World War II
My family and I are back again from our much needed vacation. As usual, Gen Con was a great deal of fun, and I did not get thrown in the Klingon jail, thanks to my daughter blowing her money on a fake fur “hoody” with fox ears! (Actually it looks quite good on her, weird, but good!)
Indianapolis is a great city for a historian, filled with monuments. My favorite is the huge Civil War memorial in down town Indianapolis dedicated to “Indiana’s Silent Victors”:
You can climb to the top of the Civil War memorial, all 331 steps. I did several years ago. My kids did it with ease. I thought halfway through that it would probably be difficult to remove my corpse from the cramped stairwell and I struggled somehow to the top, although I rode the elevator down.
Indiana also has the national memorial to the USS Indianapolis, immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip at the beginning of this post. The cruiser delivered Little Boy, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, to Tinian on July 26, 1945. On July 30, 1945 it was sunk by Japanese sub I-58. 900 of the crew made it into the water. SOS signals, contrary to the Jaws video clip, were sent off. Three Navy stations received the SOS signal. At the first station the commander was drunk. At the second station the commander had left orders not to be disturbed. The third station wrote off the SOS signal as a Japanese prank. The Navy denied that the SOS signals had been received for years, and only the release of declassified material revealed the criminal negligence involved. When the ship failed to dock at Leyte as expected on July 31, 1944, the port operations director Lieutenant Stuart B. Gibson inexplicably failed to report that the Indianapolis had gone missing.
This resulted in the men of the Indianapolis being in the water for 3 and a half days until they were spotted by a routine air patrol. Heroic efforts were then undertaken to rescue the survivors. 321 men were rescued, four of whom died soon thereafter. Most of the almost 600 men who escaped the ship and died in the water had been killed by hundreds of sharks who swarmed about the survivors. Among the dead was Lieutenant Thomas Conway, the ship’s Catholic chaplain. He spent his time in the water swimming from group to group, praying with the men, encouraging them, and reasoning with men driven to despair. When Father Conway died on August 2, 1945, he was the last American chaplain killed in World War II.
Captain Charles B. McVay III, the skipper of the Indianapolis, had been wounded in the sinking and was among those who survived to be rescued. He repeatedly asked why it took so long for the Navy to rescue his men, a question the Navy did not answer. Instead McVay was courtmartialed, a scapegoat for an episode that had tarnished the image of the Navy. He was convicted for not zigzagging, which was farcical since he had been told to use his discretion in regard to zigzagging, and with high-speed torpedoes and improved aiming devices aboard subs, zigzagging was not an effective technique for a ship to avoid being torpedoed by the end of World War II. Admiral Chester Nimitz, the commander of the Pacific Fleet, recognizing the fundamental injustice of the courtmartial, restored McVay to duty and he retired as a Rear Admiral in 1949. Although most of the surviving crewmen of the Indianapolis regarded him as a hero, McVay was eaten away by guilt over the deaths of his crewmen, guilt that was exacerbated by hate mail and hate phone calls he periodically revealed from a few of the families of some of the men who died in the sinking and its aftermath.
After the death of his wife in 1966, McVay took his own life, clutching in his hand a toy sailor given to him by his father. In 1996 a twelve year old school boy, Hunter Scott launched a campaign to clear McVay’s name.The campaign to clear McVay was supported by former Lieutenant Commander Mochitsura Hashimoto who had commanded the I-58 and who noted in a letter that zigzagging would have had no impact on his torpedo attack. Continue reading
A strange fascination for World War II in the Pacific overtakes many Catholic blogs in early August each year, so in line with that I throw out this question: should Hirohito have been tried as a war criminal? The video clip above is from the movie Emperor (2012) which is being released on Blu-ray and dvd next week and which has a fictional account of an American attempt to determine the extent of Hirohito’s involvement in the launching of Japan’s war of conquest which would claim over thirty million lives.
