August 31, 2013
I was born in West Virginia and recall that as a kid of maybe five, six, or seven, we would make our monthly trip to Charleston. It is quite natural to forget much after sixty years but there is one man that I shall never forget. I never knew his name or anything about him other than the fact that he had a little four wheeled platform built low to the ground and that was his means of transportation as both of his legs had been blown off up to the hips. From that platform he sold pencils for a nickle each and promoted a love for this nation in the little American flag that waved from his pencil canister. You see, that was about 1950, and sometime in the six to ten years prior to me taking my nickle over and buying a pencil from him he had lost both legs in service to this nation, and that little cart had become his legs, and his pencil canister a message board. On that can was a purple heart, a thank you note of sorts from an appreciative nation, and the rest of the message was the little flag that told the world he would do it all again. Thinking back, legs or not, I believe that he was the tallest man I ever met.
Fast forward to today and I realize that man would now face a daily danger of being robbed and beaten to death by a gang of young blacks who don't even know how to speak English or wear a pair of pants. What in the name of God did that man give his legs for? What has become of this country that he loved so much, and what are we doing about it?
We are complaining that we are losing our rights. That's what we're doing about it. People, let me tell you right now; you do not lose your rights! You forfeit those rights when you lack the courage to stand and fight for them. My legless hero on that little cart had lost the ability to stand at all , but I would trust such a person to cover my back anytime, because one such as he would rather die than fail in his duty to a comrade. He was a better, more noble, man than we. Perhaps that is why they call his 'The Greatest Generation'.
To be perfectly honest, I do not know if it was the greatest generation or not. I am more inclined to believe that it was simply a continuation of many great generations that ended with us.
Looking back through the pages of history I can see nothing less great in those men and women who boarded the Mayflower, crossing a great ocean, seeking freedom in a new and uncertain land. Nor do I see any less greatness in those who followed General Washington, leaving a trail of bloody footprints in the snow as they marched to Trenton on the night of December 25, 1776, with a motto of "Victory or Death".
Think of those who boarded covered wagons and headed west, facing death by dehydration or starvation and native Americans, none too keen about the idea of their wealth of land being redistributed to the onslaught of white men. That generation buried their dead as they headed west but they did not falter, nor did they expect government assistance in their journey.
Look to the men of Pickett's division as they assaulted Big Round Top on the final day of the battle of Gettysburg. They marched into history facing a hail of cannon balls, then canister shot, and finally musket fire and bayonets, but on they marched, but that was what was expected of them, as they too were part of a great generation.
The people of Vicksburg Mississippi showed what Americans were made of. Surrounded by General Grant's Army of Tennessee, the siege began and the shelling started and it went on for two months. Union artillery fire was so heavy that people abandoned their homes and dug caves in the clay. When food ran out they began eating their mules, then dogs, then rats. By the time they finally surrendered they were boiling old shoes for what little nutrients remained in the leather.
Now my ancestors fought for the Union but I will stand and honor those who served under the Stars and Bars any and every day of the week. Yes they were rebels, but first and foremost, they were Americans, and great ones at that.
Less than sixty years later, the descendants of both Union and Confederate troops stood shoulder to shoulder in trenches facing 'No Man's Land' in what came to be known as the war that would end all wars. Never in the history of warfare had men been subjected to such horrors and Americans did not falter in their duty. Another great generation come and gone.
World War Two gave us D day, Bastogne, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Just a few days ago Delbert "Shorty" Belton, veteran of the Okinawa campaign was viciously beaten to death by black teenagers outside his VFW post where he was going to have a beer with friends. Eighty Eight years old and in spite of his advanced years the American spirit ran strong through his veins. The savages who killed him said that they only wanted to rob him and the reason they beat him to death was because he fought back. Damn! That man makes me proud of what America used to be.
'Used to be' is such a tragic term. It is voiced by seniors referring to their capabilities in younger days, and by fallen nations when thinking back to days of glory paid for by earlier generations who somehow failed to instill courage in their young, and that is where we are today. I cannot help but believe that there is a direct correlation between courage and freedom. They stand together or they fade together. The two are inseparable.
In younger days I enjoyed listening to the music of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Today I will not listen to them at all as they have, in my eyes, created a sacrilege. My above writing expresses my admiration for those on both sides who fought in the Civil War. I love not only those people but the songs they sang as well, with the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' being at the top of the list. I have long believed that song should be our National Anthem. The 'Star Spangled Banner' commemorated one battle while the Battle Hymn ennobled a people and a conviction to stand strong, whatever the cost.
That song is quite long and quite beautiful but my favorite verse in it, also Sir Winston Churchill's favorite verse, reads:
"In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me
As he died to make men holy let us die to make men free
While God is marching on."
I washed my hands of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir for one change they made to that song I hold so sacred. Little did I know those many years ago that the change was an attitude heralding the end of America.
The rewrite that I resent so deeply changed "Let us die to make men free" to "Let us live to make men free". One word! Substituting one little word signaled a changing attitude in America. No more sacrifice, no more suffering, no more dying in the battle between right and wrong. Live! Live and accept the new way. Live and watch the nation and all it has stood for crumble about you, but live. Live and watch your grandchildren born into slavery because we want to live in peace, without effort.
There is a saying that suicide is the 'easy way out'. I disagree. It takes a great deal of courage to place a gun to your head and pull the trigger. 'The easy way out' is what people are doing today. They have created a neon god of materialism and in that pursuit they have abandoned all that is moral. There was a time when a farmer's greatest pride sprang from looking across a field of corn wrested from the Earth totally due to the effort he put into it. Today, showing off a new iPhone paid for with a welfare check is the new norm.
There was a time when young Americans crawled through a mine field under machine gun fire to attack an entrenched enemy. Today many young Americans deal drugs, murder, rob, and rape, as part of an initiation into a gang. Maybe I am old fashioned but I reject their world. I'll take the mine field any day.
Meanwhile, we complain that we are losing our rights, and hope that in the next election we can find someone who will fight the battle we should have fought fifty years ago. Yeah, 'used to be' is a bitch, but then so is the future.
Typically I use this section to refer you to other essays that I have written with the same theme. This one is different.
From The Washington Post...
Major Dick Winters Obituary
An interesting statistic is mentioned in his Obituary. Easy Company suffered 150% casualties. That may sound like an error but it is not. There were many replacements for the fallen who were also killed in action and many of the soldiers of Easy Company were wounded, sent to the hospital, went AWOL from a sick bed to get back into battle, only to be wounded again or killed.
Later in the war, one of Mr. Winters's soldiers, Floyd Talbert, wrote a letter to the officer from a hospital in Indiana expressing gratitude for his loyalty and leadership.
You are loved and will never be forgotten by any soldier that ever served under you." Talbert wrote to Mr. Winters in 1945. "I would follow you into hell."
About those who were wounded and then went AWOL from the hospital. One such man was William Guarnere. He was shot off of a motorcycle by a German Sniper. Hitting the ground he broke a leg and was sent back to a hospital in England, where he used shoe polish to color the cast on his leg and limped out determined to get back to Europe, one way or the other. Later in an effort to save a friend he lost a leg.
If you do not follow the above link there is one thing you should know about this man. Major Winters described William Guarnere as a 'Natural Killer'. Considering the job before them, that was quite a compliment.
Another of the heroes of Easy Company was 'Shifty' Powers, and here we come to one of the things that bother me most about the internet: Yellow journalism and people who will write anything to be read...For such as they, lies are no obstacle.
Many of you have probably read the nonsense about Chuck Yeager finding himself on the same aircraft as Shifty Powers. Well it is pure nonsense. They never met and the man who published the trash even made an error about the date on which Shifty died.
Here is the real story:
From ABC News...
War Hero E-Mail Goes Worldwide, But Who Really Wrote It?
If I seem to have a case of hero worship for the men of the 101st who fought in Europe, it is because I do. In younger days I was in the 101st and my training, beliefs, and actions were dictated by the behavior of those who came before me. It is men like these, and others, who have given us all that we have. I have long mourned the suffering such men have endured for us and do so even more now as I see their gifts to the American people squandered in such a callous fashion.
I shall close this with a photo of Bill Guarnere visiting some old friends. He honors the fallen. I only wish that more of us did.
The photo, by the way, has a title. It is "I'll Be Seeing You".