“A hero is anyone who has fought in war”, and a Memorial Day Special: Demetrius Toteras, Korea and the 1st Persian Gulf War

I’ve said this before but I’m generally not a fan of holidays and the pressure to get out and spend, our patriotic duty it would seem. Oh, I love Christmas and New Years and always will, but most of the others strike me as contrived (Valentine’s, MLK, Chavez, President’s Day…) and without great meaning. I’ll exclude July 4th, and no, I don’t begrudge the working class as many days off as they can get, but we have so many holidays that hold no real meaning other than a day off from work that I do everything I can to ignore these events, especially when I’m urged to ‘get out there and purchase!’

There is one holiday, however, I do observe every year, and that is Memorial Day.

This day is different than all the others and has to be ranked alongside July 4th for its national significance. Memorial Day celebrates the blood sacrifices of the men and woman who have give their lives in war. I am not talking about Veterans Day, a day to honor all those who serve, which frankly I don’t see as all that critical, nor did my father, John, and his brothers, Malcolm and Rodney, who all served in WW 2. Pops said on more than one occasion, “Veterans Day is BS, we did our parts because it was our duty and we don’t need a special day to remind us of that.” But talk about Memorial Day with Pops or any of his brothers and they would always fall silent and reserved, lost in their thoughts of the many comrades who fell beside them.

As would Demetrius Toteras, my mentor, one of the 20th Century’s greatest experimental theater directors and true philosophical geniuses, a battlefield veteran of the Korean War and a survivor of the first battle of that war at Osan.


Toteras was the kindest, sweetest man I have ever met, yet below his pleasant, affable surface was a killer, a man who had sent untold numbers of men to their deaths -some with his bare hands- and had survived being captured by the Chinese twice and whose stories of what he had personally seen never failed to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. This great man had lived war, and he hated it, never keeping a gun in his home yet never fearing anyone.

Toteras occasionally mentioned Memorial Day and its significance to me, and every time he did, he would tear up, thinking of what he had witnessed and survived so many years before. For Toteras, Memorial Day stood alone from all other holidays, and every year he and his close friend, Chester, would travel to the military cemeteries in Daly City, where they would spend the day walking, reflecting and talking amongst the gravestones of the thousands of men and women who had died during the many wars our nation has fought.

Once I went along with him and Chester. It was a cold, wet and dreary day, yet we stayed from early morning to late in the day, taking it all in. I remember when we stopped at a headstone of a friend, Art, who’d died in Korea; here we paused for perhaps 2 hours, sitting and talking, smoking dope and alternately laughing then holding back tears.

I don’t remember what led me to ask but at one point, I turned to him, “Would you consider Art a hero?”

Toteras fell silent, but Chester replied, “Well, he was killed right at the beginning of the battle of Osan, and never really got a chance to fight.”

After a long awkward silence, Toteras, wiping away his tears, in a voice I can still hear this very day, said quietly, “A hero is anyone who has ever fought in war…”

Shortly thereafter, we rose and continued on our way, but I never forgot his words or the affect they had upon me, and now, this day, our nation’s Memorial Day, I wish to honor every man and woman who died for our country with the only word that can appropriately capture their sacrifice, and that word, my friends, is Heroes, every single one…


And with that, I wish to give you all a very special gift today: the words of my master, Demetrius Toteras, found in this week’s MiltnMia Show:

Memorial Day Special: Demetrius Toteras, Korea and the 1st Persian Gulf War

After Milt introduces the show, he goes straight into describing why he has chosen to present this interview with his mentor, Demetrius Toteras, from the summer of 1991.

In this recording, featuring Milt along with Thomas Q. Bosque, Toteras speaks about:

I can’t respect a man for accepting applause for not doing anything’; Sgt. Zagursky and getting the troops ready in one night; nothing compares to hand-to-hand combat; the logic of the Americans in Korea; Toteras’ story and the 1st Persian Gulf War; the generations must communicate with each other; war is about lives being shattered; the New Age Movement should consist of looking back at our collective stupidity; on fanaticism and enthusiasm; American’s fanaticism with Success; ariston and modern aggressiveness; digression: to be one of Saddam’s generals, ‘why did Saddam allow the Americans to land?’; Persian Gulf War as entertainment.



I cannot help but feel solemnity and a sense of honor and respect today towards all who have fallen in war, not just here in the US but in wars stretching back thousands of years. How many soldiers have given up their lives in service to their village or city or their emperor, and how few do we remember now.

Yet ours is the business of living and live we must, but ever always we need carry the memory of the incalculable sacrifices of those which have built and sustain today our great nation.

Live, then, and go forth in joy and enthusiasm, but never forget how we have arrived here today, and at what great cost…




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