Memorial Day

Memorial Day Thoughts

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Are you afraid of death?
Well, I can’t say that I have
any great affection for it.
Look below you, my friend.
For 70 years,
I’ve watched the seasons change.
I’ve seen the vibrant life of summer,
the brilliant death of fall…
the silent grave of winter.
And then, I’ve seen
the resurrection of spring
the glorious birth of new life.
And my father and my father’s father
have seen it before me.
Nothing ever dies, my friend.

Prince of Foxes Screenplay, 1949

Prior to my son Larry passing away three years ago I had never spent much time in cemeteries.  That of course has changed.  Over the past three years I have been a weekly visitor, except when the snow is too thick to get in (one time I got stuck at the gate in the snow making the attempt) to Mount Olivet Cemetery here in Dwight.  I have always been struck by the peace there as I talk to my son at his grave site and pray.  A train runs along a side of the cemetery, something Larry would have enjoyed, and no doubt his spirit does, as he was fascinated by trains during life.  Each season has a special grandeur at the cemetery:  spring with its new life, lush summer, brilliant fall, and silent winter.  However, without a doubt, the most beautiful time is Memorial Day where the graves of veterans in the cemetery are decorated with flags.

Going to the graves we see veterans who lived to old age and veterans who died young in war.  Graves dating from the Civil War and graves dating from recent conflicts.  Graves where the sorrow of the loss is dimmed with the passage of time and graves where the sorrow is a fresh wound.  All the graves have in common is a small American flag marking them on this day, a sign of respect and love for their service.

Remembering our dead is a tribute to the human capacities for memory and love.  It is all too easy to forget our dead in the hurly-burly of life, but it is essential that we do not do so.  God loves each man as if there was no other.  Each life is worthy of remembrance, for good or for ill.  We are not Mayflies that live brief lives and perish.  What we are echoes both in time and in eternity and no man’s life or death should be ignored.

In a cemetery we see the panoply of life spread out before us:  infants who died at birth to people who died beyond the century mark.  Beloved wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, sons and daughters.  Graves of the obscure and the famous.  Graves that are frequently visited and graves where the loved ones of the departed have long since departed themselves.  All alike waiting for the Final Day when their bodies will rejoin their souls when Christ comes to judge all. Continue reading

Black Jack Logan and Memorial Day

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience — almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                                         Pope Benedict, April 16, 2008

John A. Logan is the father of Memorial Day.  Today he is largely forgotten except to Civil War buffs and that is a shame.  He was a fascinating man and he is largely responsible for establishing the tradition of putting aside a day in the calendar to our nation’s war dead.

Logan began the Civil War as a Democrat congressman from southern Illinois.  He was ardently anti-War even after the firing on Fort Sumter, denouncing the Lincoln administration and calling for peace and compromise.  He was attacked as being disloyal to the Union and an almost advocate of the Confederacy.

This perception changed in the twinkling of an eye at the battle of Bull Run.  Like many another congressman he went out to view the Union army launch an attack on the Confederates.  Unlike the other congressmen, Logan picked up a musket and, attaching himself to a Michigan regiment, blazed away at the Confederates with that musket.  This experience transformed Logan into an ardent advocate of the War.

He returned to Southern Illinois and gave a fiery speech in Marion, Illinois for the Union that helped swing that section of the state in support of the War.  Resigning from Congress, he helped raise an infantry regiment from southern Illinois, and was made colonel of the regiment, the 31rst Illinois.

Logan quickly made a name for himself as a fighter.  At the battle of Belmont he led his regiment in a successful charge, and was noted for his exceptional courage.  He would eventually be promoted to major general and was one of the best corp commanders in the Union army, briefly commanding the Army of the Tennessee.  He was wounded three times in the war, one of the wounds being serious enough that he was erroneously reported as killed, a report that might have been proven to be accurate if he had not been nursed back  to health by his wife.

Logan was never beaten in any engagement that he fought in during the War.  He was popular with his men who affectionately called him “Black Jack”, and would often chant his name on the battlefield as he led them from the front.  On May 24th 1865, as a tribute to his brilliant war record, he commanded the Army of the Tennessee during the victory Grand Review of the Union armies in Washington.

After the War, Logan began his political career anew, serving as a congressman from Illinois and a senator.  He was now a radical Republican and fought ardently for civil rights for blacks.  He ran for Vice President in 1884 on the Republican ticket that was defeated by Grover Cleveland.  He was considered the leading candidate for the Republican nomination in 1888, and might well have been elected President that year, but for his untimely death in 1886 at the age of sixty.

