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Darkest Hour

 

 

 

 

You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Winston Churchill, May 13, 1940

The second Winston Churchill movie this year will appear in the US at Thanksgiving.  The first was a bigger bomb than any dropped by the RAF in World War II.  Go here to read British historian Andrew Robert’s scorching review.  However Darkest Hour, starring Gary Oldham in the title role, looks magnificent.  It focuses on Churchill’s role in summoning the British people to fight on alone after the Fall of France.

 

If the English had negotiated peace with Nazi Germany in 1940, I have no doubt that Hitler would likely have conquered the Soviet Union in the next year.  In circa 1948-1952 the US might have faced Japan and a nuclear armed Nazi Germany, controlling Europe and the former Soviet Union, with missile technology, and the world may well have been a much darker place indeed after the rubble settled from such a conflict.  The resolution of one man, Churchill, likely changed history for the better, and no greater accolade can be given to any statesman.  I am looking forward to seeing this film with great anticipation.

 

 

 

 

 

2

August 15, 1945: The Voice of the Crane

 

 

Allied bombers had been used on August 13, 1945 dropping leaflets over Japan which described, in Japanese, the surrender offer and the Allied response.  On August 14, 1945 Hirohito met with his military leaders, several of whom spoke in favor of continuing the War.  Hirohito urged them to help him bring the War to an end.  Meeting then with the Supreme Council for the Direction of the War and heard out those who recommended a rejection of the Allied offer unless there was a guarantee that the Emperor would continue to reign.  Hirohito then spoke:

I have listened carefully to each of the arguments presented in opposition to the view that Japan should accept the Allied reply as it stands and without further clarification or modification, but my own thoughts have not undergone any change. … In order that the people may know my decision, I request you to prepare at once an imperial rescript so that I may broadcast to the nation. Finally, I call upon each and every one of you to exert himself to the utmost so that we may meet the trying days which lie ahead.

In normal times in Japan that would have been that.  It was quite rare for the Emperor to so overtly intervene in a decision of the government, indeed it was forbidden under the then current Japanese constitution, but when he did, it would have literally been unthinkable for any Japanese not to instantly obey.  However, these were far from normal times.

The rest of the day was taken up with Hirohito preparing an address to his people and having a recording played to be broadcast on August 15, 1945.  Washington was advised that Japan had surrendered via the Japanese embassies in Switzerland and Sweden and the Allied world went wild with joy. Continue Reading

4

Dunkirk

 

The film is getting magnificent reviews and I will be seeing it on the last Friday of the month with a full review to follow.  Operation Dynamo, the transport of British and French troops from surrounded Dunkirk, was a military miracle, aided by Hitler’s agreement with his generals for a temporary pause in operations, for rest and reorganization, from May 24-May 26 of the German Fourth Army around Dunkirk.  Initially it was thought that only some 45,000 men could be rescued, but instead 338,000 men were saved to fight many other days.  But for Dunkirk, the British would have had few trained troops to confront a Nazi invasion, if Hitler had attempted to roll the iron dice of war and risk Operation Sea Lion.

Today we recall the civilian craft of all types that voluntarily came out to rescue the British soldiers.  It was a demonstration that although the British military had suffered a stunning loss in France, along with their French allies, the spirit of the British people was far from broken.  Churchill summed up the Dunkirk Miracle well:

When, a week ago today, I asked the house to fix this afternoon as the occasion for a statement, I feared it would be my hard lot to announce the greatest military disaster in our long history. I thought – and some good judges agreed with me – that perhaps 20,000 or 30,000 men might be re-embarked. But it certainly seemed that the whole of the French First Army and the whole of the British Expeditionary Force north of the Amiens-Abbeville gap would be broken up in the open field or else would have to capitulate for lack of food and ammunition. These were the hard and heavy tidings for which I called upon the house and the nation to prepare themselves a week ago. The whole root and core and brain of the British Army, on which and around which we were to build, and are to build, the great British armies in the later years of the war, seemed about to perish upon the field or to be led into an ignominious and starving captivity.

After having described the Dunkirk evacuation Churchill said this and here he donned the mantle of a prophet: Continue Reading

6

Father and the Flag

One of the most highly decorated chaplains of World War II, Father Elmer W. Heindl used to joke that his decorations were simply due to him being in the wrong place at the right time.  Born on June 14, 1910 in Rochester, New York, the oldest of six children, Heindl decided at an early age that he was meant to be a priest and was ordained on June 6, 1936.  He said that being born on Flag Day indicated to him that during his life he would do something to honor the Stars and Stripes.

In March of 1942 he joined the Army as a chaplain.  Assigned to the 2nd Battalion of th 148th infantry attached to the 37th Division, he served on Guadalcanal, New Georgia and in the Philippines.  He quickly gained a reputation for utter fearlessness under fire, giving the last Rites, tending the wounded and rescuing wounded under fire.    In regard to the Last Rites, Father Heindl noted that he did not have time to check dog tags to see if a dying soldier was a Catholic.  “Every situation was an instant decision.  You didn’t have time to check his dog tag to see whether he was Catholic or not. I’d say, in Latin, ‘If you’re able and willing to receive this sacrament, I give it to you.’ And then leave it up to the Lord.”

He earned a Bronze Star on New Georgia when on July  19 and July 23 he conducted burial services, although in constant danger from Japanese sniper fire.  The citation noted that his cheerful demeanor and courage inspired the troops who encountered him.

During the liberation of the Philippines, Captain Heindl participated in the bitter fighting in Manila.  He earned a Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest award in the United States Army for valor, during the fighting at Bilibid prison to liberate American and Filipino POWs who had been through horrors at the hands of their Japanese captors that I truly hope the readers of this post would find literally unimaginable.  Here is the Distinguished Service Cross citation: Continue Reading

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Father Ranger

raaen&lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

On the trip across the Channel to France,  Chaplain Lacy told the men:  “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”  A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked.

On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM,  LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach.  Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail.  Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire.  Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach.  Father Lacy did not hesitate.  With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach.  He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance.  On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could.  While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, and sustained 50% casualties doing so, Father Lacy continued to tend their  wounded and the wounded of other units.  For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.

Here is the text of his citation: Continue Reading

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FDR’s D-Day Prayer

 

My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men’s souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom. Continue Reading

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D-Day Factoids

 

Random observations on D-Day.

  1. Churchill and the King– Churchill had begun his career in the days of Queen Victoria in the Army, and had fought in India, the Sudan and in the Boer War.   In World War I he had served briefly as the commander of a battalion in the trenches of the Western Front.  He was determined to land with the British troops on D-Day.  His generals were appalled.  King George VI remedied the problem when he told Churchill at an audience that he, the King, had determined that he should land on D-Day with his troops.   Churchill, aghast, said this was impossible since the King might be killed.  The King responded that since that was the case he didn’t want his Prime Minister risking his life on D-Day.  No more was heard of the idea of Churchill landing with the troops.
  2. German Build Up-There was little doubt that troops would successfully fight themselves ashore on D-Day.  The question was whether the Allies could build up successfully the beachhead and expand it in the face of the German buildup after the invasion.  This concern led to the initial assault force being increased from three to six divisions, not counting the Allied airborne forces dropping behind enemy lines.  The limiting factor was the number of landing craft the Allies had, with a six division assault force requiring bringing landing craft from the Mediterranean theater and delaying until July Operation Dragoon, the amphibious invasion of southern France.
  3. Oil-Modern armies move on fuel and getting enough gas into the D-Day beachhead was a major concern until the solution of laying pipelines, Operation Pluto. under the English channel was hit upon.  Disappointing initially in the amount of fuel transported via this means, by the end of the War 4000 tons was transported daily by these pipelines, providing the absolutely critical margin by which the mechanized Allied armies swept into Germany.
  4. Of Icebergs and Mulberries-Churchill was the quintessential idea man.   The problem was separating his good ideas from his bad ones.  Throughout the War he had the bizarre idea of using an iceberg as an unsinkable aircraft carrier.  His generals and admirals strove successfully throughout the War against his demand that this lunatic proposal be implemented. However he was also the main proponent of mulberries, the construction of prefabricated artificial harbors to be set up in France following D-Day.  These artificial harbors proved critical in the buildup in Normandy following D-Day.
  5. Patton-In the doghouse after slapping a soldier in Sicily, General George Patton still had an important role to play in D-Day.  Patton in the months of 1944 leading up to the invasion of Normandy found himself at the head of an impressive force: the First US Army Group, consisting of the US 14th Army and the British 4th Army.  It was entirely fictitious.  Codenamed Operation Quicksilver, the First US Army Group produced lots of radio chatter and paper reports, along with endless dummy tanks and fake troop bases.  It worked along with the other allied deceptions that made up Operation Fortitude South.  The Germans were convinced that the First US Army Group was a real formation and that the Allies were going to invade with it at Calais.  Patton made speeches and appearances throughout England at this time that received maximum publicity to enhance his assumed position as head of the Allied invasion.  At the same time he was secretly training Third Army for its role after the invasion.
  6. Rommel-The Desert Fox was not an infallible commander, but he did have an eerie ability to often guess the intentions of his foes.  So it was when he requested that the 12th SS Panzer Division, the fanatical Hitler Jugend, be moved to Carentan, which lay between the beaches that would become known as Utah and Omaha.  His request was refused.  Additionally, in early May Rommel ordered the commander of the 352nd Division to withdraw most of his men from reserve and have them concentrated on the beach that would be Omaha.  Fortunately for the Americans who landed there, the commander of the 352nd Division ignored Rommel’s order.
  7. Daily Telegraph-In May of 1944 crucial codewords for Operation Overlord began showing up in crossword puzzles of the Daily Telegraph newspaper.  An intensive investigation by MI5 failed to uncover any security breach.
  8. Mississippi-The flat bottomed landing craft had originally been designed to rescue Mississippi River flooding victims.
  9. Wonder Drug-The assault troops went ashore equipped with the new wonder drug Penicillin which saved thousands of lives.
  10. Casualties-The Allied casualties were much lighter than anticipated, some 10,000 of which 4500 were killed.  Churchill had feared a second first day of the Somme with some 20,000 Allied KIAs.
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June 4, 1942: Battle of Midway Begins