MacArthur had little doubt of Hirohito’s war guilt, but he also had little doubt that Hirohito’s cooperation was necessary for a peaceful occupation of Japan. Hirohito thus served as a figure head while MacArthur, the Yankee Shogun, remade Japan. This picture tells us all we need to know about the relationship between the two men:
MacArthur encountered considerable resistance to his decision not to prosecute Hirohito. Belief in Hirohito’s war guilt was an article of faith in America and in the other nations that had fought Japan. MacArthur played along with the fable promoted by the Japanese government that Hirohito had always been a man of peace, who was powerless in the face of the militarists who ran Japan. This myth, well bald-faced lie would be a more accurate description, was surprisingly successful. The first major scholarly attack on it was by David Bergamini’s 1200 page Japan’s Imperial Conspiracy, published in 1971. Read a review of it here. Continue reading
Something for the weekend. Scotland the Brave, from a video clip of the movie The Devil’s Brigade (1968). Officially the First Special Service Force, the Devil’s Brigade earned its name from their German adversaries in Italy. An 1,800 man elite brigade of Canadian and American troops, the troops were originally trained for a hare-brained mission behind enemy lines in Norway. General Staff officer Lieutenant Colonel Robert Frederick warned that the mission as planned would inevitably lead to the death or capture of all the troops involved. Frederick ultimately succeeded in convincing his superiors that the mission in Norway was a mistake and he was assigned to command the brigade. In fighting in Italy and Southern France the brigade performed superbly, carrying out missions thought to be impossible, and inflicting 12,000 casualties on the Germans and capturing an additional 7,000 Germans. The brigade suffered high casualties, by the end of the war having an attrition rate of 660%. Frederick had intense loyalty from his men, always leading from the front and exposing himself constantly to enemy fire. Both the US and Canadian special forces units trace their lineage from this unit. Continue reading
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
It is a trite but true observation that war brings out the very worst and the very best in men. In the category of very best, sacrificial courage has to be high on the list. Such was displayed by Private Frank J. Petrarca on three occasions in the bitter fighting on New Georgia in the Solomon Islands. One of ten children he had attended parochial school before following in his father’s footsteps and becoming a carpenter. In October 1940 he enlisted in the Army. On July 27, 1943 he began displaying a courage that was rare even in the Pacific theater where, as Admiral Nimitz stated, valor was a common virtue. Here is his Medal of Honor Citation: Continue reading
We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Too late for Bastille Day, but this reflection by Steven Hayward at Powerline on a book written by French historian Marc Bloch draws my attention. Bloch was not only a historian but in World War I he had been an infantry combat officer, rising to the rank of Captain and earning a Legion of Honor. In the wake of the defeat of France in 1940 he asked a simple question: Why?
Bloch was one of the pre-war founders of the Annales school of historical analysis, which was neither exactly Marxist nor purely “social” history as we know it today, but was an early version of bottom-up meta-history. (Think of it an the anti-Carlyle/great man school, or history without any dominant figures. Fernand Braudel is the best-known figure of this school of thought.)
And yet when France succumbed easily to the Nazi invasion in 1940 despite superior forces on paper, a dumbfounded Bloch found he could only explain it by returning to the old fashioned style of thinking about and writing history. The result was his classic, Strange Defeat: A Statement of Evidence Written in 1940. His main conclusion is one that no academic historian today would dare to put to paper: France suffered an ignominious moral collapse. The entire book—it is only 176 pages—is a thrilling read, but I’ll confine myself to just a few selections from the final chapter, “A Frenchman Examines His Conscience,” which, with due adjustments, can serve as a warning for our own intellectual flabbiness in the Age of Terror, as well as a reproach to the dessicated academic history of today:
This timidity of the nation at large was, no doubt, in many cases but the sum of the timidity of individuals. . . Whatever the reasons, there can be no doubt that our governors, both individually and as a class, did lack something of that ruthless heroism which becomes so necessary when the country is in danger. . .
Since the gospel they preached was one of seeming convenience, their sermons found an easy echo in those lazy, selfish instincts which exist in all men’s hearts side by side with nobler potentialities. These enthusiasts, many of whom were not, as individuals, lacking in courage, worked unconsciously to produce a race of cowards.
I do not say that the past entirely governs the present, but I do maintain that we shall never satisfactorily understand the present unless we take the past into account. But there is still worse to come. Because our system of historical teaching deliberately cuts itself off from a wide field of vision and comparison, it can no longer impart to those whose minds it claims to form anything like a true sense of difference and change.
A democracy becomes hopelessly weak, and the general good suffers accordingly, if its higher officials, bred up to despise it, and drawn from those very classes the dominance of which it is pledged to destroy, serve it only half-heartedly.
If there is a forgotten theater where American troops fought in World War II, it is most definitely the Aleutians. The Japanese took Attu and Kiska, islands in the Aleutian chain, in June of 1942, to forestall the Aleutians being used as a base for a move on the Japanese Home Islands from the Aleutians. Due to the rugged weather conditions, the US had never seriously entertained using the Aleutians as a staging area for future offensives. However, Attu and Kiska were American territory, and national pride, as well as alarm from the Alaskan territorial government, made inevitable an American campaign to take back the strategically worthless islands. Continue reading
And there’s one thing you’ll be able to say when you get home. When you’re sitting around your fireside, with your brat on your knee, and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you won’t have to say you shoveled s–t in Louisiana.
General George S. Patton
Hattip to Instapundit. People at Reagan National cheering World War II vets on an Honor Flight to Washington DC to see the World War II memorials. Here is a post from 2009 that I wrote regarding the urgent necessity to talk to our World War II veterans now.