From 1868 to 1871, Logan served three consecutive terms as commander in chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, the Union veteran’s association.  He started the custom of remembering the Union war dead on May 30th when he issued General Order Eleven on May 5, 1868: Continue reading

Rocky Versace: The Bravest Man You Have Never Heard Of

Captain Versace

(Republishing this from 2014.  I can think of no man whose life better exemplifies Memorial Day than the Rock’s.)

 FOR THE ROCK and the children and sugar people of NamCan

Dedication of the book The Fifteenth Pelican by Marie Teresa Rios Versace

For his entire life Captain Humbert Roque ‘Rocky’ Versace was on a mission.  His first mission was as an Army Ranger.  His second mission was to be a Catholic priest and to work with orphan kids.  He had been accepted to a Maryknoll seminary but then fate intervened.  The son of Colonel Humbert  J. Versace from Puerto Rico and his wife Marie Teresa Rios Versace, a novelist and poet who, among many other books, wrote The Fifteenth Pelican on which the TV series The Flying Nun was based, Rocky was an unforgettable character.  A graduate of West Point in 1959, he was an Army Ranger and a soldier as tough as they come.  He had an intelligence of a high order as demonstrated by his fluency in French and Vietnamese.  He loved to laugh and have a good time.  At the same time he was deeply religious and a fervent Catholic.  In short, he was a complete man.

Volunteering for service in Vietnam, he began his tour as an intelligence advisor on May 12, 1962.

Rocky fell in love with the Vietnamese people, especially the kids.  In his free time he volunteered in a Vietnamese orphanage.  He believed in his mission and regarded it as a crusade to prevent the people he loved living under Communism.  During his tour he received news that his application to attend a Maryknoll seminary had been accepted.  He planned after ordination to return to Vietnam and work with Vietnam orphans as a priest.  He agreed to a six month extension of his tour since that fit in with his plans to attend the seminary.

On October 29, 1963 he was serving as an intelligence advisor with the 5th Special Forces Group (Green Berets).  He accompanied several companies of South Vietnamese Civilian Irregular Defense (militia) that were seeking to remove a Viet Cong command post in the U Minh Forest.  They were ambushed and Rocky gave covering fire to allow the South Vietnamese to retreat and get away.  He was captured.  The Viet Cong murdered him on September 26, 1965.  What happened in between made Rocky a legend.  He was taken to a camp deep in the jungle along with Lieutenant Nick Rowe and Sergeant Dan Pitzer.  After their eventual release they told all and sundry what they witnessed Rocky do. Continue reading

Corpus Christi and Memorial Day

When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263.   It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn. 

The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family.  My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert.  A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later.  She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them:  Faith tells us that Christ is present,  When our human senses fail.  When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them:  First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus.  First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus. 

This year Corpus Christi falls on Memorial Day and that strikes me as appropriate when we recall these words of Christ:

Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.

John 15: 13

Christ took on our flesh, our blood and our mortality.  He sacrificed His flesh and His blood to save us.  He gave us the great Sacrament so that just as He took on our flesh and blood, we might consume His flesh and His blood and draw close to Him through His grace.

On Memorial Day we honor our war dead.  They lost their flesh and blood in our service and to protect us.  Just as we owe Christ a debt that can never be repaid, so too do we owe a debt to those men who have died for us and that debt can never be repaid to them.  Christ gives us His body and blood to give us grace and His teachings to allow us to lead lives that attempt, oh so imperfectly, to follow in His footsteps.  Our war dead allow us to do this in more freedom and security than most of our ancestors possessed. Continue reading

Remember Them

“I never moved into combat without having the feeling of a cold hand reaching into my guts and twisting them both into knots.”

Audie Murphy, most decorated American soldier of World War II

Something for the weekend.  A section of a speech of Ronald Reagan from 1964, known in Reagan lore as The Speech, set to the song Arrival to Earth.  The weather is quite nice around where I live this Memorial Day weekend and it is easy to forget why we have this three day weekend, and, indeed, to forget why we have our freedom.  The video is a nice reminder. Continue reading

British World War II Sub Found

An appropriate story for a Memorial Day weekend.

 

“It is 100 per cent the P311, as this was the only submarine with those very special characteristics that set it apart,” said Ms Pegararo. 

“He went down Sunday with a go-pro on his helmet, but decided to go down again today with lights to take better quality video. He has made all the announcements to the competent authorities.”

Mr Bondone dove to a depth of 103 meters to explore the submarine, which he reported as intact, with some damage to the bow believed to be from a mine, but otherwise “hermetically sealed.” 

