Tag Archives: anton meyrer

Shoeless Joe and the Healing of the Soul

“Success is getting what you want, but happiness is wanting what you get.” Eddie Scissions in Shoeless Jo

I don’t read much non-fiction. However I do appreciate writers that can tell a story and make it feel real and bring the wood pulp that becomes the pages of a book to life.  I appreciate the writers who are able to blend fantasy and reality, history, religion, faith and mystery and in doing so bring me into the world that they create. It is quite amazing when I think about it.

Before Iraq the fiction I read was historical fiction or the genre of “alternative history.” I gravitated toward military fiction like Anton Meyrer’s Once an Eagle or W.E.B. Griffin’s The Brotherhood of War series and Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels. All dealt with a military culture that was part of me and that I could relate to because of that shared culture.

But took going to Iraq for me to start reading the occasional work of fiction that was not related to the military. When I was in Iraq I started reading Father Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries. I was beginning a crisis in faith and couldn’t sleep at night I found that somehow the stories touched me with the grace of God.  But I also read a little book called The Perfect Game by Michael Shaara which was a novel about a baseball player, a pitcher named Billy Chapel in the final game of his career. The book  later became the basis of the movie For the Love of the Game. It also resonated in me because it dealt with a man looking back at his life, his successes and failures and how they all flowed through his mind in that final game.

I finished reading W. P. Kinsella’s masterpiece Shoeless Joe last night. It is not the first time that I have read it The book is the novel that the film Field of Dreams is adapted from. Kinsella is a wonderful writer who manages to write in such a way that if you pause for a moment and close your eyes that you can enter into the vividness of the story. Sights, sounds, scents and even touch are imaginable in what he writes.

I saw the movie before I ever read the book. I drove Judy a couple of hundred miles out of our way back in 2004 to visit the actual Field of Dreams in Dyersville Iowa. But the book touches me in a very deep way. I read it the first time during the summer of 2008 when I returned from Iraq. I remember hunting through the shelves of the local bookstore until I found a copy. Every page that I read came to life and there were times that I had to stop reading because tears filled my eyes.

This time I read it on my I-Phone courtesy of the Amazon Kindle App. I have been doing a lot of my reading on my Kindle or I-Phone lately and despite the lack of pages to turn and spill coke or beer on as I read, the ability to have a lot of books at my fingertips instead of weighing down my trusty Blackhawk “Three Day Pack” that has been with me since I went to Iraq with more books that I should reasonably carry. People have always been amazed with the number of books that I have lugged around ever since I was a kid going to the public library or the school library.  Believe me the trade off is worth it, but I digress….

Once again Kinsella transported me to the world of Ray Kinsella, J.D. Salinger, Moonlight Graham and Shoeless Joe Jackson and the “Unlucky Eight” of the Black Sox scandal that rocked baseball in 1919.  I feel like I know them. But then in a way I do. I know so many ballplayers and baseball has been such a big part of my life that there is something that transcends the pages.  Like the characters in the book whose lives are tied to certain teams, in particular the 1919 White Sox and 1908 Cubs I have that sense of connection with the 1970 California  Angels and players like the late Jim Spencer and Third Base Coach Rocky Bridges. Spencer was a Gold Glove First Baseman and I met him at an autograph signing session at a local Von’s supermarket in Long Beach. that year. I wrote an essay for a contest on why he was my favorite Angel. I was one of the runners up and ended up as a runner up and got tickets to a game, my name in the newspaper and announced by Dick Enberg. I met Coach Bridges that same year and have a picture of him with my brother Jeff and me. That year at Anaheim Stadium and those fleeting encounters with the ball players and coaching staff of the 1970-71 Angels made me a believer in the game of baseball.

So whenever I read the book Shoeless Joe or see the movie Field of Dreams I end up crying. I do that a lot more of that than I used to and as always by the last few pages of the book I was wiping away my tears in order to read.

I think this is because it is a story that really is about the healing power of that lush green field, that perfect diamond that the game of baseball is played. It is a story of reconciliation of fathers and sons, brothers and even strangers. It really is a story of life touched by grace, of infinite possibilities. As Ray Kinsella, the teller of the story in the novel said:

“Baseball is the most perfect of games, solid, true, pure and precious as diamonds. If only life were so simple. Within the baselines anything can happen. Tides can reverse; oceans can open. That’s why they say, “the game is never over until the last man is out.” Colors can change, lives can alter, anything is possible in this gentle, flawless, loving game.”

It is a healing balm to my soul.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, faith, movies, philosophy

Once an Eagle: A Classic Novel of Military Life

“This classic novel of soldiers and soldiering ranks with Red Badge of Courage and All Quite on the Western Front as time-tested epics of war and warriors.”— John W. Vessey, Jr., Gen., US Army (Ret.)

