The 4th of July

This year, July 4th is especially significant for me.

June 30, my sister, Flo, her husband Carter, and I, drove to Grafton ND, for an event to  honor two casualties aboard the USS Arizona, Dec. 7, 1941: my Uncle Frank Bernard, Grafton, and another Walsh County sailor, Floyd Wells, Fairdale, ND.  Frank was 26 when he died; Floyd was 24

At the beginning, the events origin was somewhat mysterious to me.  A man had written some months earlier that he had a fragment of the USS Arizona, and was going to gift it to the Walsh County History Museum in Minto.  Later, the curator of the History Museum confirmed the gift, and said that there would be a ceremony, and we were invited to attend.  The donor declined to identify himself by name or where he was from.  Still, this was an invitation I did not want to refuse.

We arrived just in time for the ceremony.  The fragment was small and authentic (see below), and was hand-delivered by the owner, a Florida man who had purchased it at an estate sale.  It was encased in a glass frame with a photograph of the wreckage of the Arizona.  Beside it were two vases with two red roses, one for each family.  Another plaque identified the givers Dad, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne in WWII.

Note fragment 311 at the lower part of the photograph. Authentication was on reverse of the photo.  (It was impossible to get a good photograph given high sun.)

The gifting ceremony was brief and extraordinarily meaningful: an Honor Guard, 4-gun salute, Taps, invocation, no oration….  It was extraordinary.  I am very grateful to the donor and to the museum.  Before leaving the area, we went to the grave of the parents of Frank and our Dad, and our grandparents at the Catholic cemetery in Grafton, and my sister left the rose we had been given.  (Henry and Josephine Bernard died in 1957 and 1963, and had lived their entire married life since 1901 in Grafton, and Henry 8 years or more before that.  But the graves are the only reminders they existed in that place.)

Back home the evening of July 2, I prepared for a talk I’d been asked to give to a group of primarily international young people at a conference on Global Citizenship organized by the group ARK for Peace.  My topic was on “Servant Leadership” within the general area of Democracy and Freedom.

As part of my talk I decided to invite my friend, Frank, who was sentenced to five years in federal prison about 1970 for the crime seeking to destroy Draft cards.

This day it was obvious to me that he had things he needed to say, near 50 years after his imprisonment at age 26 (which ultimately lasted about a year).  His talk was powerful, and he had a very attentive audience, and afterwards he thanked me for the opportunity he had been given, at age 75, to tell his story.  (See postnote at the end of this post.)

Turns out his one year sentence effectively continues.  He has a prison number, and he’s not sure it would be safe for him to leave the United States and be able to return – even 50 years later.  He feels a prisoner in the same country in which he has lived his entire life.  “Democracy” and “Freedom” are tainted words in this country of his birth.  His sin was to act on his protest of the military Draft in one of the dark times of this country of ours.

*

As I awoke on the morning of my talk, I had a thought which I wrote down and read at the beginning of my own talk to the young people:  Peace is messy.  Anything that can go wrong, will.  But compared to war, peace is always the better alternative.  I choose peace.

Peace is not easy.  I said to the group that in a later rendition I might take out the word “always”, mindful of our worlds own past.  A participant disagreed.  One war simply begets the next, and on and on.

Those folks Frank and I talked to on Wednesday were, and are, their and our, future.

I wish them well.

Thank you, Judy, for the invitation to speak.

Frank speaking at the conference on Global Citizenship July 3, 2019.

POSTNOTE: Frank gave me an 80 page publication on his life, “The Vietnam Era Oral History Project” published by the Minnesota Historical Society based on interview conducted by Kim Heikkila in 2018, and published by MHS in 2019.  More can be found on the internet at the website on the Minnesota Eight.  Note especially the links to Earthfolk and Outlaw Visions in the right hand column at the home page.

Frank Bernard in Honolulu, late 1930s

Walsh County History Museum, Minto ND, June 30, 2019

COMMENTS (More at end of post):

from Frank (co-leader on Wed): I am deeply and truly grateful for the opportunity you opened for me to speak and listen. Your work is praiseworthy. Peace,

8 replies
  1. John Bernard
    John Bernard says:

    Thank you so much for representing at the Minto affair and also at the conference.
    I am continually struck by the dedication of small-town folk to preserve and protect history of any type relating to their area. Living in California, as I have for about the last 50 years, the focus out here seems unfortunately more on glitz and glamor – and small exhibits like these are either never started or completely overshadowed by their flashy competitors for tourist eyes and revenue.

    Reply
  2. Florence Hedeen
    Florence Hedeen says:

    It was a truly meaningful experience! I never knew Uncle Frank, and the first time I cried for him and the other victims of WWII at Pearl Harbor was when we visited there four years ago. It was a heart-rending experience, including the fact that the Japanese were also given a platform to share their perspective of the war. In fact most of the visitors at the site appeared to be Japanese! Let there be peace!

    Reply
  3. Dave Cornelissen
    Dave Cornelissen says:

    Very touching Dick,
    My family enjoyed our celebration of Independence Day on the 4th of July. Coincidentally, it was on July 2, 1776, the 2nd Continental Congress voted to approve a resolution declaring the United States independent from Great Britain’s rule. After voting for independence, Congress then turned its attention to a document explaining this decision, which had been prepared by a Committee of 5, with Thomas Jefferson as its principal author. That document, the Declaration of Independence, was finally approved two days later on July 4. And that date is the day we Americans celebrate to this day. Sad to say, Monticello will no longer honor the birthday of Thomas Jefferson.
    Hope you all enjoyed and celebrated Independence Day in honor of those great Americans.
    Dave Cornelissen

    Reply
  4. Mike McDonald
    Mike McDonald says:

    Thanks for sharing. Just listened to Tulsi Gabbard and her vision for the future. If only she were elected.

    Reply
  5. Mary A Maher
    Mary A Maher says:

    A good read….thanks! As I attend a much larger conference this week, I am recognizing that the history I know is ancient to many of the younger participants….while generations may not intend to live I separate realities, it takes a lot of bridging to meld and understand events and ideologies. As long as a part of bridging continues to be historical museums and conversations with elders and those with other experiences I applaud all efforts. Thanks to you and to the many folks who save the bits and pieces that complete the puzzles and tell the stories. Not sure if peace is messy but am sure that both peace and conflict take effort. M

    Reply
  6. MaryEllen Weller
    MaryEllen Weller says:

    Seems to me that they all gave their lives for the country. Frank is still giving. Yes, I suppose the destruction of federal property was a crime, but…
    The story of your uncle and how he has a place in Grafton history is moving.

    Reply
    • dickbernard
      dickbernard says:

      I agree with your comment. In fact, when I wrote the post I was very aware that each of the three men were in their 20s. Two lost their lives; Frank lost his life too, and it still affects him deeply 50 years later. In my view, all three were heroes; one of them is still paying the price.

      Reply
  7. Francis Kroncke
    Francis Kroncke says:

    The Vietnam War Era…the Sixties…you really had to be there to grasp it….like a greased banana,ha! It felt like the End Times….”this is the end my friend” one singer moaned. We were really a Lost Generation…in prison–whether locked up or not! The hope is always the future. Loving and living is the victory! Peace Now is what you can do! Frank/8867-147

    Reply

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