“When it sunk, it went straight down as it is intact on the seabed, and still very well preserved, with a lot of crustaceans and colourful marine life,” Ms Pegararo said. 

“It looks like it probably went down with air sealed inside, leaving the crew to die eventually of oxygen deprivation,” Mr Bondone told La Nuova Sardegna.

HMS P 311  was lost while engaged in Operation Principle, the Chariot attack on Italian cruisers at La Maddalena.

HMS P 311 left Scotland in November 1942 with sister-boats HMS Thunderbold and HMS Trooper after addition of human torpedo deck-mounted watertight containers, direct for Malta.

P 311 departed from Malta on 28 December 1942. She sent her last signal on 31 December 1942 from position 38º10’N, 11º30’E.

After this signal she was not heard from again and she is presumed sunk by Italian mines in the approaches to Maddalena on or around 2 January 1943.

 

 

 

 

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Remember: Movies For a Memorial Day Weekend

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”

              Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

The upcoming Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, is a time of fun here in the US.  However, it should also be a time of memory.  Memorial day is derived from the Latin “memoria”, memory, and we are duty bound this weekend to remember those who died in our defense, and who left us with a debt which can never be repaid.  One aid to memory can be films, and here are a few suggestions for films to watch this weekend.

 1.   Sergeant York (1941)-A film biopic of Sergeant Alvin C. York, who, during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive  on October 8,  1918 , took 32 German machine guns, killed 28 German soldiers and captured another 132.  Viewers who came to see the movie in 1941 must have been initially puzzled.  With a title like Sergeant York, movie goers could have been forgiven for thinking that Sergeant York’s experiences in World War I would be the focus, but such was not the case.  Most of the film is focused on York’s life in Tennessee from 1916-1917 before American entry into the war.  Like most masterpieces, the film has a strong religious theme as we witness York’s conversion to Christ.  The film is full of big questions:  How are we to live?  Why are we here?  What role should religion play in our lives?  How does someone gain faith?  What should we do if we perceive our duty to God and to Country to be in conflict?  It poses possible answers to these questions with a skillful mixture of humor and drama.  The entertainment value of Sergeant York conceals the fact that it is a very deep film intellectually as it addresses issues as old as Man.

The film was clearly a message film and made no bones about it.  The paper of the film industry Variety noted at the time:  “In Sergeant York the screen has spoken for national defense. Not in propaganda, but in theater.”

The film was a huge success upon release in 1941, the top grossing film of the year.  Gary Cooper justly earned the Oscar for his stellar performance as Alvin C. York.  It was Cooper’s favorite of his pictures.  “Sergeant York and I had quite a few things in common, even before I played him in screen. We both were raised in the mountains – Tennessee for him, Montana for me – and learned to ride and shoot as a natural part of growing up. Sergeant York won me an Academy Award, but that’s not why it’s my favorite film. I liked the role because of the background of the picture, and because I was portraying a good, sound American character.”

The film portrays a devout Christian who had to reconcile the command to “Love thy Neighbor” with fighting for his country in a war.  This is not an easy question and the film does not give easy answers, although I do find this clip compelling.

2.   Saving Private Ryan (1998)-  “Earn this….Earn it”.  A message for us all to remember this Memorial Day and every day.

3.  The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)-This film earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor.  (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.)   Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Stryker as initially written in the screen play.  (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.) 

Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps.  Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed.  (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)

Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa.  The Marine Corp hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.

Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers who survived the battle.  (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.)  (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.)  The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy.  A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here.  Go here to see the ending of the Sands of Iwo Jima and listen to the Marines’ Hymn.

4.  The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.  The film is a fine remembrance of the courage of the soldiers North and South who fought in our war without an enemy.

 

5.  American Sniper (2015)- A grand tribute to the late Chris Kyle and to all the other troops who served in Iraq.

“I am a strong Christian. Not a perfect one—not close. But I strongly believe in God, Jesus, and the Bible. When I die, God is going to hold me accountable for everything I’ve done on earth. He may hold me back until last and run everybody else through the line, because it will take so long to go over all my sins. “Mr. Kyle, let’s go into the backroom. . . .” Honestly, I don’t know what will really happen on Judgment Day. But what I lean toward is that you know all of your sins, and God knows them all, and shame comes over you at the reality that He knows. I believe the fact that I’ve accepted Jesus as my savior will be my salvation. But in that backroom or whatever it is when God confronts me with my sins, I do not believe any of the kills I had during the war will be among them. Everyone I shot was evil. I had good cause on every shot. They all deserved to die.”
Chis Kyle