My bride has the distinction of being one of the few people born on the Island of Midway.  (We have pictures of her as an infant with some Laysan Albatrosses, better known on Midway as Gooney Birds.  The medical staff was so excited at her birth that they put her in the new incubator, although they did not turn it on.)  This has led to never-ending confusion over the years when she has presented her birth certificate, with puzzled individuals wondering where Midway is.  Seventy-five years ago today the battle of Midway began.  A battle which has been called a miracle, Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific, with the decisive defeat of the Japanese strike force aimed at Midway that Admiral Yamamoto had intended to give a crushing blow to the remaining US carriers.  The victory of Midway was the product of hubris, MAGIC, luck, courage and skill.

1.  Hubris-Since Pearl Harbor the Japanese had won incredible victories on land, sea and in the air, and now controlled a huge Empire throughout East Asia.  Japanese historians have described this as the period of “victory fever”.  Even a very level headed and pragmatic individual like Admiral Yamamoto was affected by this atmosphere of seeming invincibility.  Japanese intelligence as to the dispostion of the US fleet in the Pacific was poor, and Yamamoto’s plan to lure the Americans into battle by threatening Midway was very much a strike into the unknown, and risked Japan’s fate in the war on one battle. 

2.  MAGIC-US cryptographers had broken many Japanese diplomatic and military codes.  The project was collectively known as MAGIC.  In December of 1941 Naval cryptographers had broken the Japanese high command naval fleet code designated JN-25.  Nimitz, the commander in chief of the US fleet in the Pacific, knew as a result that Midway was the target of the Japanese fleet and assembled his three carriers and support ships to oppose the Japanese fleet with its four carriers, two light carriers and support ships.

3.  Luck-It is hard in our era of satellite surveilance and ubiquitous electronic sensoring systems, to realize just how much a deadly game of blind man’s bluff a carrier battle was in 1942.  Radar, still in its infancy, gave the US a critical edge at Midway, but finding the Japanese fleet carriers to attack them was as much a product of luck as anything else.  If the Japanese had been luckier, Midway could easily have been a disastrous US defeat.

4.  Courage-There were many brave men on both sides, however the palm for gallantry has to go to the aviators of Torpedo Squadron Eight from the Hornet and Torpedo Squadron 6 from the Enterprise and their attacks on the Japanese carriers on June 4.  The men had to know that without cover from their own fighters they would almost certainly not survive their attack runs on the carriers.  They went in anyway, and almost all of them died.  Many Japanese observers were stunned while watching this.  Japanese propaganda called Americans weak, decadent and cowardly, and here were American pilots going to their deaths in the best samurai style as they attempted to sink the well guarded carriers.  The attacks failed, but they drew most of the Japanese carrier air patrols away from the carriers, kept the carriers off balance and unable to launch their own strikes and depleted the ammunition and gasoline of many of the Japanese planes guarding the carriers.

5.  Skill-Approximately 30 minutes after the torpedo squadron attacks, three squadrons of American SBD’s from the Enterprise and the Yorktown came upon the Japanese carriers.  They were led by Commander C. Wade McCluskey who decided to prolong the search for the Japanese carriers and found them by following the wake of a Japanese destroyer.  In a matter of minutes the three squadrons inflicted devastating damage on three of the four Japanese fleet carriers, winning the battle of Midway for the United States.

Here is the report of Admiral Nimitz on the battle.  Note the emphasis in his report on lessons learned and improvements that had to be made based upon these lessons, it is a model of how to learn from success: Continue Reading

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May 8, 1942: Victory at the Battle of the Coral Sea

 

Seventy-five years ago, although they did not realize it, the American and Australian forces had won the Battle of the Coral Sea.  The battle which ultimately saved Australia from Japanese invasion has been largely forgotten in the US.  That is a pity.  Just six months from the Pearl Harbor debacle, the US Navy won a strategic victory that largely shaped the outcome of the battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific War.

Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese Navy, launched an invasion force to take Port Moresby on the south side of the huge island of New Guinea.  Once New Guinea was taken Australia was next. Admiral Shigeyoshi Inoue, in command of the Japanese of the Fourth Fleet would command this venture.

Allied intelligence learned of this plan, and Admiral Nimitz, Naval Supreme Commander in the Pacific, sent all four of his fleet carriers to intercept the Japanese force. Continue Reading

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April 18, 1942: The Doolittle Raid

 

Seventy-five years ago 80 very brave Americans, led by Army Air Corps Lieutenant Colonel James H. Doolittle, brought the nation a badly needed morale boost.  The War in the Pacific was going badly as defeat followed defeat.  Navy Captain Francis Low hit upon a plan to send a message, not only to the American public, but also to Japan, that the United States was not beaten and that it would strike back and prevail.

16 Mitchell B-25B bombers were placed on the carrier USS Hornet.  In great secrecy the Hornet and its escorts steamed to within 650 nautical miles of Japan when the force was discovered by a Japanese picket boat which was sunk by gunfire from the USS Nashville.  Fearing discovery the Doolittle force launched immediately, some 10 hours earlier than planned, and 170 nautical miles further from Japan.

The raiders reached the Japanese Home Islands at around noon.  They had split up into groups ranging from two to four planes and struck targets in Tokyo, Yokohama, Yokosuka, Nagoya, Kobe and Osaka.  The raiders then planned to fly their planes into Nationalist controlled China and make their way back to the US.  Miraculously 69 of the raiders did just that.  Three of the raiders died and eight were captured.

Of the captured raiders, three were executed by the Japanese on October 15, 1942 following a show trial.

The remaining five POWs were placed on starvation rations, with one of them dying prior to liberation by the Allied forces at the end of the War.  Jacob DeShazer, one of the POWs, came back to Japan as a missionary in 1948 and worked there for 30 years spreading the Gospel. Continue Reading

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Chesty Puller and Catholic Chaplains

(I first ran this back in 2011.  It has proven to be one of the most popular posts I have written for TAC.  Time to run it again.)

 

 

Some men become legends after their deaths and others become legends while they are alive.  Lewis Burwell Puller, forever known as “Chesty”, was in the latter category.  Enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1918 he would serve until 1955, rising in rank from private to lieutenant general.  Throughout his career he led from the front, never asking his men to go where he would not go.  For his courage he was five times awarded the Navy Cross,  a Silver Star,  a Distinguished Service Cross, and a Bronze Star with a V for Valor, along with numerous other decorations.  In World War II and Korea he became a symbol of the courage that Marines amply displayed in  both conflicts.

