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Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Memorial Day Story

I get a lot of viral emails (also known as forwarded emails) from a person very dear to me (otherwise I probably wouldn't read them). This one aroused my curiosity, because it seemed very verifiable. Dates and names are given--a rarity in such emails. Let's start with the text:

I just wanted to get the day over with and go down to Smokey's for a few cold ones. Sneaking a look at my watch, I saw the time, 1655. Five minutes to go. Full dress was hot in the August sun. Oklahoma summertime was as bad as ever -- the heat and humidity at the same level -- too d***ed high.

I saw the car pull into the drive, '69 or '70 model Deville, looked factory-new. It pulled into the parking slot at a snail's pace. An old woman got out so d***ed slow I thought she was paralyzed. She had a cane and a sheaf of flowers, about four or five bunches as best I could tell. I couldn't help myself. The thought came unwanted, and left a slightly bitter taste:
"S***! She's going to spend an hour, my d***ed hip hurts like h*** and I'm ready to get the h*** out of here right, b*-***, now!"

But my duty was to assist anyone coming in. Kevin would lock the "in" gate and if I could hurry the old biddy along, we might make the last half of happy hour. I broke Post Attention. The hip made gritty noises when I took the first step and the pain went up a notch. I must have made a real military sight; middle-aged man with a small pot-gut and half a limp, in Marine Full Dress Uniform, which had lost its razor crease about 30 minutes after I began the watch.

I stopped in front of her, halfway up the walk. She looked up at me with an old woman's squint. "Ma'am, can I assist you in anyway?"

She took long enough to answer. "Yes, son. Can you carry these flowers. I seem to be moving a tad slow these days."

"My pleasure Ma'am. "Well, it wasn't too much of a lie.

She looked again. "Marine, where were you stationed?"

"Vietnam, ma'am. Ground-pounder. '69 to '71."

She looked at me closer. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done, Marine. I'll be as quick as I can."

I lied a little bigger. "No hurry, Ma'am."

She smiled, and winked at me. "Son, I'm 85-years old and I can tell a lie from a long way off. Let's get this done. Might be the last time I can come. my name's Joanne Wieserman, and I've a few Marines I'd like to see one more time."

"Yes, ma'am. At your service"

She headed for the World War I section, stopping at a stone. She picked one of the bunches out of my arm and laid it on top of the stone. She murmured something I couldn't quite make out. The name on the marble was Donald S. Davidson, USMC, France 1918.

She turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section, stopping at one stone. I saw a tear slowly tracking its way down her cheek. She put a bunch on a stone; the name was Stephen X. Davidson, USMC, 1943.

She went up the row a ways and laid another bunch on a stone, Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC, 1944. She paused for a second, "Two more, son, and we'll be done."

I almost didn't say anything, but, "Yes, ma'am. Take your time."

She looked confused. "Where's the Vietnam section, son? I seem to have lost my way."

I pointed with my chin. "That way, ma'am."

"Oh!" she chuckled quietly. "Son, me and old age ain't too friendly."

She headed down the walk I'd pointed at. She stopped at a couple of stones before she found the ones she wanted. She place a bunch on LarryWieserman USMC, 1968, and the last on Darrel Wieserman USMC, 1970. She stood there and murmured a few words I still couldn't make out.

"OK, son, I'm finished. Get me back to my car and you can go home."

"Yes, ma'am. If I may ask, were those your kinfolk?"

She paused. "Yes, Donald Davidson was my father; Stephan was my uncle; Stanley was my husband; Larry and Darrel were our sons. All killed in action, all Marines."

She stopped, whether she had finished, or couldn't finish, I don't know. And never have.

She made her way to her car, slowly, and painfully. I waited for a polite distance to come between us and double-timed it over to Kevin waiting by the car. "Get to the out-gate quick, Kev. I have something I've got to do."

Kev started to say something but saw the look I gave him. He broke the rules to get us there down the service road. We beat her, she hadn't made it around the rotunda yet.

"Kev, stand to attention next to the gate post. Follow my lead."

I humped it across the drive to the other post. When the Cadillac came puttering around from the hedges and began the short straight traverse to the gate, I called in my best gunny's voice:"Tehen Hut! Present Haaaarms!" I have to hand it to Kev, he never blinked an eye; full dress attention and a salute that would make his DI proud.