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Greater Than We Deserve

 

Every now and then I come across something written by someone else that so perfectly encapsulates what I believe that it remains with me forever.  I suspect this piece written by David French at National Review Online will be something that I never forget:

There is a place near my home — in a rural county in middle Tennessee — that is especially beautiful. A dirt path leads off from the main road, through a hay field, up to an old barn nestled just at the base of a small hill. It’s like a scene from a painting. For some reason, every time I drive past (which is often), I’m struck by a sense of gratitude — for my family, for the church and school community that so enriches our lives, for the simple pleasures of peace at home — the meals with friends, the long treks to volleyball tournaments, and the joy of watching my kids struggle to train a new puppy. I’m grateful because I understand that there is nothing that I did to truly “deserve” the life I’ve been given.

 

For years, I tried to deserve it — to convince myself that if only I was a good enough citizen, striving to be a good husband and father, working in my community to love and support those less fortunate, and using my law degree to defend liberty, then I could one day reflect on my life with satisfaction — with a sense that I’d given more than I’d taken. 
Then I went to war and learned of debts that can’t ever be repaid. It’s one thing to read in the history books of barely trained militia staring down British regulars from the top of Breed’s Hill, or of the horrible slaughter on Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam, or to watch movie depictions of Omaha Beach or even combat footage from Fallujah. It’s another thing entirely to stand in silent attention as a friend — a brother you’d just talked to hours before — is loaded onto a Blackhawk helicopter to begin his “hero flight” home. It’s another thing entirely to embrace a grieving father next to the flag-draped casket of his son, another brother you knew and loved. 
That’s when I learned — to paraphrase a character in a recent summer movie — that there’s “red in my ledger,” red that I can never turn to black. Christians are familiar with this concept. The blood of Christ grants a gift of eternal life that we cannot possibly earn. Here at home the blood of our warriors — spilled for liberty — has granted us a nation greater than we deserve. Yes, millions of Americans have worked for more than two centuries to build the families, the businesses, and the civic institutions that make the America we live in today, but the predicate for all those actions is a combination of peace and freedom purchased at the highest price.

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Memorial Day: Our Poor Power to Add or Detract

Memorial Day is a legacy of the Civil War.  Approximately 640,000-750,000 American soldiers, sailors and marines, North and South,  died in that war.  Out of a population of  some 30,000,000, the death toll would be the equivalent of the US today losing six to seven million dead in a war.  It was a rare family that was untouched by this great national tragedy and the mourning for the lives cut short went on for decades.

Immediately after the war, events honoring the fallen began to be held.   Among the first of these was on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina where a largely black crowd honored the Union dead.  Such memorials quickly spread throughout the Country.  Usually these gatherings involved decorating and cleaning the graves of soldiers.  On May 5, 1868, General John “Blackjack”  A. Logan, an Illinois Congressman and an able combat general during the war, in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, issued a proclamation that commemorations of the Union war dead and the decorating of their graves should occur on each May 30.   “It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to call attention to this Order, and lend its friendly aid in bringing it to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.”

The May 30 Decoration Day events became a fixture of life in the Northern states.  The states of the old Confederacy had similar events but on different dates, varying from state to state.  The term Memorial Day was first used in 1882, but the name Decoration Day remained for the holiday until after World War II.  As Civil War veterans aged and passed from the scene, the day was broadened to remember all of America’s war dead.  The Uniform Monday Holiday Act in 1968 moved Memorial Day to the fourth Monday in May.

As Lincoln noted in the Gettysburg address, it is “altogether fitting and proper” that we honor our war dead, but in what way can we honor them?  The monuments we raise to them are really for us, to remind us of the value of valor and sacrifice.  They do not walk among us to view them.  They cannot tell us what they think of the speeches praising them or read the blog posts written about them.  Their lives are done and they have been judged by God, as we all will be judged, and are now in Eternity.  Other than the important task of praying for the repose of their souls, nothing that we say or do about them on Earth has any impact upon them.

We honor and remember them not to aid them, but to aid ourselves.  Gratitude is one of the noblest of human emotions, and it would say something appalling about us if we did not express it to our war dead.  Almost all men fear death, and we honor those who faced death for us.  Men who have had their lives taken away in our service, are entitled to all the gratitude we can muster.  If our war dead could speak to us I suspect they would echo the sentiments of the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima, India:

“When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Their Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today”.
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Martin Treptow’s Pledge

Martin August Treptow was a barber from Cherokee, Iowa.  Enlisting in the National Guard, during World War I his unit was called up and Treptow found himself in the 168th Infantry, part of the 42nd Division, called the Rainbow Division by Major Douglas MacArthur, who would rise during the War to eventually command the division, because it consisted of National Guard units that stretched across the country like a rainbow.