His fourth Navy Cross citation details why the Marines under his command would have followed him in an attack on Hades if he had decided to lead them there:

“For extraordinary heroism as Executive Officer of the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division, serving with the Sixth United States Army, in combat against enemy Japanese forces at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, from 26 December 1943 to 19 January 1944. Assigned temporary command of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, from 4 to 9 January, Lieutenant Colonel Puller quickly reorganized and advanced his unit, effecting the seizure of the objective without delay. Assuming additional duty in command of the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines, from 7 to 8 January, after the commanding officer and executive officer had been wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Puller unhesitatingly exposed himself to rifle, machine-gun and mortar fire from strongly entrenched Japanese positions to move from company to company in his front lines, reorganizing and maintaining a critical position along a fire-swept ridge. His forceful leadership and gallant fighting spirit under the most hazardous conditions were contributing factors in the defeat of the enemy during this campaign and in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Stories began to cluster about him.  When he was first shown a flame thrower he supposedly asked, “Where do you mount the bayonet?”    Advised that his unit was surrounded he replied:  “All right, they’re on our left, they’re on our right, they’re in front of us, they’re behind us…they can’t get away this time.”  On an inspection tour of a Marine unit he became exasperated at the lack of spirit he saw and finally said,“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines!”  During the Chosin campaign in Korea when the Marines were fighting their way to the coast through several Communist Chinese corps he captured the tactical situation succinctly:  “We’ve been looking for the enemy for some time now. We’ve finally found him. We’re surrounded. That simplifies things.”  Little surprise that Marine Drill Instructors at Parris Island still have their boots sing good night to Chesty Puller some four decades after his death.

Puller was an Episcopalian.  However he made no secret that he greatly admired Navy Catholic chaplains who served with the Marines, and had little use, with certain honorable exceptions, for the Navy Protestant chaplains sent to the Corps.  His reasons were simple.  The Catholic chaplains were without fear, always wanted to be with the troops in combat, and the men idolized them for their courage and their willingness, even eagerness, to stand with them during their hour of trial. Continue Reading

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Saints of Lent: The Lion of Munster

Lent is a grand time to confront evil, both that evil which stains our souls, and the evil external to us.  Throughout the history of the Church there have been saints who risked all to bravely confront the popular evils of their time.  This Lent on each Sunday we will be looking at some of those saints.  We began with Saint Athanasius.  Go here to read about him.  Next we looked at Saint John Fisher.  Go here to read about him. Last week we looked at the life of Saint Oliver Plunket.  Go here to read about him.  This week we turn to the Lion of Munster.

The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell.  This Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen.  I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone.  (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)

Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.  What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil?  Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.

A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia.  Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison.  Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending.  He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down.  I am certain  it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

Continue Reading

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A Century of Vera Lynn

 

 

The singing voice of Great Britain during World War II, Dame Vera Lynn is one hundred years old.  The Sweetheart of the Forces, she was tireless in her performances for the troops during World War II, and the veterans of that conflict have always held her in high esteem.  Contrary to the usual dismal history of the entertainment industry, she enjoyed a life long love affair with her one and only husband until he died in 1998.  Throughout her long life she has  championed disabled servicemen and disabled kids.   She is a living refutation of the falsehood that the good die young.

 

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Requiescat in Pace: Loyce Edward Deen

When you go home, tell them of us and say
For their tomorrow, we gave our today.
Inscription on the Memorial to the dead of the British 2nd Division at Kohima

Hattip to Ace of Spades.  As we go about our daily lives it is good to remember that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  One of those giants is a 23 year old sailor who died 73 years ago:

Loyce Edward Deen, an Aviation Machinist Mate 2nd Class, USNR, was a gunner on a TBM Avenger. On November 5, 1944, Deen’s squadron participated in a raid on Manila, where his plane was hit multiple times by anti-aircraft fire while attacking a Japanese cruiser. Deen was killed.The Avenger’s pilot, Lt. Robert Cosgrove, managed to return to his carrier, the USS Essex. Both Deen and the plane had been shot up so badly that it was decided to leave him in the plane.

It is the only time in U.S. Navy history (and probably U.S. military history) that an aviator was buried in his aircraft after being killed in action.

 

Continue Reading

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January 26, 1945: Audie Murphy Earns Medal of Honor

The real heroes are dead.

Audie Murphy

When Audie Murphy starred in his aptly titled World War II biopic, To Hell and Back, his battlefield exploits were downplayed.  Partially this was due to Murphy’s modesty, he had not wanted to appear in the movie and did so only after he was promised that much of the focus of the film would be on his buddies who died during the War, and partially due to the fact that what he did during the War was so unbelievably courageous that film audiences might have refused to believe it.  Here is his Medal of Honor citation that he earned in truly hellish fighting near Holtzwihr, France on January 26, 1945:

General Orders No. 65

WAR DEPARTMENT

Washington 25, D.C., 9 August 1945

MEDAL OF HONOR – Award

Section
1
* * * * *

I. MEDAL OF HONOR. – By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. the enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.
* * * * *

BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
OFFICIAL:

EDWARD F. WITSELL
Major General
Acting the Adjutant General

G.C. MARSHALL
Chief of Staff Continue Reading

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January 24, 1972: Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi is Captured

 

If there were any question as to the fanaticism, or raw courage and determination if one prefers, of the Japanese military during World War II, the tale of Sergeant Shoichi Yokoi would have answered it.  For 28 years after the liberation of Guam he survived in the jungles, initially with nine other soldiers.  He learned in 1952 that Japan had lost the War, but he did not surrender because Japanese soldiers did not do that.  On January 24, 1972 he was discovered by two local villagers on Guam who subdued him and brought him from the jungle with minor bruising.  On returning to Japan he said, “It is with much embarrassment, but I have returned.”

Two Japanese soldiers of World War II surrendered in 1974 and none since then.  Shoichi Yokoi married, became a popular television personality and advocated leading an austere lifestyle.  He passed away in 1997, his tombstone being the one purchased by his mother in 1955 under the assumption that he was dead.

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January 15, 1943: Pentagon Dedictated

Leslie Groves was not a pleasant man to work for, but if you wanted to get something done, he was the man to accomplish the seemingly impossible.  He demonstrated this twice during World War II:  spearheading the Manhattan Project and overseeing the construction of the Pentagon.  A ruthless driver of men, and a born problem solver, he managed to build the Pentagon under budget and in sixteen months, a project that was estimated initially to take four years.

Major General Kenneth Nichols, who worked under Groves summed up the man:

First, General Groves is the biggest S.O.B. I have ever worked for. He is most demanding. He is most critical. He is always a driver, never a praiser. He is abrasive and sarcastic. He disregards all normal organizational channels. He is extremely intelligent. He has the guts to make difficult, timely decisions. He is the most egotistical man I know. He knows he is right and so sticks by his decision. He abounds with energy and expects everyone to work as hard or even harder than he does. Although he gave me great responsibility and adequate authority to carry out his mission-type orders, he constantly meddled with my subordinates. However, to compensate for that he had a small staff, which meant that we were not subject to the usual staff-type heckling. He ruthlessly protected the overall project from other government agency interference, which made my task easier. He seldom accepted other agency cooperation and then only on his own terms. During the war and since I have had the opportunity to meet many of our most outstanding leaders in the Army, Navy and Air Force as well as many of our outstanding scientific, engineering and industrial leaders. And in summary, if I had to do my part of the atomic bomb project over again and had the privilege of picking my boss I would pick General Groves.

7

Christmas “Nuts!” at Bastogne

 

 

Seventy-two years ago at Christmas the American and German armies were fighting it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

 

Patton’s Third Army fought its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather. The skies cleared after Patton prayed the weather prayer, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

 

 

 

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101st Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle. Massively outnumbered, battle weary from already having done more than their share of fighting in Normandy and Operation Market Garden and short on food and ammo, they stopped the advancing Germans cold in their tracks.

On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101st troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue Reading

6

Dunkirk

 

A new movie coming about Dunkirk next summer.  If the British army had been destroyed at Dunkirk in 1940, which might very well have happened, rather than sucessfully evacuated to fight again another day, Hitler’s long shot Operation Sea Lion invasion of Britain might have succeeded, and the world today might be a truly nightmarish place.  It brought to mind this poem I read as a school boy:

 

Dunkirk (A Ballad)

Will came back from school that day,
And he had little to say.
But he stood a long time looking down
To where the grey-green Channel water
Slapped at the foot of the little town,
And to where his boat, the Sarah P,
Bobbed at the tide on an even keel,
With her one old sail, patched at the leech,
Furled like a slattern, down at heel.

