August 17, 2017

Alibi Ike Plants the Flag

Memorial Weekend is really a celebration of No Excuses Weekend. So take your flag and plant it.

Here’s a  quote from General James Jones, 32nd Commandant of the Marine Corps, on the meaning of Iwo Jima:  “The valor and sacrifice of the Marines and Sailors who fought on Iwo Jima is, today and forever, the standard by which we judge what we are and what we might become.”

Ring Lardner’s Alibi Ike was meaning to do a lot of things. In Lardner’s short story, Alibi Ike wanted people to judge him on what he could have become if he didn’t have an unending list of alibis. One of his excuses was a made up case of malaria. The Marines in the Pacific fought through the real thing to plant the flag. Alibi Ike was probably meaning to start exercising again, but that darn gravel in his shoe just won’t let him start today. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow he’ll run like Dean Karnaze who ran 350 miles non-stop. If he can shake the gravel from his shoe. One of the most amazing feats in the test of endurance was a 4,000 mile run across the Sahara desert by Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin. Alibi Ike would have been there with them, making it a foursome, if not for the gravel in his shoe. The toughest endurance race in the world is considered to be the Badwater, a run of 135 miles that begins in Death Valley and goes up Mt. Whitney. Not a problem for Alibi Ike. Next year he’ll knock it out.

Alibi Ike could have been as strong and brave as the great Joe Rollino who served in the Pacific during World War II, earning a Silver Star, Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts. Joe Rollino did okay, Alibi Ike will say.  Joe Rollino lived to be 104, knew several languages, and had this written about him in the New York Times when he died:

“‘Pound for pound, in the feats that he practiced, he was one of the greatest performing strongmen we’ve ever had, if the lifts he’s credited with are accurate,” said Terry Todd, a co-director of the Stark Center at the University of Texas, who knew Mr. Rollino for more than four decades. ‘He certainly wasn’t one of the strongest all-time strongmen, because of his size. To ask a well-trained 130-pound man if he can lift what a well-trained 400-pound man can lift is asking an unreasonable question. But for his size, Joe was apparently one of the strongest men who ever lived.'”

Picture by Charles Denson

Alibi Ike could have done as much as Joe Rollino, had he not been “bent over all year with lumbago.”

The great historian, William Manchester, was also a World War Two Marine. His memoir of the Pacific war, Goodbye Darkness, describes the epic sacrifices made by the Marines. Contaminated water, roots, leaves, the Marines subsisted on whatever it took to survive, and advance. Manchester quotes one soldier:

“We’re the battling bastards of Bataan:

No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,

No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,

No rifles, no planes, or artillery pieces.

And nobody gives a damn.”

American civilians were also heroic. A college student working on a research paper was captured and sentenced to be shot. He asked to die playing his accordion. Manchester writes that  “he went to the wall playing God Bless America.”

In honor of Memorial Day, bury the alibis and plant a flag for the Joe Rollino’s and yourself.

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