July 30th, 1918 was a hard day for the division.  Participating in the Second Battle of the Marne which stopped the last major German offensive of the War and saved Paris from capture, the division was attempting to take Hill 212 on La Croix Rouge Farm and incurring heavy casualties.  A message from Treptow’s unit needed to be taken to another platoon.  Private Treptow did not hesitate, but grabbed the message and ran off with it.  As he neared the platoon leader to deliver the message, Treptow was cut down by a burst of German fire.  He was twenty-five years old.  Sergeant  Joyce Kilmer was killed on the same day, in the same battle, a little bit later.  Go here to read about him. Continue reading

Memorial Day Pledge

When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

 

 

On this Memorial Day I thought that we might want to look at Eisenhower’s Gettysburg Address.  On the 100th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1963, President Kennedy had to beg off appearing due to his trip to Texas, a trip that would end in tragedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas.  Former President Eisenhower, a resident of Gettysburg, agreed to speak in his place.  Eisenhower in his brief address viewed Lincoln’s speech not as of merely historical interest, but rather an ongoing challenge to the nation.  Here is what he said:

 

We mark today the centennial of an immortal address. We stand where Abraham Lincoln stood as, a century ago, he gave to the world words as moving in their solemn cadence as they are timeless in their meaning. Little wonder it is that, as here we sense his deep dedication to freedom, our own dedication takes added strength. 

Lincoln had faith that the ancient drums of Gettysburg, throbbing mutual defiance from the battle lines of the blue and the gray, would one day beat in unison, to summon a people, happily united in peace, to fulfill, generation by generation, a noble destiny. His faith has been justified – but the unfinished work of which he spoke in 1863 is still unfinished; because of human frailty, it always will be. 

Where we see the serenity with which time has invested this hallowed ground, Lincoln saw the scarred earth and felt the press of personal grief. Yet he lifted his eyes to the future, the future that is our present. He foresaw a new birth of freedom, a freedom and equality for all which, under God, would restore the purpose and meaning of America, defining a goal that challenges each of us to attain his full stature of citizenship. 

We read Lincoln’s sentiments, we ponder his words – the beauty of the sentiments he expressed enthralls us; the majesty of his words holds us spellbound – but we have not paid to his message its just tribute until we – ourselves – live it. For well he knew that to live for country is a duty, as demanding as is the readiness to die for it. So long as this truth remains our guiding light, self-government in this nation will never die. 

True to democracy’s basic principle that all are created equal and endowed by the Creator with priceless human rights, the good citizen now, as always before, is called upon to defend the rights of others as he does his own; to subordinate self to the country’s good; to refuse to take the easy way today that may invite national disaster tomorrow; to accept the truth that the work still to be done awaits his doing. 

On this day of commemoration, Lincoln still asks of each of us, as clearly as he did of those who heard his words a century ago, to give that increased devotion to the cause for which soldiers in all our wars have given the last full measure of devotion. Our answer, the only worthy one we can render to the memory of the great emancipator, is ever to defend, protect and pass on unblemished, to coming generations the heritage – the trust – that Abraham Lincoln, and all the ghostly legions of patriots of the past, with unflinching faith in their God, have bequeathed to us – a nation free, with liberty, dignity, and justice for all.

Soon we will remember D-Day on June 6, this year being the 70th anniversary of that longest day.  Here is what Eisenhower wrote to the troops who were embarking on, as he termed it, the Great Crusade:

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!


You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. He will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!
I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.
We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.

Sacrificing for freedom for Eisenhower was not just an empty political phrase.  As he wrote these words he knew that many of the men who read it would be paying the ultimate price so that people long after they were dead, generations unknown to them, would enjoy the freedom they were about to die for. Continue reading

Hymn to the Fallen

It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.

General George S. Patton

 

Something for a Memorial Day weekend.  Hymn to the Fallen by John Williams.

Memorial Day: Why?

 

Not long ago I heard a young man ask why people still kept up Memorial Day, and it set me thinking of the answer. Not the answer that you and I should give to each other-not the expression of those feelings that, so long as you live, will make this day sacred to memories of love and grief and heroic youth–but an answer which should command the assent of those who do not share our memories, and in which we of the North and our brethren of the South could join in perfect accord.

