Friday, July 2, 2010

War and Remembrance

Ian Millett, the Australian school teacher that we met at Vanga with the group of boys from St. Gregory's, passed this along to me. He was offered it for sale at the seaside Gizo market and didn't think it should become just a souvenir. Selling artifacts from WWII is technically against the law here, but there is an active black market.

The man who sold this to Ian said he had found it on the beach of nearby island. How poignant it is to think of the chain of events that link an uninhabited island in Gizo harbor to Mascot, Tennessee. What is the story of John M. Cobb, Jr.? Did it end here amidst palm trees and coral reefs or did he carry home tales to share with his Mascot neighbors for years to come?

There are many stories of the war here in Gizo. The best known is the story of PT 109 and its young captain, John Kennedy. Kennedy Island, marks the spot where JFK and his men came ashore after their patrol boat was shot down. Kennedy then swam to another island to find help. The man who assisted them was still alive a few years ago when the 60th anniversary of PT 109 was celebrated, and his picture appeared in TIME magazine .

The most telling incident that I've heard is this one from a man who was a boy at the time of the war and lived under both Japanese and American occupation. He said that if a Japanese soldier wanted a coconut, he would cut down the tree. Not only was this act destructive, but deeply offensive to the Solomon Islanders' understanding of the use of land and its fruits. When an American GI wanted a coconut, he would give one of the boys like the story-teller a chocolate bar to climb up and cut a few down.

War artifacts turn up everywhere. The base altar of the church on the island of Nila is a gleaming bronze mount from a Japanese anti-aircraft search light. The altar can pivot 360 degrees! Downed planes and sunken destroyers and battleships attract divers from all over the world. On Guadalcanal island, where the marines clawed their way from the beach up into the highlands to stop the Japanese advance, buried ordinances are still being discovered. There is still and "Allied" bomb squad that goes around detonating the live shells and ammunition. An ad appears in the Solomon Star newspaper announcing the time and place of the upcoming explosion.

The most common artifact, and perhaps the most poignant, are the vases that are used in just about every Solomon church I have ever visited. If you look carefully at the photo below from the Gizo Cathedral, you'll notice that the container is a polished shell casing. Bombs into flower pots, swords into plowshares. As we celebrate Independence Day, say a prayer for all the John Cobbs, past and present, who have paid the price of freedom.

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