Wednesday, June 1, 2011

6/1/11 - Eulogy for an Electric Family

Ladies and Gentlemen, I've come to say a few words about Melanie G. Hollister, even though I really do not have the right.

You see, I was her commanding officer for the last day of her life. I led her into battle, where she died. And that supposedly gives me the right to stand up here, in this chapel, and tell you what a great person she was, and how she gave her all for this country that she loved, and everything else you're expecting me to say.

But I've sat through all the other things that you've had to say here, today. He family, her friends, her husband, her mother, heck even her physics professor at NYU. And I'm hearing all these things about this remarkable young woman and I don't know what I could say that would equal any of that. I didn't see her born, I didn't see her at confirmation, I wasn't there when she learned she got the same powers her father did, and I wasn't there when she fell in love, got married, had her own daughter, her own son...


So I'm going to tell you something else. I'm going to tell you about the man who couldn't be here, today, because he's been dead for the last ten years, but yet is here, anyway. He's hanging over this room like that flag on her coffin, and he needs to have his due.

I'm going to tell you about her father. Robert J. Gordon. The man I fought alongside in World War II. Lieutenant Lightning--

Sit. The !@#$. DOWN.

Thank you. This isn't self indulgence or me being drunk. This is something that needs to be said because it's what I have to offer you, here, today. Some truth.

And believe me when I say that's a rare thing indeed to come out of my mouth, so you just listen. Just listen.


We met in Camp Rogers in 1942. Both of us were about the same age. Both of us had been kids when World War I happened. Both of us had wished we could have been in that war, but not really.

But we had two big differences. My family had been moneyed, and lost a lot of it in the crash. That's why SPYGOD does not trust banks, or bankers, or money for that matter. It's just paper with a dead man on it. But it buys us beer, hookers, and tjbang sticks, and is therefore useful, however untrustworthy.

Robert's family had never had money, though. They were poor coming out of the Great War, and poor going into the Depression. And part of that's because they just were unlucky, and bet some of that untrustworthy money on the wrong ponies in life. And part of that was the thing that became readily apparent when we first lined up, that first day in camp, the twelve of us. Something you've known all along, and should be extremely !@#$ obvious to everyone here.

Robert was Black.

Some of the slack-jawed goobers I'd been hooked up with had never seen a real life Black person before. Some of them had, and did not have good feelings towards them. Others were more accepting, as is only right and proper in the Army, much less in real life.

But there's always that one little piece of your mind singing that one song from that one kid's show. "Some of these things are not like the others." You know that one, right?

That's where it comes from, you see. Part of being intelligent means we can tell differences between things, and people. And some people can look at a difference and say "Well, okay," while others get like that robot on Lost in Space and scream "Danger! Danger!" But whether we're okay or freaking out, the difference is noted.

But then the real irony was that we were all different, ourselves. The ten men and two women I was standing shoulder to shoulder with, that muggy Spring day, had all tested into the 99th percentile on a battery of genetic and biochemical markers that were at the ragged, bleeding edge of ultra-radical science so out there that the only reason the US Government had bought into it was because the Nazis were doing it, too.

Of course, i's a proven scientific fact, now. It has been for decades. We all, all of us, have the potential to have our genes altered, giving us abilities and powers. Sometimes these powers turn on by themselves, sometimes they get a little push from accidents or experiments, or outright acts of God.

But we twelve alone had the biochemical and genetic makeup to be able to physically withstand a purposeful transformation, using the tools they had at the time. Which meant that, for all our differences and weaknesses, and Robert being Black, we were more different than anything you could have imagined at the time.

And, unlike our friends in Nazi Germany, who tested it on anything with a pulse they could get their hands on, willing or no, here in the good old US of A, we had different standards.

(Just don't ask the folks in Tuskeegee.)


So we took the pill. We writhed and screamed and broke loose from the restraints and pounded the floor.

We flew. We spat fire. We picked up things with our minds. We threw jeeps across the camp.

Robert somehow bonded with the Earth's electrical field and shot lightning out of his hands. That's why they called him Lieutenant Lightning. He wasn't really a Lt., of course, but neither was Captain Liberty or Major Force. And I was certainly not a Sergeant.

The names were for show. Propaganda purposes. The Nazis had these evil, nasty sounding things, or words that were actually quite nice but sounded evil because they were in German. So we had to be patriotic and positive, or at least descriptive.

And that's the tone they took when they put us on the frontlines, half the world away. 

The twelve of us had been through hell together. We'd been turned inside out and thrown back together again. We had a bond that you couldn't break, even through fire and ice.

But the ordinary GIs? They didn't see that the same. They looked at us, in our crazy uniforms, and wondered why we were trying to get killed. They looked at the cameras and the lights and wondered who was going to do a newsreel about them.