 

So far as this last is concerned, to be sure, there is no trouble. The soldiers who were doing their best to kill one another felt less of personal hostility, I am very certain, than some who were not imperilled by their mutual endeavors. I have heard more than one of those who had been gallant and distinguished officers on the Confederate side say that they had had no such feeling. I know that I and those whom I knew best had not. We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief. The experience of battle soon taught its lesson even to those who came into the field more bitterly disposed. You could not stand up day after day in those indecisive contests where overwhelming victory was impossible because neither side would run as they ought when beaten, without getting at least something of the same brotherhood for the enemy that the north pole of a magnet has for the south–each working in an opposite sense to the other, but each unable to get along without the other. As it was then , it is now. The soldiers of the war need no explanations; they can join in commemorating a soldier’s death with feelings not different in kind, whether he fell toward them or by their side. Continue reading

Uncle Bill and Memorial Day

 When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today

 Inscription on the memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Infantry Division at Kohima.

War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth a war, is much worse. When a people are used as mere human instruments for firing cannon or thrusting bayonets, in the service and for the selfish purposes of a master, such war degrades a people. A war to protect other human beings against tyrannical injustice; a war to give victory to their own ideas of right and good, and which is their own war, carried on for an honest purpose by their free choice, — is often the means of their regeneration. A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.

John Stuart Mill, 1862

 

One of my earliest memories is being called a “Dirty Yank”.  My Dad met my Mom while he was in the Air Force in Newfoundland.  After his enlistment ended he was unable to find work in Saint John’s, my Mom’s home town, so the young couple traveled to my Dad’s home town in Paris, Illinois.  I made my appearance shortly thereafter.  My Mom, who was all of 21 at the time, grew homesick, so she and my Dad, an elderly 24, pulled up stakes again and moved back to Saint John’s.  Family tranquility was forever destroyed when my little brother arrived a year and a half later, as he and I quickly put our heads together for campaigns of mischief and nefarious activities which enlivened my childhood.  The family stayed in Saint John’s until I was four, jobs were still scarce on the ground there, alas, before the family moved back permanently to Paris in the summer of 1961.

During our stay in Saint John’s I met all of my maternal relatives on a frequent basis, and other than my maternal Grandmother and Grandfather, my favorite was no doubt my great Uncle Bill Barry.  Whenever he would come over he would yell out, “There’s that Dirty Yank!”  I would lisp out in return, “There’s that Dirty Newf”!

Bill Barry was a truly wonderful man.  An Irishman with a laughing, sunny disposition, he was also a fighter.  A boxer in his young manhood, he lived up to Chesterton’s famous observation about the inhabitants of the Emerald Isle:

 For the great Gaels of Ireland 

 Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry,

And all their songs are sad.

He loved to brawl when he was a young man, but there was always a smile on his face when he was doing so, albeit the police who had to bust up some of the fights he got involved in didn’t always share the joke.  It was to be expected that such a man would join up with the Royal Army immediately when war was declared on Germany in 1939.  When he was asked why he did, he said, “Well, someone has to teach the Limies how to fight!”  Fight he did, taking part in the D-Day invasion, and fighting on through France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany until the thousand year Reich became the twelve year Reich.  He rose from private to sergeant, receiving a field promotion for the courage and leadership he displayed in taking a village.  He had a short spell as a noncom.  After the Lieutenant left him and a squad in charge of the village, Uncle Bill led his men to an abandoned wine cellar and then, as all the best military leaders do, led by example.  “Men, do as I do!” he shouted as he began to chug a bottle of wine.  Inspired by this oration his men followed him, and by the time the Lieutenant arrived back, Uncle Bill and his command were dancing in the streets.  The Lieutenant promptly, and correctly, tore the stripes off Uncle Bill’s tunic and he spent the rest of the war as a private.  That was fine with Uncle Bill, since he had signed up to fight and not to make the Army a career.  A fighter Uncle Bill definitely was, but not a soldier! Continue reading

Ronald Reagan on Memorial Day

Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience – almost every town in this country has its monuments honoring those who sacrificed their lives in defense of freedom, both at home and abroad.

                                        Pope Benedict XVI

 

My fellow Americans, Memorial Day is a day of ceremonies and speeches. Throughout America today, we honor the dead of our wars. We recall their valor and their sacrifices. We remember they gave their lives so that others might live.

We’re also gathered here for a special event—the national funeral for an unknown soldier who will today join the heroes of three other wars.

