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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Veterans Day November 11, 2013 Chiang Mai, Thailand Foreign Cemetary

If your a foreigner living, biding time, dying, or dead, in Chiang Mai,Thailand your always welcome here.

The Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery

It was during the turn of the century around 1898 or 2441 in Thai years that King Rama the Fifth granted a plot of land, not far from the banks of the Ping River, on what is now prime Chiang Mai real estate, to be used as a graveyard for foreigners.  The grant had two conditions.  One, the plot could never be sold.  But I'm sure a good lawyer from America (And I mean good in the worst sense of the word.) could argue that the King's grant didn't preclude a 100 year lease or rental to a development company.  Fortunately that hasn't happened yet. But, I digress.  The second condition was that only "Foreigners" or "Farang", or more closely in Thai,  ฝรั่ง [faràŋ] may be buried there.  Thanks to the King's decree the cemetery exists and foreigners have been buried here since the 1900's.  And so we find ourselves here today at a cemetery!  A cemetery in a Buddhist country where almost everyone is cremated.   King Rama must have chuckled and thought it an exceedingly strange custom for "Farang" to bury themselves in the ground.  But, I for one, am grateful he indulged us our idiosyncrasies.

Plenty of room for more foreigners.

Why are we here today and what is the real subject of my post?  Today, November 11, 2013, we the living, took time out of our busy lives to honor those fighting men that came before us and who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.  

This was a wonderful service supported by the Friends of the Royal British Legion, the American Veterans of Foreign Wars and both the British and American Counsels in Chiang Mai. Local schools, also supported and attended the ceremonies as did Chiang Mai government organizations and the local expatriot population and local Thai citizens.   Several prayers and words of reflection on life and war were read and it was good to hear these things and reflect upon them.  I think we were also here to honor those who are currently serving and in harms way.  I say this from the perspective of a father who has a daughter serving with US Army special operations in Afghanistan, a son-in-law in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan and a son who is a Navy Pilot on duty keeping an eye on the Chinese in one of our newest P3 aircraft and recently sent off searching for the missing MH370 Malaysian Airline.  I'd almost like to say I qualify for the Saving Private Ryan exemption. Sole Survivor Policy

The days events, for me were framed by the presence and music played by my friend, Mr. Andrew McRady, (a good Scotts man), former Head Master of Chiang Mai International School (CMIS) and current director or alumni affairs at CMIS who played the pipes throughout the ceremony to keep us all in a reflective mood.

Andrew McRady plays the bagpipes

Also performing at the Tribute was a Thai soldier, (I believe the equivalent of a sergeant in the US Army ) who played the Thai version of Taps which was quite beautiful and melancholy.
Go ahead, have a listen and let me know what you think.

There was another Falang, who I assume was American who played "Revelie" on the trumpet but I failed to record it or to get his name.  For that I do apoligize.  However if your in the mood for a good rendition of "Reveille" you can find it here.

After the ceremony had concluded I walked around and visited several of the grave sites   I must admit graveyards have been alluring to me since I was a young boy at Barbour Hall Military academy, in Nazareth Michigan.   

At the Chiang Mai Foreigners Cemetery  as with any cemetery you explore you will find many graves with words of love and affection for the deceased and a few with voices that reach out to the audience.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Billy Joel's "Only the Good Die Young" has meaning here and you can tell from the "murderous hands" inscription there is still allot of healing that needs to occur.

This has to be one of the very first foreign graves at Chiang Mai Foreign Cemetery, possibly just after King Rama made his royal proclamation.  

Oh those "Flying Tigers" they get a bad name today in the revisionist histories written by our liberal press but were't they really some swashbuckling dare or die heroes?  I think they were. 

 I would love to have met these gentlemen.  You can read about their exploits here and here.

This was my fathers generation.  He too served in WWII, Korea and Vietnam.  We are truly defined by our service, actions, deeds and accomplishments.  Our memories and the memories of those who knew us somehow summarize many of the defining events of our existence.

I like this but I have to tell you.  Personally, I hope I never finish my course.  I'm still running as fast as I can.
I don't know what the story is here but it's  got to be a sad one.   The coincidence of her name, Cheryl Potter, and Potters Field has  got to be more than serendipity, don't you think? 

And to wrap up my grave site tour I'll leave you with the Marine Corps.  No decent graveyard can exist without at least one or two if not hundred's of thousands of these headstones.  It's amazing but they keep turning out these guys, years and years, generations after generations.  God loves them all and I'm sure has a special place for them to go to.  555  I love Marines.  Did you ever hear the one about the Marine Master Sgt.....  Oh?  You did! 

All of this reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Miguel de Cervantes in, "The Man of  La Mancha"
"I've seen my comrades fall in battle or die more slowly under the lash in Africa. I've held them in my arms at the final moment. These were men who saw life as it is, yet they died despairing. No glory, no brave last words, only their eyes, filled with confusion, questioning "Why?" I don't think they were wondering why they were dying, but why they had ever lived. When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where madness lies? To surrender dreams - -this may be madness; to seek treasure where there is only trash. Too much sanity may be madness! But maddest of all - -to see life as it is and not as it should be."

I had one very happy experience at this Veterans Day ceremony.  I met 92 year old Major Roy Hudson.

A fascinating account of the British withdrawal at the Sittang Bridge, Burma, World War II can be found here.

Major Roy Hudson 1942

After the war Major
Hudson ended up spending
the next 50 years in
Thailand.  You can read
more about him and his
life in Thailand here.

Major Roy Hudson 2013

I'll end this post by playing another clip of Andrew McRady playing the pipes and also a photo of another classic Scotts man who attended the ceremony.   More to come on this and many other pressing subjects.

Andrew McRady a Scotts from America

This gentleman, Mr Denys Gardner, a piper himself in former years is just so classically Scotts I couldn't believe it when I saw him.  He's right out of "Central Casting" in Hollywood.  It turns out he's from the Quebec area of Canada and supposedly the whole bloody town he's from, (In French speaking Quebec) is Scottish.   Those Scotts sure do get around.  If your interested in more about the Scotts you should check out Arthur Herman's  book How The Scotts Invented The Modern World This is one of my favorite books of the last two or three years.  

Anyway, this expatriate Scotts was here today to lend his support and affection for those who gave their all.  And I for one was pleased to see him here.  (P.S.  I'm working on getting his name and will add it to the blog as soon as I have it.)  

The author and the piper.  So why do pipers walk while they play?  Well of course, to get away from the sound.


Nick said...

Great Veterans Day post! Very informative and moving! When reading headstones and their inscriptions, I always try to imagine the individuals story, their circumstances, and the chain of events that lead to their passing. For some that you visited the answer was obvious, old age or war, but for the 19 year old kid?? I wonder what led him to "murderous hands" ?

Good post!

Nice to see your still alive:-)

FarmerRicky said...


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