He stood for a while above the beach,
He saw how the wind and current caught her;
He looked a long time out to sea.
There was steady wind, and the sky was pale,
And a haze in the east that looked like smoke.

Will went back to the house to dress,
He was halfway through, when his sister Bess
Who was near fourteen, and younger than he
By just two years, came home from play.
She asked him ‘Where are you going Will?’
He said ‘For a good long sail.’
‘Can I come along?’
‘No, Bess,’ he spoke.
‘I may be gone for a night and a day.’
Bess looked at him. She kept very still.
She had heard the news of the Flanders rout,
How the English were trapped above Dunkirk,
And the fleet had gone to get them out –
But everyone thought that it wouldn’t work.
There was too much fear, there was too much doubt.

She looked at him, and he looked at her.
They were English children, born and bred.
He frowned her down, but she wouldn’t stir.
She shook her proud young head.
‘You’ll need a crew,’ she said. Continue Reading

2

Pearl Harbor Lessons

 

 

The attack on Pearl Harbor, the date which will live in infamy in F.D.R.’s ringing phrase, happened 75 years ago today.  Less than 2500 of the 42,000 sailors, soldiers, marines and airmen stationed there that fateful day are still with us.  Time has done what the forces of Imperial Japan could not, and soon the memories of that attack will be only a page in history.  The lessons of Pearl Harbor are however as timely today as they were on December 7, 1941:

1.  It Takes Two to Avoid a War-Today, too many people speak the most dreadful rubbish that boils down to the contention that the US can avoid war if it simply adopts a peaceful policy to all other nations.  Nations, like people, have their own goals, and they will pursue those goals as they will, whether the US adopts a “smiley-face” foreign policy or not.

2.  Peace Time Mentality-Pearl Harbor was such a disaster largely due to a mindset that gripped too many in the military that it was sufficient to simply go through the motions.  This is a common enough attitude in the world, and in peace time it becomes all too common in the military.  Pearl Harbor teaches us how disastrous this mentality is in war-time.

3.  Peace or War can be a Matter of Seconds- Throughout its history the US has often had wars start quite quickly:  The Revolution, The Civil War, Korea, World War II and 9-11.  George Washington warned us that: To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.   Too often in our history we have forgotten that sage advice and paid for it at our peril as we learn the old lesson that war can come upon us with the speed of  summer lightning, especially in our modern age.

4.  Assumptions-Behind every great disaster there are usually a string of bad assumptions.  We assumed that the Japanese if they attacked would likely not attack Pearl Harbor.  We assumed that a Japanese fleet could not sail from Japan to Hawaii unnoticed.  We assumed that our air power, especially with the new-fangled technology called Radar, would be on alert, and that in any case our fleet could defeat anything that Japan could send against it.  Pile enough bad assumptions on top of each other and a debacle is in the making.

5.  Killing More People Won’t Help Matters-That quote comes from Congresswoman Jeannette Rankin, the lone dissenting vote in the House against declaring war on Japan after Pearl Harbor.  A Republican from Montana, Rankin is an interesting figure.  The first woman elected to Congress, she served two terms.  In her first term she voted against declaring war on Germany in World War I and in her second term she voted against declaring war on Japan.  Both votes stemmed from her deep-seated pacificism, both votes were immensely unpopular and both votes effectively ended her political career at two different points in her life.  I give her the courage of her convictions.  However, her stance after Pearl Harbor illustrates the folly of pacifism as a national policy.  The sad truth is that in this vale of tears it is sometimes necessary to take up arms to avoid greater evils than war, and those peoples who forget that truth of the human condition will experience such evils sooner or later. Continue Reading

1

A Date Which Will Live In Infamy

The US Naval Academy Glee Club singing Eternal Father aboard the USS Arizona Memorial.  The dastardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,402 American servicemen and wounded an additional 1247. About one hundred civilians were killed or wounded.

For most Americans living today the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, seems like ancient history.  It does not seem like that to me.  As I was growing up in the Sixties I was surrounded by adults who recalled Pearl Harbor.  My father, who was 8 years old at the time of the attack, remembered the long lines the next morning in our small town of men waiting outside of the recruiting offices of the Army and Navy to join up.  He also conveyed to me the shock of a nation one moment at peace, and the next morning at war.  Until September 11, 2001, I really didn’t fully comprehend what my father was talking about.  Continue Reading

2

Billy Mitchell Predicts Pearl Harbor Attack in 1924

“This officer is an exceptionally able one, enthusiastic, energetic and full of initiative (but) he is fond of publicity, more or less indiscreet as to speech, and rather difficult to control as a subordinate.”

From General John J. Pershing’s 1923 efficiency report on General William Mitchell

Brigadier General William “Billy” Mitchell did not suffer fools gladly.  Dismayed that his demands for the development of air power were ignored in the post World War I era, he became increasingly caustic in his comments against his superiors.  After the deaths of several airmen in 1925 flying obsolete equipment, he castigated the heads of the Army and Navy for an almost treasonable administration of the national defense.  Court-martialed, he was found guilty and suspended from the Army without pay for five years.  President Calvin Coolidge amended the judgment so that Mitchell would receive half pay.  Mitchell left the Army, his military career at an end.

In 1924 General Pershing, perhaps to keep Mitchell out of harm’s way, sent him out on an inspection tour of the Pacific.  In his notes of that tour, later reduced to a 323 page report, Mitchell took a look at the weakness of the US in the Pacific and the rising power of Japan.  He predicted war between Japan and the US, and a Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor and Clark Field in the Philippines: Continue Reading

9

Review of Hacksaw Ridge

 

Hast thou not known? Hast thou not heard,
that the everlasting God, the Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth,
fainteth not, neither is weary?
There is no searching of his understanding.
He giveth power to the faint;
and to them that have no might he increaseth strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
and the young men shall utterly fall:
but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles;
they shall run, and not be weary;
and they shall walk, and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31

 

I’ve been where you are now and I know just how you feel. It’s entirely natural that there should beat in the breast of every one of you a hope and desire that some day you can use the skill you have acquired here.
Suppress it! You don’t know the horrible aspects of war. I’ve been through two wars and I know. I’ve seen cities and homes in ashes. I’ve seen thousands of men lying on the ground, their dead faces looking up at the skies. I tell you, war is Hell!

William Tecumseh Sherman, address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy (June 19, 1879)

 

 

 

My bride and I went to see Hacksaw Ridge last Saturday, Mel Gibson’s tribute to conscientious objector Desmond Doss who earned a Medal of Honor for heroism on Okinawa, and I was bowled over by it.  It wrenched more emotion from me than any film I have ever seen, except for Gibson’s Passion of the Christ.  My review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in effect. Continue Reading

5

Martyr Priests of Dachau

 

(I posted this last June.  It seemed appropriate to post it again today.)

 

 

A very brave man has died:

The last surviving Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp has died at the age of 102, more than 70 years after surviving a Nazi death march.

 The Rev. Hermann Scheipers died on June 2 in Ochtrup, Germany, the Catholic website Aleteia said.

 He spent more than four years at Dachau after being arrested in 1940, reportedly for supporting Polish forced laborers. “Here, you are defenseless, without dignity or rights,” Scheipers recalled being told on arriving at the Nazi camp.

Go here to read the rest.

2,579 Catholic priests, seminarians and brothers were thrown by the Nazis during World War II into Dachau.  1,780 of these were from Poland.  Of these, some 868 priests perished, 300 in medical “experiments” or by torture in the showers of the camp.

The remaining priests, seminarians and brothers came from 38 nations.  Besides the Poles the largest groups were 447 German and Austrian priests, 156 French priests and 46 Belgian priests.

Continue Reading

2

The Seabees

 

A 1945 Navy film on the Seabees.

At the outset of World War II, the Navy faced a task of unbelievable difficulty.  Around the globe, and especially in the Pacific, the Navy would be fighting in regions practically untouched by the modern world.  Everything to support military operations would have to be built from scratch:  bases, ports, airstrips, and an endless parade of other facilities.  The task was daunting, perhaps impossible.  However, the Navy had a secret weapon:  the American worker.

