Perhaps it was a coincidence and perhaps it was not; but on Thursday, one day after having hosted and formally endorsed John McCain at the White House, President Bush welcomed the last surviving veteran of World War I, 107-year old doughboy Corporal Frank Buckles, who could have been McCain's grandfather. So much for those who contend that the Vietnam War hero is too old to be president at 71.
Mr. Buckles, incidentally, has arrived at his venerable age in full possession of his mental faculties and robust to boot. It is a grand thing to be the last leaf on the tree, but hardly worth the trouble unless you get there as Mr. Buckles has. Every day that we live is a gift and that gift grows in proportion to our years. Just six more birthdays and Cpl. Buckles may live to commemorate the centenary of the Great War. Hopefully, it will be President McCain who shall congratulate him.
Some day, of course, we too shall have our own Mr. Buckle - the oldest exile to see the dawn of freedom in our country. It may be your grandfather, your father, or perhaps even you. It could even be your child.
We Cubans have already broken records but none that we care to celebrate because they are not years lived in the glow of victory but in the shadow of defeat. Though our cause is noble and easier to understand than the dynastic vagaries of the Great War, and our sacrifice is counted in decades not months or years, Cuban exiles have never been recognized for their heroic virtue or received the respect that even the upholders of a "lost cause" elicit from noble hearts who can see the face of humanity in suffering even if they don't understand or even sympathize with the cause.
Young men go to war in their teens or twenties, and if they survive, may live 60 or 80 years more (or 90 in Mr. Buckle's extraordinary case). It is quite another thing with the exile who may have already been 60 or 80 when he began his ordeal. Everyone who was older than sixty in 1959 is already dead. Those in their 50s, what few survive, if any, are Mr. Buckle's age. Entire generations have become extinct in this endless wait. Those who began their exile in their twenties are now in their seventies if they are lucky. Even those who came here as children are already old men. And the nightmare continues, our personalized and institutionalized nightmare, which is also a mortal one. Ironically, our dilemma and its solution are one. As we age and die, so do our country's enemies. Every day brings us closer to and farther from our goal. And if hearts cannot be moved with pity by this human tragedy of more than epic proportions, then the grave is no worse than tenancy in this world.