Monday, May 29, 2017

Remembering A Hero This Memorial Day

At my dad's funeral in July of 2009, and a photo taken after his return to the U.S. from the Philippines, in May, 1945.

In June, 1971, two weeks before leaving on my Peace Corps assignment, my dad and I sat down on the front porch of our (then) Hialeah, FL home, and went through his war diary - written over 36 months while he served in the Pacific. But what impressed me besides his writing of the various battles experienced, were the lavish illustrations: artillery shells exploding and lighting up the night sky, and Japanese Zeros firing in the Battle of Buna - as well as the sketches of his fellow troops many with gaunt faces. Many of those troops had to fight on without so much of a hint of a C-ration.

The Battle of Buna itself slogged on, recorded over some twenty pages of his diary, and extracted a remorseless toll. For serious WW II historians, Buna Gona among the most savage of the Pacific theater, and in many historians' minds even bloodier than Guadalcanal.  Those interested who wish to read an excellent account of the battle can go here:

From the above link, picking up after the fiercest fighting:

"Scattered fighting continued over the next few days, as the last surviving Japanese strong points were mopped up. Casualties on both sides were high – the Allies buried 1,400 Japanese dead, while the Allies lost 620 dead, 2,065 wounded and 132 missing, two thirds of them in the three regiments of the 32nd Division and the rest in the 18th Brigade. In all the Papuan campaign cost the Allies more men than the fighting on Guadalcanal.

Buna, Gona and Sanananda were the first battles in which Allied solders attacked Japanese troops who had had time to dig in."

Interestingly, during our conversation that evening in June, 1971, I recall asking Dad what was worse, the Japs or the mosquitoes. He said, on thinking it over, it was a "toss up".. That might sound strange but his worst mortal wound wasn't from a Nipponese combatant but from a New Guinea mosquito leaving him at death's door with malaria.
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New Guinea head hunter and Dad, taken before the Battle of Buna Gona

I regret now that while visiting the folks in April of 2001 I didn't secure the diary or at least make photocopies of the pages.  As it happened, once I left for overseas on my four-year Peace Corps service, the diary fell into other hands that perhaps should not have appropriated it. (Since the first page had specifically read: "To my first born son that he won't have to face another war".  So clearly, this important first person record of war wasn't meant for anyone else.)

As one Aussie told me back in September, 2014 while on a train back from Schynigge Platte to Kleine Scheidegg, Switzerland: "Even photocopies would have made a splendid addition to our section on the Battle of Buna".  This was for the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Re: World War II, being a "good" (just) war also meant national sacrifice. It de facto  meant not only mass rationing for then citizens in the States, but also higher taxes to fund the war effort. To fix ideas, some numbers can help concerning World War II:

- A total of 16.1 million served, of whom 6.1 million volunteered - including dad (over a year before Pearl Harbor)

- 406,000 were killed (nearly the population of Cleveland) and 671,000 were wounded

- By war's end 12.1 million were still in uniform (compared with 3.1m in 1970 at the height of the Vietnam War)

- In 1950, 28 percent of all men 18 and over were WWII veterans - while today barely 1 percent of men and women are active duty military.

The preceding are all based on Census data, but it actually understates the wartime mobilization. For example, looking just at men aged 15 to 39 in 1940 (my dad was 20), between 50 and 60 percent served in World War II.

These stats disclose not only a massive mobilization in response to a real threat - but a collectively unifying dynamic not present today. The effort involved almost everyone, and even if you weren't in uniform you were likely in a factory welding tanks, planes .. .or using your ration books to purchase groceries while also paying higher taxes. NO one complained! As my dad put it, anyone calling for no taxes during the massive War effort would have been branded unpatriotic at best, and a traitor at worst.

Not one person complained about heavy new taxes during the four years of the U.S. fighting in the Pacific theater, or in Europe, though we've seen no similar pay-go with sixteen years in Afghanistan. Nor did people bitch in the immediate post-war period when the high taxes helped to finance the Marshall Plan - to help pay for the reconstruction of Europe.

Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the War,  tax rates as high as 91 percent at the upper end helped finance the interstate highway system, new schools and other projects.

By contrast, since the launch of the two recent U.S. invasions and occupations (Afghanistan, Iraq), I have not seen one single tax raised to pay for them. This means the sacrifice is not spread out, and it also tells me that the politicians and congressional lawmakers themselves understood these were not real wars. In real wars the sacrifice is shared by ALL citizens.

Back to my memories of dad: His final wish - at the time of his 89th birthday in May, 2009, and about two and a half weeks before he died, was that my book on the JFK assassination ('The JFK Assassination: The Final Analysis') be completed and published "even if it means an independent or self-publishing company".  He was that committed to it especially after reading the first three proof chapters before he fell ill.

From that fatal Sunday (Nov. 24, 1963)  Oswald was shot down in cold blood , he never believed Lee had a role in the vile killing of a President he loved and respected. In his own words: "He's just a workingman set up to be the patsy. Anyone who's ever hunted  ducks or geese knows you always have a decoy. That's exactly what he was!"

As for the Warren Commission Report, he never bought that pile of rotten fishwrap and said more than once it was "LBJ's protection from prosecution" (He'd followed the Bobby Baker scandal closely.)  When I told him I was dedicating the book to him he was overjoyed, "the happiest birthday" he'd had in some time.

Was dad, a decorated WW II vet, a "conspiracy kook"? Not in any way, shape or form - not even remotely. He was a fully trained, enlisted soldier,  familiar with the firing of rifles in different conditions under stress and knew Oswald's alleged feat didn't add up,  "especially with that damned Mannlicher-Carcano".  He knew, much better than the Warrenite fraudsters and groupies, what was feasible and what wasn't.  He also knew the "single bullet theory" was a fraud, "one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people."

When dad died on July 12, 2009, I learned afterward (from my mom)  he'd left his collection of JFK books and memorabilia to me - including the 1964  JFK coin shown below:
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Today, I recall Dad's WWII exploits, as I do John F. Kennedy, given this is also the 100th anniversary of his birth. Both JFK and dad were heroes in the Pacific theater and fought the good fight to make this nation better.

In the case of JFK, there are  now actual comparisons being made to Trump, such as Steven Livingstone's (in his forthcoming book) that there is "a parallel between Kennedy's mastery of television and Trump's use of twitter". But this is like comparing a comic blurtation to a debate speech. As I've noted in previous posts,  twitter is a cartoon medium - with only 140 characters maximum to convey thoughts. By contrast, JFK literally had to think on his feet and often (in his press conferences) deliver extended sophisticated responses (sometimes topping 5,000 words) to savvy reporters, something I doubt Trump could do if his life depended on it.

As Bob Schieffer put it this morning: "I don't remember anyone telling Kennedy you need to stop doing so much television. But everywhere I turn I hear Trump supporters saying 'if only he would stop those tweets'". 

So clearly, it's comparing chalk and cheese.

See also:


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