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Tuesday, May 27, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Terry Mcdermott

Sometimes It's Not Easy To Remember

Times Staff Columnist

Down along the waterfront, a woman taps ashes into the bay. A man walking north along Alaskan Way looks out toward the Olympics and reports back to his family:

"Sure a lot of water."

A mother peers over the rail. Her two young sons stick their heads through its gaps to see what she can see.

She points down onto the rocks. "There's a crab we won't be eating," she says.

Further down the street, Stan Osbeck leans back against the sea wall, waiting for the Memorial Day parade to start. Stan comes down to the waterfront from Fremont every year for the parade.

He's 83. His hair is mostly gone on top. What's left is bone white. His face crinkles into a road map of red and blue lines that run across his nose and down his cheeks, where they disappear into the scraggly stubble of his beard.

Stan spent 20 years in the Coast Guard, including three years dodging torpedoes and shepherding transport ships across the North Atlantic during the war. It wasn't all rough duty, though. He was assigned for six months to guard the American embassy in Lisbon, Portugal.

I ask him what the embassy looked like.

"I have no idea," he says.

I thought you were guarding it, I say.

"Well," he answers, with a wink, an elbow and a grin. "I was guarding a few other things, too."

The best part of these parades, he says, is the chance to see "a bunch of old guys walking."

Osbeck hangs back from the curb while waiting for the parade to start, then moves up streetside as the color guard approaches. He doffs his blue Bering Sea Coast Guard cap and places it over his heart as the flags walk past.

It's a small thing, he says, a display of patriotism to honor the memory of those who never came home from war.

Patriotism seems to come and go.

Osbeck remembers being thrown out of hotels because he wore a Coast Guard uniform during the Depression. Everybody in the service then was regarded as a bum, he says. After World War II started a few years later, soldiers were treated like royalty wherever they went.

Julian Medrano has brought his family down to see the parade. He recognizes Osbeck's hat and comes up to shake hands with a fellow Coast Guardsman. Being in the service now, he says, is like a regular job.

The two seamen didn't have a lot of company yesterday. There were more people in the parade than watching; and it wasn't a very long parade.

Some politicians show up - Jan Drago in an old Jeep, Jane Noland atop a National Guard Humvee, her jungle-print jacket clashing with the truck's camouflage paint. The Sweet Mahogany Drill team, junior and senior divisions, snaps past. Veterans from four wars march or ride by.

A Navy recruiting van tows a plywood model of an aircraft carrier. It's a good thing the Navy doesn't build its own boats. The carrier looks like the shop class project of a pass-fail student.

The small crowd is mostly older folks like Osbeck, families with young children and tourists who just happened to be there when the parade goes past.

When it's over, some words to honor the dead are said at Waterfront Park. Lincoln and Santayana are quoted - one in praise of what's past, one in fear of repeating it. By the time a white wreath is thrown into the water, only a couple dozen people are still around to witness it.

Cars zip past on Alaskan Way without a hint of hesitation.

Up and over a couple blocks, a birthday party for the Pike Place Market roars on at full throttle.

Pike is blocked to traffic; whole ears of corn boil in big silver vats; kabobs sputter over open fires. Inside the market, fish fly instead of memorial wreaths.

A rock band, Napier's Bones, gets a bigger crowd for its sound check than the absent soldiers drew down on the dock for their deaths.

It's good in a way, I suppose, that wars aren't central to our lives anymore. I guess what they said when the flowers were hurled over the thick wooden rail is true.

It's easy to forget. It takes effort to remember.

Terry McDermott's column appears Tuesday and Thursday. His phone message number is 515-5055. His e-mail address is: tmcd-new@seatimes.com

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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