When he spoke at a ceremony at Gettysburg in 1863, President Lincoln reminded us that through their deeds, the dead had spoken more eloquently for themselves than any of the living ever could, and that we living could only honor them by rededicating ourselves to the cause for which they so willingly gave a last full measure of devotion.

Well, this is especially so today, for in our minds and hearts is the memory of Vietnam and all that that conflict meant for those who sacrificed on the field of battle and for their loved ones who suffered here at home.

Not long ago, when a memorial was dedicated here in Washington to our Vietnam veterans, the events surrounding that dedication were a stirring reminder of America’s resilience, of how our nation could learn and grow and transcend the tragedies of the past.

During the dedication ceremonies, the rolls of those who died and are still missing were read for three days in a candlelight ceremony at the National Cathedral. And the veterans of Vietnam who were never welcomed home with speeches and bands, but who were never defeated in battle and were heroes as surely as any who have ever fought in a noble cause, staged their own parade on Constitution Avenue. As America watched them—some in wheelchairs, all of them proud—there was a feeling that this nation—that as a nation we were coming together again and that we had, at long last, welcomed the boys home.

“A lot of healing went on,” said one combat veteran who helped organize support for the memorial. And then there was this newspaper account that appeared after the ceremonies. I’d like to read it to you. “Yesterday, crowds returned to the Memorial. Among them was Herbie Petit, a machinist and former marine from New Orleans. ‘Last night,’ he said, standing near the wall, ‘I went out to dinner with some other ex-marines. There was also a group of college students in the restaurant. We started talking to each other. And before we left, they stood up and cheered us. The whole week,’ Petit said, his eyes red, ‘it was worth it just for that.'”

It has been worth it. We Americans have learned to listen to each other and to trust each other again. We’ve learned that government owes the people an explanation and needs their support for its actions at home and abroad. And we have learned, and I pray this time for good, the most valuable lesson of all—the preciousness of human freedom. Continue reading

Eternal Father

Something for the weekend.  Eternal Father seems very appropriate for a Memorial Day weekend, as we remember those who paid the ultimate price for the freedom we cherish.  Written in 1860 as a poem by William Whiting in England, the music to accompany the lyrics was composed by John B. Dykes in 1861.  The moving hymn has always been a favorite of those who serve in the military:

Eternal Father, strong to save,

Whose arm hath bound the restless wave, 

Who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep  

Its own appointed limits keep;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee, 

For those in peril on the sea!

O Christ! Whose voice the waters heard

And hushed their raging at Thy word,  

Who walkedst on the foaming deep,

And calm amidst its rage didst sleep;

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood

Upon the chaos dark and rude,

And bid its angry tumult cease,

And give, for wild confusion, peace;  

Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,  

For those in peril on the sea!

O Trinity of love and power!

Our brethren shield in danger’s hour;

From rock and tempest, fire and foe, 

Protect them wheresoe’er they go;

  Thus evermore shall rise to Thee

Glad hymns of praise from land and sea. Continue reading

More Movies For a Memorial Day Weekend

 

Last year I gave my top ten picks for movies for Memorial Day weekend.  Go here to read that post.  Here are more films, in no particular order as to merit, to help remember those who went into harm’s way for us:

 

10.  The Gallant Hours (1960)-James Cagney as Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey, video clip at the beginning of this post, the film highlighting Halsey’s brilliant leadership in the fierce naval battles that raged around Guadalcanal in 1942.  The importance of Guadalcanal was put succinctly by Halsey:  “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

9.   John Paul Jones (1959)-  Robert Stack, just before he rose to fame in the Untouchables, is grand in the role of the archetypal American sea hero.  Bette Davis is absolutely unforgettable as Catherine the Great.  The climactic sea battle with the Serapis is well done, especially for those pre-CGI days.  The only problem with the film is that many of the details are wrong.  This is forgivable to a certain extent since scholarship on Jones was badly skewed by Augustus Buell in a two volume “scholarly biography” which appeared in 1900.  Buell was a charlatan who made up many incidents about Jones and then invented sources to support his fabrications.  Buell was not completely exposed until Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard professor of history, and an Admiral in the Navy, wrote his definitive biography of Jones. Here is a list of the fabrications of Buell compiled by Morison.  Morison’s book appeared after the movie, which is to be regretted.

