This time around I wasn’t going to do it. For the past couple of years, it seems there has been an avalanche of articles about death, disease and dying. Even though I find myself in the season of decay – let’s face it, it’s that time of life – I wasn’t taking the bait.
Innocent young girls dying of brain tumors, children dying in car accidents, greatest generation veterans dying suddenly in their sleep, Rangers who came home and Marines who didn’t. It’s all the same, and I had reached a point where I was done with it. No more. Not one more commentary about how a funeral was the focal point of the demise of the country.
And then I was alerted to yet another tragic passing of yet another vibrant young person, once again in the defense of his country. And once more, my interest was piqued.
I didn’t know Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, USMC. I knew nothing of his life and had no vested interest in his death. And except for the recently concluded gathering of the Class of ’69, of which I am a member in good standing, PFC Hogan’s passing would have escaped my attention entirely.
It seems the last opinion peace I submitted to this forum contrasting my 40-year high school reunion with a similar gathering of my Vietnam unit earlier this year touched a nerve with several members of the aforementioned Class of ’69. Following its introduction on this site, I was astonished that the article was so evocative as to generate such profound insights among my fellow survivors of the 60s. I received a series of substantive emails regarding a wide variety of issues all of us were dealing with during those early years. Most were complimentary. Some were not.
One such exchange was from a woman who was among the most gracious at the Class of ’69 reunion. She was someone I hardly knew in high school, but could hardly fail to notice, then or now. And it was during just such an exchange, a few days after my commentary was posted, that she mentioned the passing of Lance Cpl. Hogan. It seems this woman is a professor at a local Orange County (California) university, and Donald Hogan was her student.
That alone would not have been enough for me to get up early on Labor Day morning to attend a funeral. It likewise would not have motivated me to drive upwards of sixty miles on the last holiday weekend of the summer to pay my respects to someone I never knew. Then she mentioned that Lance Cpl. Hogan had been recommended for a posthumous Medal of Honor.
That got my attention.
And so it came to pass that I found myself on the last three-day holiday of the summer, winding my way through the once-legendary California canyons, on a crystal clear day of brilliant sunshine, contrasted by razor sharp shadows – the harbinger of what passes for fall in Southern California – to bid a bittersweet adieu to a Marine I never knew.
The ceremony was to be held at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, right smack in the heart of South Orange County. This was something of a novelty. It was primarily a military service – or at least one based on a Marine who died in the service of his country – but would be held at a civilian church. This was not unheard of, but it was unprecedented for me. Up to now, all services of this type have been held on military reservations. At least the ones I’ve attended.
To adequately describe the setting, one must have a clear picture of what life in South Orange County, (Calif.) is like. As one who has lived on its fringes for what amounts to forever, and worked there for close to twenty years, I have a hard time knowing where to start. It’s like the blind man who grabs the elephant by the trunk and then proceeds to draw the wrong conclusions about the beast.
First off, the South OC is the place winners go when they have won. Doesn’t matter what they’ve won, it’s simply a place of triumph. They don’t set up shop on their way up the mountainside to wealth and prosperity. They go there when they’ve pitched their tent at the summit. We’re talking about the 1%ers here. Yes, there are working stiffs in the South OC, but the further south you go in the county, the fewer they become.
To cite an example, years ago when I was living in Las Vegas, my significant other and I took off the entire month of August and spent it in Newport Beach. One morning we went to Sunday brunch at a place called The Arches on Pacific Coast Highway. Our waitress – a forty-something woman with the distinct attitude that she didn’t have to wait tables for a living – lived in Laguna Beach, not far from the Labor Day memorial service I was soon to attend. As it turned out, we were on our way to that very destination on that long-ago afternoon.
