(RNS) Yesterday we said goodbye to my wife’s Uncle Al on a frigid hill next to the Pentagon in Arlington National Cemetery.
Al Brodax was 17 when he enlisted in the Army in 1943, and was serving as a combat medic when the Germans crossed the Ardennes mountains and started the Battle of the Bulge 72 years ago today.
Into the largest and bloodiest of America’s battles in the war he carried a rifle, a bag of morphine, and a saw. He watched his friends die. He was wounded doing his duty, and received a Purple Heart, a Combat Medical Badge, and a Bronze Star.
Al went on to a successful career in show business, working for the William Morris Agency and King Features, where he established himself as a producer of children’s cartoons. He made a lasting contribution to our culture by conceiving, producing, and helping to write “The Yellow Submarine.”
Behind the animated feature of the Beatles and their songs is a fairy tale version of Al’s World War II experience.
The Blue Meanies descend from the Blue Mountains and take over Pepperland, turning that happy, multicolored place into a frozen nightmare of repression. The Beatles learn what’s happened, and come to the rescue via a sea voyage from their Depression-beset world.
After beginning to liberate Pepperland and forcing the Blue Meanies into retreat, they find themselves under assault as the Chief Blue Meanie launches a counteroffensive from a mountain ridge. “Are you Bluish?” he asks them. “You don’t look Bluish.” They triumph by the power of love.
Al was a loving man, and a funny one, but he never stopped having nightmares about what he’d experienced fighting the Nazis.
At Arlington, we deployed under a canopy for the three gun salute, the rendition of taps, and the ceremonial folding and presentation of an American flag to his widow Joan.
As a fierce wind whipped the yarmulkes off the heads of anyone who put one on, Rabbi Marvin Bash took over, making a nice little joke about the ruach — Hebrew for wind, and spirit — that had animated Al. Then Psalm 23; El Malei Rachamim, the prayer for the departed; the Mourner’s Kaddish.
We spooned some cemetery dirt onto the little box holding Al’s ashes, then trudged up the hill to the place where they would be interred. Rest in peace, Al. May the nightmares cease, and the Blue Meanies always be at bay.