Several years ago, I heard a story about some event in Washington, DC. At one point, they chose to honor all those present who had served in the Armed Forces. One by one, they called out the name of the service. Those who had served in that branch stood, and they were applauded.
When the United States Marine Corps was called out, everyone was astonished at one man who stood up. A short, pudgy, squeaky-voiced guy with big horn-rimmed glasses — who many recognized as one of the nation’s great gentle humorists and political satirists — stood alongside the chiseled, manly men and insisted that he, too, had served as a United States Marine.
And he had.
Art Buchwald — the man who fell in love with two cities, Paris and Washington, and regaled us all with tales of whimsy and silliness and insightulf satire — was an active duty Marine from October 1942 until 1945. He lied about his age and bribed a drunk with booze to impersonate his father to get past the recruiter, and spent two years in the South Pacific.
I first discovered Buchwald in junior high, and read his collections of essays voraciously. I still remember pieces of it: his spot-on comparison of the NATO wranglings to the characters of Charles Shultz’ Peanuts characters, with Lucy as France, Schroeder as Germany (naturally), Linus as Great Britain, and of course Charlie Brown as the United States.
He also wrote a book after the 9/11 attacks, called simply “we’ll laugh again.” Without diminishing the horror and significance of that day, he said, simply, that we will laugh again. Some day, the immediate shock and terror of that terrible event will fade enough that we will again feel free to be “normal,” to resume our lives, to laugh again. And he was right.
All his life, Buchwald battled depression and other ailments. A diabetic, he suffered kidney disease and the amputation of one of his legs. Eventually, he decided to simply forgo any further dialysis and let nature take its course while he was under hospice care. Doctors gave him weeks, maybe a month or so.
That was in February of 2006.
He left us all with his last message, sent the way so many of his messages were delivered — in a newspaper column. And it’s all Art — a bit of self-deprecating humor, full of good cheer and happiness, and not at all schmaltzy or depressing.
Art Buchwald lived his life the way he wanted to, and lived his death the way he wanted to. He leaves all a little poorer for his passing — and a lot richer for his living.
Well done, Marine.