Forming Navy Construction Battalions, (C-Bs), the Navy turned to the civilian construction trades and asked for volunteers.  The response was overwhelming with civilian workers flocking to the task, and placed under the leadership of Navy officers.  These were older men, the average age of the volunteers being 37, and masters in their trades.  They formed the bedrock of the eventual 325,000 men who would serve in the Seabees during the War.  By V-J Day they had completed construction projects on six continents and 300 islands, many of the islands bearing strange and unfamiliar names like Guadalcanal, Tinian, Saipan, Tarawa and Iwo Jima.  They went about their work often under fire, sometimes participating directly in combat, and usually in conditions that were miserable beyond belief.  Tropical jungles, deserts, alpine mountains, arctic wastelands, nothing stopped them from doing their jobs, and usually completing their tasks ahead of schedule. Continue Reading

2

Rosie the Riveter

 

Something for a Labor Day weekend.  Rosie the Riveteer.  Written in 1942 the song celebrated the fact that with some sixteen million American men being called into military service, American women were going to have to pick up the slack if America was to win the battle of production, the decisive battle of World War II.  Women, especially young women, were absolutely critical in this task.  In 1944 1.7 million unmarried men were involved in war production, compared to 4.1 million women.  The war of the factories was won for the US by middle aged married men, many of them World War I veterans, and young women, many of them daughters of the older men they labored beside.  Below is a film, Women on the Warpath, made in 1943 by Ford honoring the women involved in assembling B-24 bombers at the Willow Run bomber plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Continue Reading

2

Florence Foster Jenkins

 

One of the more curious cultural artifacts in the history of this country is the very odd musical career of Florence Foster Jenkins.  A rich heiress, she loved music.  She was a talented pianist in her youth but stopped taking lessons when she married in 1885 at age 18 Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins.  The marriage was a rocky one, characterized by her contracting syphilis from him.  They parted after three years.  He passed away in 1917, but she retained her married name for the remainder of her life.  Moving to New York with her mother in 1900, she founded the Verdi Club in 1917, to share her love of music.  It was through this venue that she embarked upon her career as a singer, giving recitals to small groups of fans, with musical critics carefully excluded.  Jenkins was convinced she was a great singer.  In truth she was an an appallingly bad singer, with virtually no sense of rhythm or pitch.  She was a generous patron of various causes, most of them musical, and her audiences treated her with kindness, any titters being drowned by applause.

She would be forgotten today but for a memorable concert she gave for charity at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 1944.  The tickets for the event sold out immediately and about 2000 people were turned away the night of the performance.  Ticket prices were $20.00, the equivalent of $274.00 today.  (Privates in the US Army, with combat pay, earned $50.00 per month in 1944.)  Many celebrities attended.  As in her past outings, her fans covered over laughter during her performance with applause.  Alas music critics were among the crowd and their reviews were scathing.  She passed away a month and a day later of a heart attack.  She had been crushed by the bad reviews but, considering that she was in the tertiary stages of syphilis her death may well have had nothing to do with her reaction to the reviews.

Remarkably, in the past two years there have been two films about Jenkins, one in French and the other in English, Florence Foster Jenkins, starring Meryl Streep in the title role.  I saw this film last Saturday with my family and the Godmother of my children and my review is below the fold.  The usual caveat as to spoilers is in full effect. Continue Reading

6

Hills Are For Heroes

 

My favorite TV show when I was a boy was Combat!  In 152 grittily realistic episodes from 1962-1967, the experiences of an American infantry squad fighting in France in World War II were detailed.  Most of the cast members had served in the military, several in World War II.  The men were not portrayed as supermen, but ordinary men trying to survive while doing a necessary, dirty job.  The series won accolades from World War II combat veterans for its unsparing look at what fighting had been like for them.  The series hit its artistic peak on March 1, and March 8, 1966 with the two part episode Hills Are For Heroes.  Directed by Vic Morrow who starred in the series as Sergeant Chip Saunders, the episodes detail the battle of the squad and the platoon of which it was a part to take a vital hill.  At the end of episode two, after incurring heavy losses, they succeed, only to heartbreakingly having to abandon the hill due to a German breakthrough.  As they march away from the hill, Second Lieutenant Gil Hanley grimly tells his men to remember every feature of the hill for next time.  Television does not get any better than Combat! Continue Reading

4

633 Squadron

Squadron Leader Adams: Well, at least the rockets won’t happen.
Air Vice Marshal Davis: Of course they’ll happen. But they won’t start tomorrow, or this month or on D-Day, and that’s important.
Squadron Leader Adams: Then what’s it all add up to? All their sacrifice?
Air Vice Marshal Davis: A successful operation.
Squadron Leader Adams: But they’re probably all dead. All 633 Squadron.
Air Vice Marshal Davis: You can’t kill a squadron.

Ending, 633 Squadron (1964)


 

 

Something for the weekend.  The theme song from 633 Squadron.  In my misspent youth I spent endless hours watching old war movies on TV.  One of my favorites was the British flick 633 Squadron (1964) which recounted the fictional tale of a British Mosquito bomber squadron and their self sacrificial attempt to take out a well-defended Nazi V2 rocket fuel plant in occupied Norway.  The film won praise for its aerial sequences, cutting edge in 1964, and George Lucas has cited the squadron’s attack on the plant as influencing the trench run sequence attack on the Death Star in Star Wars. Continue Reading

3

First Trailer for Mel Gibson’s Movie Hacksaw Ridge

The first trailer for the movie Hacksaw Ridge, Mel Gibson’s tribute to conscientious objector, and Medal of Honor awardee, Desmond Doss.  The film is out in November.  Go here to learn more about Doss.  In an election year it is easy to get cynical about humanity,  but when we contemplate a man like Doss we begin to understand why God bothered to make us in the first place.

6

Catholic Priests of Dachau

 

A very brave man has died:

The last surviving Catholic priest imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp has died at the age of 102, more than 70 years after surviving a Nazi death march.

 The Rev. Hermann Scheipers died on June 2 in Ochtrup, Germany, the Catholic website Aleteia said.

 He spent more than four years at Dachau after being arrested in 1940, reportedly for supporting Polish forced laborers. “Here, you are defenseless, without dignity or rights,” Scheipers recalled being told on arriving at the Nazi camp.

Go here to read the rest.

 

2,579 Catholic priests, seminarians and brothers were thrown by the Nazis during World War II into Dachau.  1,780 of these were from Poland.  Of these, some 868 priests perished, 300 in medical “experiments” or by torture in the showers of the camp.

The remaining priests, seminarians and brothers came from 38 nations.  Besides the Poles the largest groups were 447 German and Austrian priests, 156 French priests and 46 Belgian priests.

Continue Reading

5

Ernie Pyle on Omaha Beach

Normandy - American Cemetery (1)

There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here.”
Colonel George A. Taylor, commander 16th Infantry Regiment, Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944

Now that it is over it seems to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all. For some of our units it was easy, but in this special sector where I am now our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like my whipping Joe Louis down to a pulp.

In this column I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in this one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.

Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours. The Germans were dug into positions that they had been working on for months, although these were not yet all complete. A one-hundred-foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements built right into the hilltop. These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it very hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the beach and cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.

Then they had hidden machine-gun nests on the forward slopes, with crossfire taking in every inch of the beach. These nests were connected by networks of trenches, so that the German gunners could move about without exposing themselves.

Throughout the length of the beach, running zigzag a couple of hundred yards back from the shoreline, was an immense V-shaped ditch fifteen feet deep. Nothing could cross it, not even men on foot, until fills had been made. And in other places at the far end of the beach, where the ground is flatter, they had great concrete walls. These were blasted by our naval gunfire or by explosives set by hand after we got ashore.

Our only exits from the beach were several swales or valleys, each about one hundred yards wide. The Germans made the most of these funnel-like traps, sowing them with buried mines. They contained, also, barbed-wire entanglements with mines attached, hidden ditches, and machine guns firing from the slopes.

This is what was on the shore. But our men had to go through a maze nearly as deadly as this before they even got ashore. Underwater obstacles were terrific. The Germans had whole fields of evil devices under the water to catch our boats. Even now, several days after the landing, we have cleared only channels through them and cannot yet approach the whole length of the beach with our ships. Even now some ship or boat hits one of these mines every day and is knocked out of commission.

The Germans had masses of those great six-pronged spiders, made of railroad iron and standing shoulder-high, just beneath the surface of the water for our landing craft to run into. They also had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below the water. Attached to these logs were mines.

In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the sand of the beach, and more mines in checkerboard rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And the enemy had four men on shore for every three men we had approaching the shore.