It had never been a favorite destination of mine as a dorky teen in the 60s. My beach hangouts were typical – Huntington Beach to cruise chicks and pretend I was cool, Newport Beach for The Wedge, and San Clemente because, well . . . San Clemente, in close proximity to Camp Pendleton, had Marines. And, young as I was, I envied and admired them, even then. Laguna Beach, while picturesque, was an artist’s colony, as it remains today. It also had something of a gay community, although back then they were operating well under the radar, unlike now. And it was pricey. Not the place a California teen – dorky or otherwise – would choose to hang out.
So I asked our waitress what people do in Laguna Beach. Her answer was blunt and to the point – “Do? Nothing.”
My companion figured it out before I did. If you had to work, you didn’t live in Laguna Beach, or anywhere else in South Orange County for that matter. As an aside, our waitress was the wife of one of the major psycho-therapists to the rich and neurotic of the South OC. And even in the olden, golden daze of 1984, he was billing at $115 an hour and getting rich doing it. She worked, because, as she put it, she got tired of sitting home alone, staring at the ocean from their hilltop estate and drinking $200 bottles of Dom Perignon. Oh well, it’s a dirty job, as they say.
But, that’s life in the South OC. The few working stiffs there are can mostly be counted in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Seal Beach, Fountain Valley, Tustin and Irvine. For the environs of Newport Beach on south, it’s the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Mostly. Laguna Hills is smack dab in the middle of this culture of wealth and comfort. And I’d been there many times, so I didn’t expect many surprises on this day. Not many.
It used to be Reagan country. And when I pulled into the church parking lot, it seemed like those times never went away. The trappings of opulence were everywhere. The immaculately-tailored men of all ages looked like they stepped off a GQ cover. The women would have been right at home in Beverly Hills, Park Avenue, or . . . well . . . the South OC. It could have been a fund-raiser for the RNC, were it not for the real reason all of them gathered together on that sun-drenched morning.
It was a mixed crowd – and by that I mean, civilians and Marines. And the contrast was stark, particularly among the age group that knew Lance Cpl. Hogan and loved him. His fellow Marines were magnificent in their dress blues. If there are more superbly attired fighting men anywhere in the world, I don’t know where you would find them. The Marines were immaculate, ramrod straight and intimately acquainted with the price of defending the country. On this day, they came to count that cost and mourn the loss of a brother. The women – little more than high school girls really, many of whom appeared to be college coeds, and, I assumed, grew up with Cpl. Hogan – were young, fresh, beautiful and possessed of that look of total, complete, absolute devastation that bespoke of an insular life, into which no senseless tragedy had ever intruded. Until now. In the picture-perfect world of the fresh and beautiful of the South OC, even those few who chose to go in harm’s way and defend the country came home unscathed and intact. Only this young man didn’t.
There was even a contingent of veterans from the Veterans of Vietnam International Bikers on hand. They were seated in the back of the church, off in a corner, isolated by one entirely empty pew in front of them and another behind. That’s typical. Even though they were appropriately attired, and came with the best of motives – to honor a fallen warrior – they had too hard an edge to them, and they put people off, particularly among the landed gentry of the South OC. That always happens. But they know who they are and so do I. So I took my place by their side and was seated among them.
The service was a mix of the Episcopalian liturgy – which I found vaguely familiar, being similar to the Methodist variety – and Marine green. Perhaps the most poignant moment occurred when Cpl. Hogan’s platoon sergeant addressed the assembled congregation. He spoke of how all freedom comes due in blood, and just as the blood of Cpl. Hogan bought the lives of his fellow Marines, so the blood of the Savior secures eternal life for all who choose to embrace Him. That’s one Marine who gets it. But then most of them do.
After his remarks, the memorial message by the priest was bland indeed. And after the call to colors, presentation of the Purple Heart, folding of the flag and the playing of Taps, we were done. I didn’t stay for the reception, and didn’t linger with the Vietnam biker brigade. After all, I didn’t know Cpl. Hogan, and was a stranger to the assembled congregation. So, it was off to the parking lot, and on to enjoy what remained of Labor Day 2009.
