Vietnam War veteran Harvey Blumenthal finds meaning to life.
On Memorial Day, we will honor and reflect on those who gave for our country what President Lincoln first called “the last full measure of devotion.” Etched on the polished black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., are the names of 58,260 Americans who died fighting that war; 988 of those warriors were from Oklahoma. Based on state populations, Oklahoma had the second-highest casualty rate.
In 1974, I joined the faculty of the newly established University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Tulsa. Before that, I served two years active duty as neurologist at U.S. Naval Hospital in Great Lakes, Ill. My workdays were not pleasant, for my task was to treat young soldiers and Marines who had been wounded in Vietnam. Weekends afforded some relief while my wife, our three young boys and I explored various experiences around Chicago.
One warm and sunny October Sunday in 1971, we went apple picking in the Wauconda Apple Orchard, nearby the Naval Hospital. We paid $2 for the bushel basket and entry into the orchard to pick all the apples that would fill the basket. My wife photographed our three sons and me, and this photo of the four of us together remains one of my all-time favorites. When I now look at this picture, snapped that autumnal Sunday, I cannot help but think of those wounded and killed American boys in the context of their own childhood, and the joys, hopes and ambitions their parents nurtured for their sons. Each of these families had photographs, just like mine — happy times with their little boys who had unlimited futures.
They were McIntosh apples, which are semi-tart, not sweet and juicy like Red Delicious apples, but McIntosh apples remain special to me because we picked them together. Even now, I sometimes indulge myself in a few rueful moments when I happen across McIntosh apples in the grocery store, not only because of this special moment with my sons, but because those baleful times are also recalled. Advancing age seems to be a catalyst for this kind of retrospect.
Until now, I had never really studied this photograph. By chance, the photo has an artistic composition; notice the linear progression of height, from left to right, of the four of us — reminiscent of a similar structure in the famous photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.
The bushel basket is brimming with apples. If you look closely, among the red apples, front and center there is a single green leaf from the apple tree, symbolic of one memorable day of our lives, together and everlasting. Somehow, every day of our life is special and valuable and has meaning, if only we look for it.