And yet we got on.

Continue Reading

2

Padre of Guadalcanal

BE058992

 

 

(This is a post I did in 2009.  It seemed appropriate to repost it today in tandem with my Halsey post.  Father Gehring pray for us that we may have the courage to face our challenges in life and win victories over them.)

 

Frederic Gehring was probably lucky that he was born and reared in Brooklyn.  It has always been a tough town and it prepared him for the adventurous life he was to lead.  Born on January 20, 1903,  he went on to attend and graduated from Saint John’s Prep.  Setting his eyes on being a missionary priest, he entered the minor seminary of the Vincentians, Saint Joseph’s, near Princeton,  New Jersey.  Earning his BA in 1925, he entered the seminary of Saint Vincent’s in Philadelphia.

Ordained as a priest on May 22, 1930, he was unable to immediately go to China due to military activity of the Communists in Kiangsi province.  For three years he traveled throughout the US raising funds for the missions in China, and, at long last, in 1933 he was able to pack his bags and sailed for China.  Laboring in the Chinese missions from 1933-1939 in the midst of warlordism, civil war and the invasion of China, commencing in 1937, by Japan must have been tough, but Father Gehring was always up to any challenge.  For example,  in 1938 Japanese planes strafed a mission he was at.  Father Gehring ran out waving a large American flag in hopes that the Japanese would not wish to offend a powerful neutral nation and would stop the strafing.  The Japanese planes did fly off, and Father Gehring was pleased until someone at the mission pointed out that maybe the Japanese had simply run out of ammo!  In 1939 Father Gerhring returned to the States to raise funds for the missions.

 

Immediately following Pearl Harbor, Father Gehring joined the Navy as a Chaplain.  In September 1942 he began an unforgettable six month tour of duty with the First Marine Division fighting on Guadalcanal.  Marines, although they are often loathe to admit it, are a component of the Department of the Navy, and the US Navy supplies their support troops, including chaplains.  (One of my friends served as a Navy corpsman with a Marine unit in Vietnam.  After his tour with the Navy he enlisted with the Marines, was commissioned a Lieutenant, and spent his entire tour with a detachment of Marines aboard an aircraft carrier.  As he puts it, he joined the Navy and spent his time slogging through the mud with Marines.  He then joined the Marines and spent his time sailing with the Navy.)

Guadalcanal marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.  In August 1942 the US went on the offensive for the first time when the First Marine Division, the Old Breed,  landed on Guadalcanal and took the Japanese air base there.  This set off a huge six month campaign, where US forces, often outnumbered on land, sea and in the air, fought and defeated the Imperial Army and Navy.  The importance of Guadalcanal is well captured in this quote from Admiral William “Bull” Halsey: “Before Guadalcanal the enemy advanced at his pleasure. After Guadalcanal, he retreated at ours”.

Guadalcanal

Upon arrival on Guadalcanal, Lieutenant Gehring quickly became known as “Padre “ to the men of the Old Breed, the title usually bestowed upon chaplains, especially if they were Catholic priests.  He soon became known for wanting to be where the fighting was in order to help the wounded and administer the Last Rites.  Initially this took some of the Marines by surprise.  Jumping into a foxhole during a heavy fire fight, a shocked Marine already in the foxhole, noticing the crucifix dangling from his neck, cried out to him, “Padre, what are you doing here?”  Gehring calmly replied, “Where else would I be?”  He would routinely say Masses so close to the fighting, that the Marines said that he would say Mass in Hell for Marines if he could drive his jeep there.  The Marines quickly decided that it was a lost cause asking the Padre to stay behind the lines.  They were doing well if they could convince him to stay within friendly lines!  Three times he went out on behind the line missions to rescue trapped missionaries on the island, mostly Marist priests and sisters, rescuing 28 of them, assisted by natives of the Solomons.  For this feat he was the first Navy chaplain to be awarded the Legion of Merit by the President. Continue Reading

1

Quotes Suitable for Framing: Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

There are no great men, there are only great challenges, which ordinary men like you and me are forced by circumstances to meet.

Admiral William Halsey, Jr.

Earlier this week I was watching the movie The Gallant Hours (1960), starring James Cagney as Admiral William Halsey, Jr.  (Halsey hated the nickname “Bull” that the press fastened upon him during the War.)  The film focuses on the time in late 1942 to 1943 when Halsey was theater commander during the Guadalcanal campaign.  This was in tandem with my reading of the latest bio of Halsey, Admiral Bill Halsey:  A Naval Life, by Thomas Alexander Hughes.

Halsey is an interesting figure partially because his public image is so at odds with the reality.  During World War II Halsey was the “Patton of the Pacific”, a fighting Admiral who swore as he viewed the carnage of Pearl Harbor on December 7,  that by the time the US was done the only place that Japanese would be spoken was in Hell.  Halsey in the popular perception was a rampaging bull in a Japanese china shop.

The reality was different.  Halsey, who got his wings at the advanced age of 52, was an inspired commander of carriers.  Strike quick and run was his method in the early days of the War, when his daring carrier raids on Japanese held islands in the Pacific gave a very badly needed boost to national morale.  (“I hauled ass with Halsey” was a fond remembrance of veterans of those raids for decades after the War.)   However, unlike his unwelcome “Bull” image, Halsey was a thoughtful and careful planner, who paid close attention to such un-glamorous, but essential, topics as logistics and intelligence as he plotted every move his forces made.  He was also an officer beloved of his men because of his reputation of making sure that they were taken care of regarding food, leave and mail.  Throughout his career Halsey was known as a sailor’s officer who always looked out for the enlisted men under his command.  (A typical story told about Halsey by his sailors.  On board a carrier sailors were waiting in line for some prized ice cream.  An Ensign decides to cut to the head of his line.  He suddenly hears a stream of profanity directed at him.  He turns around to chew out the sailor cussing him.  He finds out that the man yelling at him is four star Admiral Halsey who has been patiently waiting his turn in the line with his men.) Continue Reading

3

Father Ranger

raaen&lacy

The men of the 5th Ranger Battalion could barely keep from laughing when they first saw their chaplain, Lieutenant Joe Lacy, a week before D-Day.  These were young men, in peak physical condition.  Father Joe Lacy was old by Ranger standards, knocking on 40, overweight by at least 30 pounds, wearing thick glasses and short, 5 foot, six inches.  He was described by one Ranger as “a small, fat old Irishman.”  No way would he be able to keep up when they  invaded France.

 

On the trip across the Channel to France,  Chaplain Lacy told the men:  “When you land on the beach and you get in there, I don’t want to see anybody kneeling down and praying. If I do I’m gonna come up and boot you in the tail. You leave the praying to me and you do the fighting.”  A few of the men began to think that maybe this priest was tougher than he looked.

On June 6, 1944 at 7:30 AM,  LCA 1377 landed the Rangers on Omaha Dog Green Beach, the first landing craft to land on that section of Omaha Beach.  Father Lacy was the last man out just before an artillery shell hit the fantail.  Everything was chaos with the beach being swept by German artillery and small arms fire.  Wounded men were everywhere, both on the beach and in the water feebly trying to get to the beach.  Father Lacy did not hesitate.  With no thought for his own safety he waded into the water to pull men out of the ocean and onto the beach.  He began treating the wounded on the beach and administering the Last Rites to those beyond human assistance.  On a day when courage was not in short supply men took notice of this small fat priest who was doing his best under fire to save as many lives as he could.  While his battalion led the way off Omaha Beach, and sustained 50% casualties doing so, Father Lacy continued to tend their  wounded and the wounded of other units.  For his actions that day Father Lacy was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest decoration for valor, after the Medal of Honor, in the United States Army.

Here is the text of his citation: Continue Reading

1

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.

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading

4

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

 

A film is being released today on the final voyage of the USS Indianapolis.  I will be seeing it on the first weekend in June, to be followed by a review from me.

 

 

The USS Indianapolis, was immortalized in popular culture by the Jaws video clip above.  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, 1945, 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 court-martialed, 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 court-martial, 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.

