by iampunha | 7/27/2008 08:00:00 AM
On July 27, 1953, America's military involvement in Korea officially ended.

Raise your hands, anyone who thinks that really ended the Korean War.

I don't. My mother grew up with a man who'd been shaped by that and other conflicts. I have an uncle I barely know in part because of how much time his father (previously covered here) spent away from home.

The Korean War ended, but it isn't over. As long as we have veterans and civilians changed by that war, it isn't over.

And as long as I have M*A*S*H, it isn't over.

For Jeremiah Dixon, born on July 27, 1733, who with Charles Mason brought about a much less contentious surveying line than the 38th parallel.

And now, as before, as ever, my unending gratitude to those who served.

I am not a historian. I am a storyteller. What I have to tell you today is one part history and many parts story.

Almost none of it relates factually to the end of the Korean War. And almost all of it relates personally to the end of the Korean War.

There are a lot of moments from M*A*S*H that mean a lot to me. That's partly because I grew up listening to reruns. (The TV was feet outside my room, and my parents watched it while I was supposed to be asleep. Don't tell, OK?) And that's partly because M*A*S*H was a good show.

About a minute and 40 seconds' worth of "Abyssinia, Henry," the episode in which McLean Stevenson's character is killed, are burned into my brain. Just thinking about the two sequences gets me to where I'm damn glad I can type without looking:

4:17 in to 5:57 in:

I don't even have to watch the sequence for my face to be obscured behind my tears.

And I didn't lose anyone in that war. For me, the symbolism embodied by Henry Blake's death is not physically embodied in anything. I have no son, brother, father, whatever who left standing up and came back lying down.

But every time that sequence comes up, I am moved to tears so quickly, and I can barely breathe so suddenly, that I think I scare my wife. Anyone who didn't know me might think I had lost someone in a war. (I have not seen and should not see close combat, for this and other reasons.)

This is not the only thing that drives me to tears hard and fast. Writing my Schindler's List diary was a case study in writing through tears. By all rights, the laptop I was using should have shorted out. And last night, seeing Tommie Smith and John Carlos (on a repeat broadcast of the ESPYs) was as moving as anything I've encountered. (Yeah, expect a diary on that. I know stuff you need to know about it. Everyone with a functioning brain ought to know the story.)

But the relative ease with which emotion leaves me somewhat incapacitated detracts none, I humbly submit, from the power of that sequence, from what it meant to the characters on the show and what it symbolized for the Korean War and war in general.

Nobody is safe.

Nobody's sacrifice can be taken for granted.

And no veteran should have to fight the system to get what's right.

At realistic best, we are about 2/3 of the way through this war. It has produced more than 4,000 American stories like Henry Blake's, but every one of them is about a real person who died, not some character wearing another man's suit.

And we will never know how many such Iraqi stories ... will never even be told. How many men and women have died because of this fiasco we lost before we set foot in the country whose citizens were magically supposed to know things were safe because one man was dead.

4:17 in to 5:57 in:

You watch that sequence and tell me real men don't cry.

I dare you.