Then I saw them.
He was the epitome of success. I’ll call him Mr. Magnificent, because he truly was. Tall, tanned, with a full head of salt and pepper gray hair, brilliant white teeth, and a radiant smile you just knew closed many a multi-million-dollar deal across the length and breadth of the South OC. His charcoal gray suit fit perfectly, and he carried himself with an assurance that spoke simply and clearly that the world was his oyster. His wife – a high-maintenance blonde, with an attitude to match and tasteful but expensive gold jewelry – was clearly irritated about something. Could be memorial services for fallen Marines on Labor Day didn’t fit into her plans. And their nubile, teenage daughters – undoubtedly the next generation of hot blonde trophy wives to be kept in a style to which they have become accustomed – were bored and annoyed. I mean, school was starting up the next day and they had better things to do than go to “some stupid funeral” as they put it.
I followed them out to the parking lot where they all piled into a brand new Lexus. Nothing noteworthy there, the South OC boasted of such vehicles by the thousands. It was the bumper sticker that caught my attention. Partly because new vehicles of this stripe usually didn’t trumpet such trailer-trashy decorations. But mostly because it was a blast from the past, particularly the gray and dismal Jimmy Carter 1970s. As they drove off, I could read it.
HANG IN THERE AMERICA! THE REPUBLICANS ARE COMING!
And before I could suppress the thought, it flashed into my head. Before I could smile in support, a grimace crossed my face. Before I could embrace this simplistic notion that all we had to do was put a man with an “R” after his name into this or that office, I remembered with a sigh that this is not the 70s, and Ronald Reagan was not waiting in the wings to save us from a fate worse than.
Let me put it another way: Ronald Reagan is not coming back.
I marvel at what creatures of habit we all are. Could be it’s because we’ve been doing it so long, we don’t know any other way. Or maybe it’s just that we can’t bear to realize the landscape of power has changed profoundly and irrevocably. All we have to do is elect the right candidate with the right letter after his or her name, and everything will be fine.
The only problem is, the moving paradigm shifts, and having shifted, moves on. And anyone who believes the alphabet soup approach to leadership and power still holds better think again.
Since the late 80s – since Reagan left office, when you get right down to it – both political parties held basically the same orientation. Power and control focused in the hands of a few, and enough scraps from the master’s table to keep the serfs in line and the electorate voting for them. They just approached this end from different extremes of the political spectrum.
For the left, it was simple: Create a permanent underclass that is eternally oppressed, resentful, trapped and dependent on radical leftist policy-makers, not only for their well-being, but their very survival. As such, a global, borderless society of low-paid wage slaves, poorly educated, and bereft of any real skills is just what the doctor ordered. What better constituency to have? Eternally poverty-stricken paupers, frightened and hopeless, looking for whatever they can get from whoever will give it to them. It’s the perfect world for ultra-liberal office holders who gleefully confiscate the wealth they need (of all that remains) to distribute it to the peasants and keep them in line. Enough handouts and the voters will happily support the very politicos whose purpose in power is to keep them dependent and desperate.
But then this is old news. It’s been going on since the days of the Great Society. Liberal dogma is a slam dunk to figure out. However, the devil you know often beats the devil you don’t know.
Among the Republican faithful of the South OC – and for the rest of the country, for that matter – we’re all waiting for the next standard bearer. Failing that, we’ll settle for the next charismatic charmer who says all the right things about securing the borders, cutting taxes, fiscal responsibility, and growing American jobs.
My advice to all you GOPers out there – don’t hold your breath.
What you’ll get is some slick, fast talking hustler, who looks good on television, knows how to campaign to the right, hit all the appropriate talking points, and vote for every open-border amnesty, every offshoring measure, every unilateral free trade agreement, and in general every piece of legislation that concentrates power in the hands of a select few elitists while the very constituency who put him in power can go pound sand. Just like the left, only they approach the issues of power and control from the opposite direction.