In 2000 Congress passed a resolution calling for the Navy to exonerate McVay.  The resolution stated in part: Continue Reading

1

Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’

 

Something for the weekend.  Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’.  A historical curiosity of 1943.  The only gospel song that I am aware of that praises Joseph Stalin, it was inspired by this remark in a speech by FDR:

The world has never seen greater devotion, determination, and self sacrifice, that have been displayed by the Russian people and their armies under the leadership of Marshall Joseph Stalin.  The song was performed a cappella by the gospel group Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.  The song was a moderate success in 1943 and has mercifully been largely forgotten since that.  A tribute to war time tunnel vision and the delusional view of Stalin firmly embraced by President Roosevelt and many other liberal Americans, inside and outside of his administration, at the time.

The Year Of the Missing Federal Income Tax

1942 was the year of the 1942 revenue bill, perhaps the largest tax increase in American history.  Thirteen million more Americans would find themselves paying federal income tax.  This was out of a population of 130,000,000 and where, prior to the War, most families had only the father of the family as a breadwinner.  Only the War made such a radical expansion of the federal income tax politically feasible.  In 1943 wage withholding of taxes would begin.  The problem was that all of these new federal taxpayers would be trying to meet their 1942 tax obligations as their checks were being subject to federal income tax withholding, a train wreck in the making.  Beardsley Ruml, chairman of the New York Federal Reserve Bank and chairman of R.H. Macy and Co. hit upon an ingenious solution:  forgive the federal income tax owed for 1942!  Ruml compared it to daylight savings time, moving”the tax clock forward, and cost the Treasury nothing until Judgment Day.  One  wag completed the thought that on Judgment Day, “no one will give a damn.”  President Roosevelt was reluctant, viewing the forgiveness as a windfall to wealthy Americans used to paying income tax, but the idea was overwhelmingly, unsurprisingly popular in Congress and with the American people, and the tax debt for 1942 was duly forgiven.

3

Von Galen on Martyrdom

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.   On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munich he then took on the Nazi program of euthanasia, the precursor to the Holocaust, which may be read here.  Today we examine a sermon that he preached at the Cathedral of Saint Victor’s in Xanten, Germany on February 9, 1936, long before the three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.

I have just consecrated a new altar in your venerable and splendid cathedral,in a small space deep beneath the choir. But why? Your church is already so richly endowed with altars.

Beginning a sermon with a question is an approach that I wish more priests and bishops would use.  It engages the minds of the listeners from the outset.

You know the answer. The researches of the past few years have given proof that there below us lies a holy and particularly venerable place. Not only has the tradition been substantiated, according to which several previous churches were said to stand on the site of this present church, the oldest of them dating back to the time of the martyrs, to the fourth century A.D. We are also provided with fresh evidence that holy martyrs, who with their blood bore witness to Christ, were interred here, to await the resurrection. We believe in the resurrection of the body. Christ’s words have given us this promise: The hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. Whosoever does not
believe in the independent life of the individual soul, in its continued existence after the death of the body, in its reunification with the bodyand in life everlasting, this man is no true Christian. We hold these beliefs, because we believe in Christ, who is the truth. Because we hold fast to the beliefs of the Apostles and of our Christian forebears. The entire history of your city, speaking to you through the its towering churches, which are monuments in stone, proclaiming itself in the stones found lying beneath them, is evidence of our faith.

The martyrs have always been the human bedrock for Catholicism, from Saint Stephen, the first of the ever glorious martyrs, to our own day with the recent martyrdom of the brave Shahbaz Bhatti. Continue Reading

11

Von Galen Contra Euthanasia

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the third of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, which may be read here.  On August 3, 1941 at Saint Lambert’s in Munster, he preached a third sermon which, along with an overall attack on the Nazi regime, attacked an evil that, alas, unlike the Nazis, remains with us today.

My Beloved Brethren,

In today’s Gospel we read of an unusual event: Our Saviour weeps. Yes, the Son of God sheds tears. Whoever weeps must be either in physical or mental anguish. At that time Jesus was not yet in bodily pain and yet here were tears. What depth of torment He must have felt in His heart and Soul, if He, the bravest of men, was reduced to tears. Why is He weeping? He is lamenting over Jerusalem, the holy city He loved so tenderly, the capital of His race. He is weeping over her inhabitants, over His own compatriots because they cannot foresee the judgment that is to overtake them, the punishment which His divine prescience and justice have pronounced. ‘Ah, if thou too couldst understand, above all in this day that is granted thee, the ways that can bring thee peace!’ Why did the people of Jerusalem not know it? Jesus had given them the reason a short time before. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I been ready to gather thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings; and thou didst refuse it! I your God and your King wished it, but you would have none of Me. . . .’ This is the reason for the tears of Jesus, for the tears of God. . . . Tears for the misrule, the injustice and man’s willful refusal of Him and the resulting evils, which, in His divine omniscience, He foresees and which in His justice He must decree. . . . It is a fearful thing when man sets his will against the will of God, and it is because of this that Our Lord is lamenting over Jerusalem.

“the capital of His race.”  What courage it took in Nazi Germany to remind people of the fact that Jesus was a Jew!  Von Galen had always been a friend to Jews, and would hide a Jewish boy, with the help of a Protestant pastor, at an institute Von Galen controlled, from the Nazis.  After his death he would be highly praised by the Munster Jewish community for the care and assistance he had shown them.  Would that all Germans had acted the same way.  It is a canard to say that all Germans hated Jews:  even with the Nazis pumping out the vilest anti-semitism imaginable 24-7 since they took power that was not the case.  However, it is fair to say that a majority of Germans were indifferent to the fate of the Jews and were unwilling to raise their voices against the Nazi persecution of the Jews.  This attitude of most of the German people is well described in the film Judgment at Nuremberg where Burt Lancaster, as German judge Ernst Janning, gives riveting testimony:

Von Galen I think realized this indifference and his sermons were meant to show Germans that the evil of the Nazis was not restricted only to people they were shamefully indifferent to. Continue Reading

13

Von Galen Contra the Swastika

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the second of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  One week after his first breathtaking sermon against the Gestapo, my examination of which may be read here, he preached on July 20, 1941 a blistering sermon against the Nazis and their war on Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular.

Today the collection which I ordered for the inhabitants of the city of Münster is held in all the parishes in the diocese of Münster which have not themselves suffered war damage. I hope that through the efforts of the state and municipal authorities responsible and the brotherly help of the Catholics of this diocese, whose contributions will be administered and distributed by the offices of the Caritas, much need will be alleviated.

Charity, always a prime duty of Catholics.

Thanks be to God, for several days our city has not suffered any new enemy attacks from without. But I am distressed to have to inform you that the attacks by our opponents within the country, of the beginning of which I spoke last Sunday in St. Lambert’s, that these attacks have continued, regardless of our protests, regardless of the anguish this causes to the victims of the attacks and those connected with them. Last Sunday I lamented, and branded as an injustice crying out to heaven, the action of the Gestapo in closing the convent in Wilkinghege and the Jesuit residences in Munster, confiscating their property and possessions, putting the occupants into the street and expelling them from their home area. The convent of Our Lady of Lourdes in Frauen­strasse was also seized by the Gau authorities. I did not then know that on the same day, Sunday 13th July, the Gestapo had occupied the Kamilluskolleg in Sudmühle and the Benedictine abbey of Gerleve near Coesfeld and expelled the fathers and lay brothers. They were forced to leave Westphalia that very day.

The Nazi war on the Church is becoming more brazen in the midst of the War. Continue Reading

5

Von Galen Contra Gestapo

 

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

 

 

In my first post on Blessed Clemens August Graf von Galen, which may be read here, we examined the life of this remarkable German bishop who heroically stood up to the Third Reich.  Today we examine the first of three sermons that he preached in 1941 which made him famous around the globe.  In the summer of 1941 the Third Reich was at its zenith.  Operation Barbarossa had been launched, and the Soviets were reeling, with German armies advancing rapidly against a Red Army which appeared to be on the verge of dissolution.  In North Africa, the Desert Fox was besieging Tobruk and it seemed only a matter of time until Egypt might fall to him.  American still slumbered in an isolationist dream.  World domination by Nazi Germany seemed to be approaching reality.