8.  The Sands of Iwo Jima (1949)-This film earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination as best actor.  (Broderick Crawford would win for his stunning performance in All The King’s Men.)   Wayne was initially reluctant to take the role, partly because he had not fought in World War II, and partly because he saw script problems and didn’t like the character of Sergeant Stryker as initially written in the screen play.  (There is evidence that Wayne, 34 at the time of Pearl Harbor, and with 3 kids, did attempt to volunteer in 1943 for the Marine Corps with assignment to John Ford’s OSS Field Photographic Unit, but was turned down.) 

Wayne was convinced to take the role because the film had the enthusiastic backing of the Marine Corps, which viewed it as a fitting tribute to the Marines who fought in the Pacific, and to help combat a move in Congress to abolish the Corps.  Marine Commandant Clifton B. Cates went to see Wayne to request that he take the role and Wayne immediately agreed.  (Thus began a long association of John Wayne with the Marine Corps, including Wayne narrating a tribute to Marine Lieutenant General Chesty Puller.)

Appearing in the film were several Marine veterans of the Pacific, including Colonel David Shoup, who earned a Medal of Honor for his heroism at Tarawa, and who would later serve as a Commandant of the Corps, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry Crow who led a Marine battalion at Tarawa.  The Marine Corp hymn is sung in the film after the death of Wayne’s character, one of ten films in which a Wayne character died, and as the raising of the flag is recreated.

Taking part in the flag raising were Rene Gagnon, Ira Hayes and John Bradley, the three survivors of the six flag raisers who survived the battle.  (The three men who raised the flag and subsequently died in the battle were Franklin Sousely, Harlon Block and Michael Strank.)  (First Lieutenant Harold Schrier, who led the flag raising party that raised the first, smaller, flag on Mount Suribachi, and who was awarded a Navy Cross and a Silver Star for his heroism on Iwo Jima, also appeared in the film.)  The flag on top of Mount Suribachi could be seen across the island, and was greeted with cheers by the Marines and blaring horns by the ships of the Navy.  A mass was said on Mount Suribachi at the time of the flag raising and I have written about that here.  Go here to see the ending of the Sands of Iwo Jima and listen to the Marines’ Hymn.

7.  The Horse Soldiers (1959)-In 1959 John Ford and John Wayne, in the last of their “cavalry collaborations”, made The Horse Soldiers, a film based on Harold Sinclair’s novel of the same name published in 1956, which is a wonderful fictionalized account of Grierson’s Raid.

Perhaps the most daring and successful Union cavaly raid of the war, Colonel Benjamin Grierson, a former music teacher and band leader from Jacksonville, Illinois, who, after being bitten by a horse at a young age, hated horses, led from April 17-May 2, 1863 1700 Illinois and Iowa troopers through 600 miles of Confederate territory from southern Tennessee to the Union held Baton Rouge in Louisiana.  Grierson and his men ripped up railroads, burned Confederate supplies and tied down many times their number of Confederate troops and succeeded in giving Grant a valuable diversion as he began his movement against Vicksburg.  The film is a fine remembrance of the courage of the soldiers North and South who fought in our war without an enemy.

6.  Red Tails (2012)-  This film was released on Blueray this week, and I have been viewing it and enjoying it immensely.

Blacks have served in all of America’s wars, in spite of the racial hatred that was often directed against them during their service.  In World War II the military was still segregated, and opposition to blacks serving as pilots was intense.   However, the Army Air Corps could not ignore that blacks had passed the tests to qualify as aviation cadets. Trained at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama, the 99th Pursuit squadron was activated in 1941 and sent overseas to North Africa in April 1943.

The 99th served in the Sicilian Campaign and in Italy.  In the Spring of 1944 it was joined by the 100th, 301st and 302nd pursuit squadrons and formed the all black 332nd fighter group.  The 332nd flew as escorts for bombers flying bombing raids into Czechoslavakia, Austria, Hungary, Poland and Germany.  The 332nd became known as the Red Tails, or Red Tail Angels, for the red paint on the tails of their planes, and for the skill with which they guarded the bombers they escorted.  The men of the 332nd in their time in combat destroyed 261 enemy planes, damaged another 148, and flew a total of 15,533 combat sorties.  They suffered 66 pilots killed.  95 Distinguished Flying Crosses for heroism were earned by the pilots, along with other awards for valor, and the 332nd received three President Unit Citations.  A bomber group, the 477th Medium Bomber Group, consisting of the 616th, 617th, 618th and 619th bomber squadrons, was formed from Tuskegee Airmen, but the War ended before the unit was deployed overseas.

Red Tails, is a long overdue salute to these men who had to fight not only the enemy but the racial prejudice of  many of their fellow Americans.  They were a credit to their nation and to their race, the human race.

Continue reading

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