It is Memorial Day. A time I often find myself gathering with people, because, for many, its a BBQ day, and marks the beginning of summer. This spring to summer, things are so wild, it feels like a war zone. A war on a virus that is stirring up everything from a global shut down to the possible shift away from consumption, prioritizing everything and likely flipping the capitalism conversation as we know it… a “reopening” looming, here in NY, with just one more sleep…
Memorial Day is not just a day for meat sizzling on grills and backyard conversation. It’s actually a day for celebrating the people who have died while serving in the military. I admit, I have a lot of feelings around human extraction, military industrial complex and onnnnnnnn…. And, for whatever reasons I actually claim—no matter, I have never truly taken as much time as I could or should, to honor those in my own family lineage who gave their lives to the military in such a way…
I can say that I have had a chip on my shoulder… In one way, they stole my Grandfather’s life… Or as he envisioned it anyway… I believe that his time in the USO (and possibly the part where Marlene Dietrich was in his troupe for a spell) was what drove my grandmother to lunch with the born agains down the street and on to kill his hard won career in the Metropolitan Opera as the Lead Baritone which awaited him upon his return from entertaining the troops. People ask why I continue to hold the name Marco… It was his Opera Stage Name… Joseph Anton Marco; Velvet pipes, heart of gold and lifesaving sense of humor. Anyway, that’s another story…
But not off track..
Within that story, filled with broken hearts and sadness, lies much of the reason I have never gone in search of my mother’s mother’s herstory… But its time.
But this winter, Some conversations with my Uncle sent me on a journey that took me to the South Pacific island of Kwajalein, back 70 years, to the moonless night of September 19th, 1950… when a Navy plane crashed into the Pacific just after take off.
Many crashes haunt the Marshal islands, where the wrecks still lie. People Native to everywhere have been inflicted with US military invasion of land and culture for all of its decades. And apparently, some of the DNA in my being haunts that lagoon…
My Great Aunt, LTJG Constance Adair Heege was one of eleven Navy Nurse Corps Officers en route to Japan to care for war casualties killed near the South Pacific island of Kwajalein when their plane crashed into the Pacific after take off.
The other nurses who were with her were: Constance Esposito, LTJG Alice J. Giroux, ENS Marie M. Boatman, LTJG Jeanmne E. Clarke, LTJG Margaret G. Kennedy, LTJG Calla V. Goodwin, ENS Edna J. Rundell, ENS Eleanor C. Beste, LTJG Mary E. Liljegreen and ENS Jane L. EldridgeAnd 15 others. I am led to think about the time and effort and energy she put into building her craft, and that of each of those on the plane with her. Ten years of her life, times, who knows? Perhaps ten years of each of their lives, makes likely no less than 200 years of work and study taking off and literally exploding into the abyss.
After graduating from St Louis University in 1941, my Great Aunt Constance spent six more years in Nursing school. After that, two years as a staff nurse and clinical instructor at St. Louis University Hospital. She took her oath of military office as Ltjg NCR on December 3, 1948—remaining stationed in California until receiving order to head overseas to Yokosuka Japan. I’m not sure if this was her first trip overseas, but they never made it out of the lagoon on that trip… She remains one of the few celebrated women in the military, although, sadly, when I look deeper, I see memorials and commemorations that—had I known, I may have made a point to attend.
Did you see Coco? I did, in a beautiful theater in Mexico, on the eve of Dias De La Los Muerto (Day Of The Dead). Disney or not, yep corny as hell, it was such a sweet reminder of how important it is to keep our ancestors alive within us.
If we remember… If we celebrate them. We carry them with us.
Today, I celebrate Lt. JG Constance Adair Heege, who was born and buried Kirkwood, MO, and everyone who has ever been taken from us by the sad, hard truth of war.
According to KWE member Art Lajeunesse of Latham, New York, this four-engine aircraft crashed into 1200 fathoms of water and exploded shortly after taking off from Kwajalein to Japan on September 19, 1950, killing all 26 Naval personnel on board. Take off at night with no moon may have been a contributing factor in this incident. The Navy VR-21 plane had refueled three times since takeoff from the USA. Just after take off from Kwajalein island, some 2,100 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, the aircraft crashed and exploded upon impact. Of the 26 persons onboard, twenty-two bodies were lost at sea and only a few personal possessions were found. Among the dead were eleven Navy Nurse Corps officers. The accident marked the largest reported loss of military nurses in history, and was one of the greatest tragedies ever to befall the Navy Medical Department.
If you care to read on, here is an excerpt on Flight Nurses from a Wikipedia piece on Navy Nurse Corps which speaks of some of the women who lived and died on the front lines, most often the first responders to the scene of those wounded in battle. These women were badasses: