Thursday, November 17, 2005

 

Veteran's Day Revisited

Last Friday was Veteran's Day. Veterans were honored in many ways including by blogs. Whenever I think of veterans, I think of the veterans I know and have known. Veterans from WWII come to mind most readily. Having been born only six years after WWII ended, I have always known of the Great War and the brave men and women involved in the struggle.

Great wars like WWII touch every aspect of cultures and bring changes throughout. My own life comes from the chance meeting of my parents due to WWII. My father, from Ohio, volunteered for the Army after test 4F when drafted due to his poor eyesight. His reasoning reflects the understated commitment of his generation. "There was nothing else to do." After a couple of years of training, he ended up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee to help build the atomic bomb.

On Dec. 7, 1941, my mother, 16 at the time, was on an date with her boyfriend who was home on leave from the Army. Over the radio they heard of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. All military personnel were told to report for active duty immediately. My mother's boyfriend dropped her off at home and went to report for duty. Although he survived the war, she never saw him again. A few years ago, he tracked her down and sent her some pictures of her wearing his Army hat. I can only assume that a flicker of that old love still burns.

After high school graduation, my mother traveled from Oklahoma to Oak Ridge to be the secretary for my father's commanding officer. Naturally, when my father saw the 5' 8" beauty for the west he was smitten. Eventually, they ended up married and living in Tennessee, a place they had come to love. Luckily, neither of my parents had to endure combat.

Until I rented a house for Tex McDonald and his wife, Olive, I had no understanding of what it might be like in battle except very scary. As the star player, Tex lead his high school team to the state championship in basketball.

Tex ended up in the infantry, 36th infantry I believe. As the house I rented was next door to Tex's, to pay rent each month I would simply walk next door. He would invite me in and I would linger and hour or more to listen to his stories about fighting in the war.

Tex fought under Patton in north Africa. He told me how the Germans drove their tanks over the top of foxholes with American soldiers in them. The Germans put one track of the tank in forward and the other in reverse causing the tank to spin in place. In this manner they ground the American solders into the dirt. Tex still heard the screams.

After many minor battles, Tex fought in Italy at the Rapido River. This was the epic struggle for Monte Cassino, one of most costly and ill conceived battles for the Americans. Tex lost the lower half of one of his legs. Having been a superb athlete, Tex never seemed to fully overcome the psychological affects of this injury.

While the history, details and individual stories can be read and seen in many places, hearing about it from an actual participant changed my view forever. Hearing the emotion in his voice watching his lip quiver, his emotional gestures, the look in his eyes, 45 years later helped me to scratch the surface of understanding of what war must be like, or at least that war.

I got to know Tex well enough to know he wasn't a man taken to emotionality. To see the strength of the emotions still there 45 years after the experience made me realize the courage of these men and the sacrifice they made for their country and the world. Tex passed away a few years ago but his experiences will live on.

In one of those intriguing twists of life, the father-in-law of one of my sisters fought in the same battle and was captured by the Germans. He survived his ordeal physically intact. I've never had the chance to discuss his experiences with him. My brother-in-law says his father never talked about it much.

For simple debate some ask the question, "Does history make the person or does the person make history?" I say a little of both. Tom Brokaw calls them "The Greatest Generation." One thing is for sure, it is a generation of heroes, men fighting against evil on the battlefield, military women providing medical and other support, men and women moving across the country and doing whatever they could to help.

I thank Tex for opening the window so I could see in just a little bit.

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