At this point, when his Nazi foes were their strongest, on July 13, 1941, Bishop von Galen threw down his episcopal gauntlet to the Gestapo, the secret police of the Nazis, who brutally terrorized Germany and occupied Europe:

 

My dear Catholics of St. Lambert’s:

 I have longed to read personally from the pulpit of this church today my pastoral letter on the events of the past week and in particular to express to you, my former parishioners, my deep-felt sympathy. In some part of the city, the devastation and loss have been particularly great. I hope that by the action of the municipal and government authorities responsible, and above all by your brotherly love and the collections taken today for the work of the Caritas Union and the Parish Caritas, some of the hardship and suffering will be relieved. I had in mind also, however, to add a brief word on the meaning of the divine visitation: how God thus seeks us in order to lead us home to Him. God wants to lead Münster home to Him.  How much at home were our forefathers with God and in God’s Holy Church! How thoroughly were their lives — their public life, their family life, and even their commercial life — supported by faith in God, directed by the holy fear of God and by the love of God! Has it always been like that in our own day? God wants to lead Münster home to Him!

Von Galen here is speaking about the devastation caused by British bombing raids.  Note his comments about the practical steps necessary to help the victims through special collections, and the overriding necessity of turning to God.

Concerning this I had meant to put some further reflections before you. But this I cannot do today, for I find myself compelled to openly and in public speak of something else — a shattering event which came upon us yesterday, at the end of this week of calamity.

What could be more important than the damage wreaked upon us by the enemy bombers I am certain was the thought that first occurred to many of von Galen’s listeners.  Continue Reading

6

The Lion of Munster

The Lion of Munster

Neither praise nor threats will distance me from God.

Blessed Clemens von Galen

(I ran this series originally back in 2011.  I am rerunning it now, because the contemporary Church is greatly harmed by the unwillingness of so many clerics to confront evil forthrightly.  In this year of Mercy we must not forget the need to cry out for Justice, and that is precisely what the Lion of Munster did.)

The Nazis hated and feared Clemens August Graf von Galen in life and no doubt they still hate and fear him, at least those now enjoying the amenities of some of the less fashionable pits of Hell.  Going into Lent, I am strongly encouraged by the story of Blessed von Galen.  I guess one could come up with a worse situation than being a Roman Catholic bishop in Nazi Germany in 1941, and confronting a merciless anti-Christian dictatorship that was diametrically opposed to the Truth of Christ, but that would certainly do for enough of a challenge for one lifetime for anyone.  (Hitler privately denounced Christianity as a Jewish superstition and looked forward after the War to “settling accounts”, as he put it, with Christianity in general and Roman Catholicism in particular.)

Priests who spoke out against the Third Reich were being rounded up and shipped off to concentration camps.  What was a bishop to do in the face of such massive evil?  Well, for the Bishop of Munster, Clemens von Galen, there could be only one answer.

A German Count, von Galen was from one of the oldest aristocratic families in Westphalia.  Always a German patriot, the political views of von Galen would have made my own conservatism seem a pale shade of pink in comparison.  Prior to becoming a bishop, he was sometimes criticized for a haughty attitude and being unbending.  He was chosen Bishop of Munster in 1933 only after other candidates, no doubt recognizing what a dangerous position it would be with the Nazis now in power, had turned it down.  I am certain  it did not hurt that he was an old friend of Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the future Pope Pius XII.

Von Galen immediately demonstrated that he had not agreed to become Bishop of Munster in order to avoid danger.  He successfully led a fight against the Nazi attempt to take over Catholic schools, citing article 21 of the Concordat between the Vatican and Nazi Germany.  He then began a campaign, often using humor and ridicule, against the Aryan racial doctrines proposed by Alfred Rosenberg, chief Nazi race theorist, and a man even some high level Nazis thought was little better than a crank.  Von Galen argued that Christianity totally rejected racial differences as determining how groups should be treated, and that all men and women were children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ.  The Bishop spoke out against Nazi attacks on the “Jewish Old Testament” stating that Holy Writ was Holy Writ and that the Bible could not be altered to suit current prejudices.

In early 1937 he was summoned by Pope Pius XI to confer with him on an encyclical in German, highly unusual for an encyclical not to be written in Latin as the primary language, that the Pope was in the process of drafting.  The encyclical was the blistering Mit Brennender Sorge (With Burning Heart) that the Pope ordered be read out in every parish in Germany on Palm Sunday 1937.  A head long assault on almost every aspect of National Socialism, it may be read here.

The language in the encyclical was blunt, direct and no doubt benefited from von Galen’s input and his experience from the battles he was waging with the Nazis. Continue Reading

1

January 26, 1945: Audie Murphy Earns Medal of Honor

The real heroes are dead.

Audie Murphy

When Audie Murphy starred in his aptly titled World War II biopic, To Hell and Back, his battlefield exploits were downplayed.  Partially this was due to Murphy’s modesty, he had not wanted to appear in the movie and did so only after he was promised that much of the focus of the film would be on his buddies who died during the War, and partially due to the fact that what he did during the War was so unbelievably courageous that film audiences might have refused to believe it.  Here is his Medal of Honor citation that he earned in truly hellish fighting near Holtzwihr, France on January 26, 1945:

By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved 9 July 1918 (WD Bul. 43, 1918), a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty was awarded by the War Department in the name of Congress to the following-named officer:

Second Lieutenant Audie L. Murphy, 01692509, 15th Infantry, Army of the United States, on 26 January 1945, near Holtzwihr, France, commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. Lieutenant Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to a prepared position in a woods while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him to his right one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. It’s crew withdrew to the woods. Lieutenant Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, Lieutenant Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer which was in danger of blowing up any instant and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to the German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. the enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminated Lieutenant Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw. His directing of artillery fire wiped out many of the enemy; he personally killed or wounded about 50. Lieutenant Murphy’s indomitable courage and his refusal to give an inch of ground saved his company from possible encirclement and destruction and enabled it to hold the woods which had been the enemy’s objective.

* * * * *
BY ORDER OF THE SECRETARY OF WAR:
OFFICIAL:
EDWARD F. WITSELL
Major General
Acting the Adjutant General
G.C. MARSHALL
Chief of Staff
2

January 4, 1945: Isadore S. Jachman Dies Fighting

Jachman

For some American soldiers in World War II, the War was not simply a matter of foreign affairs, but intensely personal.  That was certainly the case with Staff Sergeant Isadore S. Jachman  of the 513th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 17th Airborne Division.  His family had come from Germany to America when he was two.  The Nazis murdered several of his relatives, including six uncles and aunts.  Maybe that was part of his motivation when the chips were down for his unit seventy-one years ago.  His Medal of Honor citation tells us what happened:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty at Flamierge, Belgium, on 4 January 1945, when his company was pinned down by enemy artillery, mortar, and small arms fire, 2 hostile tanks attacked the unit, inflicting heavy casualties. S/Sgt. Jachman, seeing the desperate plight of his comrades, left his place of cover and with total disregard for his own safety dashed across open ground through a hail of fire and seizing a bazooka from a fallen comrade advanced on the tanks, which concentrated their fire on him. Firing the weapon alone, he damaged one and forced both to retire. S/Sgt. Jachman’s heroic action, in which he suffered fatal wounds, disrupted the entire enemy attack, reflecting the highest credit upon himself and the parachute infantry. Continue Reading

1

Bob Hope Show: Christmas 1945

Broadcast on December 18, 1945, the Bob Hope Christmas show for 1945 gives an interesting insight into America as it observed its first peacetime Christmas in five years.  Hope mentions product shortages in his jokes and in a skit the housing shortage comes up.  His guest star was actor Wayne Morris.  Morris had served as a Navy flier, shooting down seven Japanese planes and contributing to the sinking of five ships, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander.  He earned four Distinguished Flying Crosses and two Air Medals.  A rising star before the War, Morris never recovered from putting his career on hiatus during the War.  He spent the rest of his career mostly in low budget Westerns.  He died of a heart attack in 1959 at age 45 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Christmas at Bastogne

In 1944 at Christmas the American and German armies were slugging it out in the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive of the War.

Patton’s Third Army rammed its way through to relieve the Americans desperately fighting to defeat the attacking German forces.  The weather was atrocious and Allied air power was useless.  Patton had a prayer written for good weather.  Patton prayed the prayer, along with an extemporaneous one he prayed for good weather on December 23, 1944.  The skies cleared after Patton prayed, and Allied air power was unleashed on the attacking Germans.

During the Battle of the Bulge, the 101rst Airborne Division made a heroic stand at Bastogne from December 20-27 which helped turn the tide of the battle.  On December 25, a packed midnight mass was held in Bastogne, with Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, who commanded the 101rst troops at Bastogne, in attendance.  Afterwards the General listened to German POWS singing Silent Night, and wished them a Merry Christmas.

General McAuliffe issued a memorable Christmas message to his troops: Continue Reading