Time is doing what the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese could not do: vanquishing our World War II generation. The youngest American veteran of that conflict would now be 86, and in the next two decades or so they will all be in eternity. Time now to express our heartfelt gratitude for what they accomplished for the country. They have been called the greatest generation. I am sure that most of them would reject that title, maybe putting in a vote for the generation that won the American Revolution or the generation that fought the Civil War. Modesty has been a hallmark of their generation. When I was growing up in the Sixties, most of them were relatively young men in their late thirties or forties. If you asked them about the war they would talk about it but they would rarely bring it up. They took their service for granted as a part of their lives and nothing special. So those of us who knew them often took it for granted too. Uncle Chuck, he works at the Cereal Mills, and, oh yeah, he fought in the Pacific as a Marine. Uncle Bill, he has a great sense of humor and I think he was in Tokyo Bay when the Japanese surrendered to MacArthur. When they talked about the war it was usually some humorous anecdote, often with some self-deprecating point. They’d talk about some of the sad stuff too, but you could tell that a lot of that was pretty painful for them, so you didn’t press them. They were just husbands and fathers, uncles and cousins. The fact that the janitor at the school won a silver star on Saipan, or the mayor of the town still walked with a limp from being shot on D-Day, was just a normal part of life, like going to school or delivering papers. Continue reading
Probably the most realistic depiction of World War II combat put to film, The Battle of San Pietro, in the public domain, is now considered a minor masterpiece. At the time of its release in 1945 it was intensely controversial. Fought between December 8-17 in 1943, the assault of the 143rd Infantry of the 36th Division was filmed by Captain John Huston, who was making films for the Army, a rare case where the Army actually made use of the civilian expertise of one of its soldiers. Huston’s film shows war in all of its unglamorous horror. After the Hollywood depiction of war during World War II it came as an unpleasant revelation for viewers. Army brass were concerned about the film having a depressing effect on the morale of the troops. Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, however, came to the defense of the film, thinking that it would make a good training film, underlining to troops why they had to take their training seriously. The film was used in training and Huston was promoted to major.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
In 1943 Anzac Day, April 25, fell on the same day as Easter. Anzac Day commemorates the landing of the New Zealand and Australian troops at Gallipoli in World War I. Although the effort to take the Dardanelles was ultimately unsuccessful, the Anzac troops demonstrated great courage and tenacity, and the ordeal the troops underwent in this campaign has a vast meaning to the peoples of New Zealand and Australia.
New York City saw its first public observance of Anzac Day that year as some 300 Australian airmen and sailors marched in the Easter Parade and were cheered by the crowds lining the parade route. Anzac Day observances in Australia and New Zealand were muted that year, due to the day falling on Easter, and so many men were away fighting in the War.
American audiences had become familiar with the courage of Anzac troops by viewing the documentary Kokoda Front Line, the video at the beginning of this post, which memorialized the struggle of Australian troops fighting in New Guinea. Damien Parer, the cinematographer on the film won an Oscar for the film in 1943. He would die on September 17, 1944, age 32, filming Marines in combat on Peleliu
In Melbourne, Australia on Anzac Day, the US 1st Marine Division marched through the streets in honor of the day to the cheers of their Australian hosts. Continue reading
Inevitable, but still sad:
Casey said he hopes everyone who has had a chance to interact with the men will keep their legacy alive. “I want them to tell the story to their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors and keep their story going because their story is worthwhile telling.”
At each reunion is a case containing 80 silver goblets with the name of each raider inscribed right-side up and upside down on a single goblet. The men toast their fallen comrades each year and turn their goblets upside down in their honor.
The sons of Saint Dominic have supplied many heroic military chaplains throughout their illustrious history, and one of these men was Father Paul Redmond. Born on March 27, 1899 in New Haven, Connecticut, he served as an enlisted man in the United States Navy during World War I. He was ordained a priest in the Dominican order in 1930.
By 1942, Father Redmond was 43 years old, about a decade older than the average chaplain. No one would have said anything if he had sat this World War out. Instead he joined the Navy and became a Marine chaplain, and not just any Marine chaplain. He took a demotion in rank from corps chaplain to battalion chaplain to serve with the 1st and 4th Raider battalions, elite combat formations. Among men who were brave simply by virtue of qualifying to join such outfits, Chaplain Redmond stood out. During the campaign on Guam, Father Redmond would go into the mouths of caves occupied by Japanese troops to attempt to convince them to surrender, and I find it difficult to think of anything more hazardous offhand.
In the midst of the attack on Orote Peninsula on Guam, the Chaplain was tending the dying and wounded while under fire. He called to his assistant Henry to give him a hand. His assistant was understandably reluctant to expose himself to enemy fire. Father Redmond yelled to him that as long as he had led a good, clean life nothing would happen to him. Henry yelled back that he had not led a good, clean life and therefore he was going to sit tight until the firing let up.
One Marine recalled Redmond’s almost preternatural courage: Continue reading