She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved, for service rendered to her country, and for knowing Duty, Honor and Sacrifice.

I am not sure, but I think I saw a salute returned from that Cadillac.

Okay, to begin with, this is not the version I got by email (the cuss words had been removed, along with a few minutiae, and "Deville" had been translated as "Cadillac"). But I found this on a website dated June 19, 2002, so it must be one of the "oldest and best" copies in the electronic manuscript stream. Note that Mrs.Wieserman is 85, which puts her birth no later than 1917, just before her father would have gone off to war. The story could be a little older than that, naturally, but we are obviously dealing with a vorlage of at least five years' antiquity.

One of the first suspicious items in the story--and there are several--is the strange juxtaposition of names. Stephen (especially Stephan) and Davidson are English names--therefore not very likely to be Catholic, but the middle initial X is very likely Xavier, a typically Catholic name. Nothing too strange so far, except that Miss Davidson married a man with a typically Jewish last name. But maybe he was a Catholic convert, because her behavior at his tomb is much more in keeping with Catholic ceremony than Jewish.

Let's try to flesh out a timeline here.
Donald S. Davidson--probably born sometime before 1892-95. Killed 1918 at age 23-26.
Stephen/an X. Davidson--could have been born as late as 1910 or so. Killed 1943, at least in his 30's.
Stanley J. Wieserman-- probably born around 1915. Killed 1944 around age 29.
Joanne Davidson--born no later than 1917. Married around 1937.
Larry Wieserman--born before 1942, killed 1968 around age 26-30.
Darrel Wieserman-- born before 1942, killed 1970 around age 28-30.

The first thing we notice is how old these Marines were. The majority of soldiers killed in combat are less than 25 years old (ETA: a list of the 11 Marines killed on active duty during one week in July 2011 yields a range in age from 21 to 29, with a mean of 24.8 and a median of 24; none were 25). All of these were older than that. As old as Stephen was, he would most likely have been a high-ranking noncom; men that old rarely qualify to enlist as a Marine recruit. Thus his tombstone for sure, if not all tombstones, would have borne a rank, if I understand military tombstone policy correctly. So another blow is struck to the authenticity of this story.

The final blow, though, comes from the Vietnam War Memorial. It shows no one named Wieserman killed in the war:


Misspelled the last name? That dog won't hunt, either, although some recensions of this legend have tried it:


So, we have here a classic example of pseudohistory: A short story, penned anonymously, and promiscuously passed on as a first-person account. Easily checked for veracity, but with an emotional appeal that discourages such a crass approach.

By the way, "Present-Arms" is a command that can only be given to a soldier under arms. "Sa-lute" is the appropriate command for an unarmed soldier. So this legend, at least in its majority text version, wasn't even written by a real Marine.

* * *
I came across another text of this cyberscript that appears to be more original. A little fact-checking could help, since the source is actually named in the text. At any rate, the core dialog of the pericope is intact, but it is told in the third rather than the first person (making the cuss words a later interpolation). Here it is:

The story is told often. I first heard it in a sermon by Dr. Robert H. Schuller of "Hour of Power" fame at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. You probably know about him through his many books on the "Power of Possibility Thinking." So for a moment, let's share the spirit of Thanksgiving in Dr. Schuller's simple story passed along to him by a dear friend years ago.

A simple story

Here's the story as Dr. Schuller tells it:

Two retired U.S. Marines were a bit overweight and had some creaking in their hips, but they still wore their dress uniforms when they were assigned to take charge of the Marine Corps cemetery. This day they couldn't wait for the day to end. They were ready to close the front gate when they saw a large old Cadillac drive up with an old woman behind the wheel.

This is what my friend writes: "I thought, oh gee, here goes another 15 minutes before we can lock up."

As she pulled her car into the curb, she got out slowly and said, "Son." I said, "Ma'am, can I help you?"

She took a long time to answer. "Yes, can you help me carry some of these flowers?" And she had five little bouquets of flowers. She said, "I move a little slow these days." Then she asked, "Son, where were you stationed?"

I said, "Vietnam, ma'am, ground pounder. '69 to '71." She looked at me more closely. "Wounded in action, I see. Well done! Marine, I'll be as quick as I can."