And they looked at Robert, and you know what they thought. I won't repeat it here, because I don't have to. And isn't it something that I'll say !@#$, !@#$, and !@#$ at a memorial service, but I don't dare use that one word because it is so evil, so unamerican, that it shouldn't be uttered anywhere that brave soldiers are buried or mourned?

When he got back to America, and went into crimefighting, Robert wrote a book about his time overseas, in the Army. You all probably have signed copies at home, or grew up hearing the stories he didn't put in. I'll let you keep those confidences, but one story was one I was there for. The night of the clubs.

We went to three different clubs on our side of the line, within a ten minute drive of each other, trying to get in on our day off. We were dressed impeccably. We left the special uniforms at home. We even cleaned up.

And we couldn't get into one of them.

Not because of the waitstaff, you understand. They were so grateful to have been liberated that we could have had two heads and been in drag and they'd have been fine with it. Might have charged us less and then collected cash from others for the show, of course, but that was France. Who could blame them?

We didn't get in because the enlisted men in that town, for whatever reason, did not want a Black man in the same drinking establishment as them. They didn't know who he was, or what he could do. They just looked at his skin and said if he's coming in here, we're leaving and not coming back.

And Robert, who could have lit someone's ciggie on fire from across the room, just smiled, shrugged, and said "let's go down the road, friend."

Eventually we found the club where the Black soldiers were, and they didn't want me in. But Robert held his ground and said "This is my buddy. He stays or I go."

So we wound up getting drunk in the back of the jeep, five miles out of town, hoping the MPs didn't drive by and see us.

I wish I could say that, in spite of all that nastiness he dealt with, he showed us all by being a model soldier. But that's not true. There were times when he was so scared that he wouldn't budge from his foxhole, even though he could throw electricity from his hands.

But then there were times when he was the first one around the corner and telling us ladies to back him the !@#$ up before he shot our asses, himself. There was the time he saved my life, just as there was a time that I saved his. Because he was a comrade, and because he was a buddy.

And I wish there was a childrens' picture book ending, here. I wish I could say he knuckled down and got plucky and showed us all. I wish I could say that, one day, he did something so monumental and stupendous that it shut up all the racists and idiots and we all went home friends, which is what's expected of the "Greatest Generation," and all.

But that's not what happened. What happened is that the war went on, and he fought in it, and then one day the war was over and we went home.

Some of us, anyway. Not all of us. Out of the ten men and two women who survived Camp Rogers, only seven of us came back from the fighting. The others are buried here, in one form or another. 

We're going to be laying Melanie within eyeshot of Robert, here, today. His first wife, Janie, is buried somewhere west of here. I'm told her and Melanie were well-acquainted, and that, when she was growing up, she used to sneak over there and talk to Aunt Janie about her ex-husband, and all the things that he wouldn't tell his daughter just yet.

Like things he regretted. Things he never put in his book. Things he never wanted to tell anyone who wasn't there.

I only knew her for 24 hours. I spent most of that day drunk and getting ready to lead people into battle, which can be done sober or otherwise, and I always choose otherwise for reasons that are both highly personal and highly classified.

But I remember asking her why she was there. And I remember she told me "I want to make my daddy proud. He never told me, but I know that he was sad that they didn't get them all at the end of the war. There were too many of them left, out there, and they couldn't catch them all. And I know he was upset that sometimes they even let them go, just so they could play their dumb-ass games with each other."

She told me: "If he was still alive he'd want to be here. But he's gone, now. So I'm going to finish this for him. I'm going to be his hands. I'm going to finish the job for him."

"I'm gonna do right by my daddy." 

And she did. She ran right up to the first big target she saw, firing all she had, and screaming "this is for Lieutenant Lightning, you Nazi !@#$"


Not the most dignified of final words, but I'll tell you this: if and when I ever go out, that's how I want to go out. Shooting down someone's unfinished business for them, and laughing as I do.

Earlier in this, I told you that money is just paper with some dead person on it. That's true. But what makes money money is the value we give that paper. Even if it's just fancy paper, it isn't worth any more than its materials unless we all acknowledge that it means something.

It's the same with a person's life. We can look at someone and focus on the differences. Or we can celebrate those differences and be glad they add to the whole. We can take a man's hand in the heat of battle and say that, no matter how dissimilar we are, we're here now, together, as one, and that means something greater than us both.

Greater than us all.

I've been a god for a long time, now. I don't have all the answers. I don't know all the questions. But I know that, sometimes, when you're on the other side of things, you get a choice between moving on or coming back. But the coming back's something of a crapshoot. Maybe you're poor in Neo York. Maybe you're rich in Jakarta. Maybe you're a buffalo in Idaho.

Melanie, you never knew your father like I knew your father, but if he was watching, and not chewing cud in Boise, he'd have been proud. You done right by your daddy.

Rest easy. Rest well.

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