Do any of you suppose Barack Obama would hold the unprecedented position of power he now commands without a betrayal of monumental proportions by the supposed conservative heart of the Republican Party? If not, it’s time to wake up and stop drinking the Kool-Aid ®.
It’s one thing to hit all the appropriate conservative talking points on the campaign trail. Republican politicos – as opposed to conservative, there is a difference, sad to say – have been doing that since the days of Barry Goldwater. The difference is, Goldwater had the courage of his convictions, unlike the current batch of so-called conservative Thespians who figure they can tap dance their way into office and throw their supporters on the grenade once they’ve gotten there. It’s called integrity, and it died with Ronald Reagan.
The electorate, while easily manipulated, isn’t that stupid. At least not yet. When they’ve been stabbed in the back by the latest version of Judas Iscariot masquerading as conservative officer holders, why should they vote for more of the same? Why shouldn’t they vote for a radical leftist like Obama? Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, as they say. If the conservative candidate they vote for is going to spend money like a drunken sailor, overtly destroy the currency, abolish the borders and our national sovereignty along with it, why bother voting for a political chameleon when you can have the genuine article? There’s a reason Reagan won two elections by massive landslides. He was a true ideological conservative, and people knew it. Sad to say he was the last of his kind.
The inevitable question remains, if the two-party system is irrevocably broken, what then? I can tell you what won’t work. Forget about grass-roots activism. Don’t bother with local support of municipal and state-wide candidates. You’ll just run into the latest smooth-talking up-and-coming RINO politicians. They’re smart enough to know political sweet talk will get them into office. They’re not smart enough to realize it won’t keep them there. What they’re banking on is enough dissatisfaction with the current regime to garner sufficient support to put them over the top. And they just might get it. Then the politics of power will cycle again. Only the names will change, and, of course, the letter after those names.
No, there is no resolution to the void of leadership by doing the same old thing the same old way. What remains is adapt and survive. And the realization that, once and for all, a once great nation is a mockery of its former self. Mr. Magnificent and his prosperous South OC family on their out of the parking lot in their new Lexus is the new standard bearer for what passes for the citizenry of a once-sovereign nation. No matter which way the wind is blowing, cut a deal, take care of business, make sure the check clears the bank, and above all, to hell with everybody else.
After all, it’s every man for himself, these days.
But, you may ask, if things are so bleak, what about a contemporary revolution? I think I covered this point in a previous commentary. Bottom line is, don’t expect one while NFL Prime Ticket is on Sunday afternoon. A revolution would require a visionary leader, committed to the cause, and a sufficiently dedicated core of followers numerous enough to make a difference and willing to pay the requisite cost in blood. Not when the game’s on, I can tell you.
So, the naïve, gullible, and eternally optimistic patiently wait for the man on the white horse. They recount Reaganesque tales of glory of the giddy 1980s when the shining city on the hill was a tangible entity, with definable features. They wax nostalgic for a time when wages were high, taxes were low, and conservatism was the standard bearer for individual human dignity and defined by opportunity for all – big and small alike. They revel in the memory of a leader who not only loved the country, but valued it, and realized a strong nation was an absolute moral imperative in a world consumed by darkness and evil. Contrast that with the globalist paradigm in Washington today.
But don’t expect that conservative leader to appear. If the man on a white horse does come riding over the seven hills to the rescue, he is more likely to be Napoleon Bonaparte than Ronald Reagan. More Judas Iscariot than Pontius Pilate. And we’ll probably be so fed up by that time, that we’ll be willing to make a deal with the devil if it comes to that.
It’s what we’re used to, after all. And it’s what we deserve.
As a postscript, I could not help but inquire about the Medal of Honor recommendation for Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, USMC. According to the few remaining contacts I have at Camp Pendleton, Cpl. Hogan was not recommended for the Medal of Honor as of Labor Day 2009. He still has not.
- “And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” – Revelation 6:2.