, and so powerful, that we were all convinced he was somehow responsible.

My mom forwarded my email to her cousin, Diane—Uncle Frank’s daughter, and my godmother. Usually Diane watches CNN before bed, to keep up with the news, but the night the “suckers and losers” story broke, she retired early, and missed it. That night, she had a dream. In her dream she was standing on a dock, watching military personnel disembark from a ship. “The Marines’ Hymn” began to play. Down the ramp strode her father, Uncle Frank—in his late thirties, not the kid he’d been during the war—in his uniform. He stopped in front of her and gave a crisp salute.

When Diane woke up, she opened her iPad…and read my email about Uncle Frank taking on Trump.

Not to get all Marianne Williamson on you, but I don’t believe that was a coincidence. How can there not be some sort of incredible, unknowable power in all of us suddenly focusing our attention on our dead ancestors who served in combat? Could it be that their spirits have been summoned for one last call of duty? That Trump has awakened an army of ghosts—WW2 vets who, unlike the slithering poltroons of today’s GOP, know a megalomaniacal dictator when they see one?

There are 58 days until the election. The battle is not yet over, and we have to prepare for our enemy’s increasing desperation. But Trump can’t come back from this. He can’t. Uncle Frank did not appear to Diane, or to me, to announce that the fight was lost. Victory will be ours. We shall prevail.

Photo: My great uncle, Frank Papa, circa 1942. He joined the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor, lying about his age to enlist. Not a sucker. Not a loser.