Sam Damon (Sam Elliot) cries over a fallen friend

Tonight I started watching the NBC television mini-series adaptation of Anton Myrer’s classic novel of war military life and love Once an Eagle on DVD. I had been hoping to find the series on video or DVD for years and it was released again last year. I was introduced to the book through the series which I saw in High School when it came out in 1976. Back then I never missed an episode. I found the story which weaves the life of a soldier who rises from the ranks named Sam Damon who is played by Sam Elliott and a self-serving careerist named Courtney Massengale to be compelling then and caused me to get the book and read it back in High School and I found it even more compelling than the series.

Coutney Massengale (Cliff Potts)

Years later while deployed to Okinawa I saw a few episodes on AFN and purchased another copy which I took to Iraq with me in 2007. Reading the book there made even more of an impact on me.  I guess it was something about getting shot at and being out in locations with small groups of Americans and our Iraqis with the big battalions far away that made it more poignant. I was pleased to find it this week on DVD at the Camp LeJeune Marine Corps Exchange.

I guess for me the hook is that ever since I was a small child I dreamed of all things military and knew that I would probably spend a major part of my life in the military I was attracted to the story. Since I grew up in a Navy family and lived up and down the West Coast and the Philippines it was in my blood. Part of this was being surrounded by the Navy as well as the Marines. I remember seeing the movie The Green Berets when I was in second grade and listening to the Ballad of the Green Berets on the radio. A couple of my friends and I got sent to the principal’s office because we decided to play war a bit long at recess and didn’t go back to class. If there was something military on television I was going to watch it and I remember films like Patton, The Battle of the Bulge, Kelly’s Heroes, The Dirty Dozen, The Desert Fox, M*A*S*H, The Sands of Iwo Jima and tons of others. I built hundreds of model tanks and armored vehicles, ships and aircraft and lived for the day that I could join.

The idealistic and altruistic character of Sam Damon struck a chord in me. The Character of Sam Damon is man who worked his way up from the ranks and not afraid to speak his mind who is able to lead men in the worst situations and accomplish the mission. He cares for his troops but knows his job and knows that men, even friends die in war. At the same time he does not recklessly throw his men’s lives away and they believe that he will get them through. The book takes Damon along with his wife “Tommy” who is not a big fan of the Army despite being an Army Brat and the daughter of a General through their sometimes tumultuous marriage as they are stationed in many places both the glamorous and the not so glamorous in the United States and overseas. It follows Damon’s career from the days before World War One thorough the Great War, the doldrums of the 1920s and 1930s, World War Two, Korea and as a special envoy retired from the Army in a fictionalized Vietnam.  It also traces his relationship with the ambition driven Courtney Massengale.  To avoid spoilers I won’t go into detail but the two characters are in a sense stereotypical of the best and the worst types of men that populate the Officer Corps of the Army, but in a broader sense any military institution.

Tommy Damon (Darlene Carr)

The book is very real in its descriptions of combat as Myrer was an enlisted Marine who was wounded during the invasion of Guam and his descriptions of military life including the hardships endured by military families and while the novel is set in an earlier time where military personnel and their families did not have the communication abilities as we do now, but even with such niceties deployments and family separations, especially those where the military member deploys to a combat zone take a terrible toll on military families.

The novel is very pertinent for those of us in the military because it makes us ask the hard questions of what we will do to further our career and the cost of such a life on our families. I am coming up on 30 years service including about 10 years in the reserves and have made many deployments and my wife has had to endure many separations including my current geographic bachelor tour. Thankfully I am close enough to see her most weekends but we are apart more than we are together.  It is funny that knowing what I knew from my life as a Navy Brat and from books like Once an Eagle that I chose such a life. It is in a sense a calling for me. I know that I’ll never be an Admiral nor do I want to be it is enough to have the privilege to continue to serve when most or all of my contemporaries from my early days in the military have long since left the service or retired. I thank God for that privilege as well as a wife who when she was looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve saw me decide to join the Navy to go back on active duty following a mobilization tour where I lost my civilian job, without asking her first. She has endured years of me being gone.  Someday I’ll lay it down but not yet as I still feel that sacred call and thankfully despite the hardship she still loves me but is not unaware of my shortcomings.

In spite of this I am a realist when it comes to the institution of the military. It is not perfect. We have our Sam Damon’s and Courtney Massengale’s but most including me fall somewhere in between these polar opposites to one degree or another. I think that is why men or women who are too idealistic sometimes struggle when their leaders don’t measure up to those ideals.  I remember who my idealism was shattered.  After that I have endeavored to do the best as a Line Officer, Priest and Chaplain knowing that that I won’t always get it right but also knowing that I will try to always uphold the best ideals of the Navy and the military.

The book is required reading in many advanced military schools and is on the Army and the Marine Corps required reading lists.  There is much to learn from it and a lot of wisdom on its pages.  When I finish the mini-series I will read the book again. I recommend it highly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under books and literature, leadership, marriage and relationships, Military, movies