I lied. "No hurry, ma'am." She smiled and winked at me and said, "I'm 85 years old, I can tell a lie when I see it. My name is Joanne Wieserman and I met a few Marines and I'd like to see them one more time."

"Yes ma'am, at your service." She knew exactly where she wanted to go. She headed for the World War I section, then stopping at a stone, she picked one of the bunches of flowers out of my arms, laid it on top of the stone and murmured something I couldn't hear. But then I read the name on the marble, Donald S. Davidson, USMC France, 1918.

Then she turned away and made a straight line for the World War II section. Stopping at one stone I saw a tear roll down her check. She put more flowers on the stone with the name, Steven X. Davidson, USMC 1943.

Then she went further in the same row and laid another bunch of flowers on a stone with the name Stanley J. Wieserman, USMC 1944. Wieserman - that was her name! She paused for a second, and then said, "Two more, son, and we'll be done and you can go home."

I didn't say anything but "Yes, ma'am, take your time." Then she looked confused, "Where is the Vietnam section? Son, I seem to have lost my way." So I pointed, "That way, ma'am."

"Oh," she chuckled quietly, "me and my age don't get along too well once in a while." And she headed down the walk, stopped at a couple of stones, then she found the ones she wanted and there she placed a small bouquet of flowers at the stone of Larry Wieserman, USMC 1968 (that's her name, too). And then near it, she placed the last cluster of flowers on a stone with the name Darryl Wieserman, USMC 1970. She murmured a few words that I couldn't hear. "Okay, son, all finished. Just get me back to my car and you can go home."

"Yes ma'am. If I may ask, were these your kinfolk?" She paused, "Yes. Donald Davidson, 1917, France, was my father. Stephen Davidson was my bother. And Stanley, you recognized the name -- it's my name, he was my husband. And Larry and Darryl were our sons. All were killed in action! All were Marines."

She didn't say anything more as she kept walking to her car, opened the door, then closed it quietly. I watched. I waited. Then, as her car began to leave I quickly rushed to Kevin, my overweight Marine Corps buddy in his dress uniform. I ordered, "Get to the front gate! Quick. Take the service road. We need to get to the front gate before her. We have got something we must do. So just do what I do. Don't ask any questions."

Kevin could see I was very urgent so we rushed ahead and got to the front gate before her car rounded the cemetery drive and aimed for the front gate. Kevin stood at his post and I stood at mine. As the car came slowly to the gate, I shouted: "Attention! Post arms!" We both saluted and as she drove through, I thought I saw her salute us back.

Duty, honor, service. None of those whose graves she visited had given more than she did.


  1. Whiteman,
    I agree, the story is fiction. Ironically, it is quite similar to my true story "I came to see my son's name" at

    Best wishes,
    Jim aka Polecat

  2. I agree that the story has some holes in it. However, the assertion that "Present Arms" is the wrong command for a hand salute is incorrect, it is indeed appropriate for salutes rendered either when armed or unarmed.

    Semper Fi

  3. That may be, but "Post Arms?"

    I'm not sure that's even legal.

  4. who cares if it is real or not. The fact remains that we should be thankful to the men and women who died for this country, and their families they left behind. Thanks to all

  5. "She drove through that gate with two old worn-out soldiers giving her a send off she deserved"

    Things may have been different in the Vietnam era, but today, no Marine would call themselves "soldiers." Soldier is synonymous with Army.

  6. Paid killers are neither heroes nor patriots, and they are certainly not fighting for God, Country or Freedom.

    America is a terrorist nation and the soldiers of today are nothing more than mercenaries working for the Energy Mafia and the CIA run drug cartel.

  7. Anonymous,
    "Paid killers" is usually applied rather broadly by those opposed to American's involvement in a particular war. It doesn't really apply to the average grunt who is paid to follow orders and may or may not end up killing anyone in the process. The term would apply, on the other hand, to someone whose job description is pulling the virtual trigger on a drone whose main objective is targeted killings.

  8. Why can't people just accept the story as what is is...a parable designed to inspire respect for the war dead and the families that bore the burden of the losses? Have we become so cynical as a society that we must verify this kind of story? If only we spent the same amount of time validating politicians claims.

    And for the anonymous jerk speaking of "paid killers"--if you hate the country so much to call it a terrorist nation, just go somewhere else and STFU !!!


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