Memorial Day in America

So my great uncle was, I think, 19 (let’s say 19) and stationed in England as a private in the US Army on the eve of the Normandy invasion. And he was scared out of his wits. So much so, he placed a call to his oldest brother, my grandfather, and confessed he was thinking of going AWOL.

Well, as he must’ve known, my grandfather did everything he could to talk him out of it. He must’ve pointed out the practical problems it would create. He must’ve pointed out how, if he flinched now, he would be haunted by it for the rest of his life.

Whatever he said, it worked. My great Uncle John returned to his unit and prepared to go to war. My grandfather wrote him an encouraging letter (which we still have) and promised he’d be home soon. But what my grandfather didn’t know is that my uncle was already dead, killed by a German shell in Normandy.

Two months later, my father was born, and my grandfather gave him his late little brother’s name. It’s now also the name I have. I can’t imagine the guilt my grandfather must have felt, nor the courage my uncle must’ve had to face his fears and go headlong into danger and death anyway.

I post a lot about politics online, although I’ve tried to cut back because, why? But if there is a ANYTHING that everyone in America, in the world, can still agree on, especially as many in Ukraine are paying the ultimate price in fighting another tyrant, is that such a sacrifice is worthy of remembering, and worthy of honoring.

11 thoughts on “Memorial Day in America

  1. Sacrificing lives to fight a tyrant is like controlling disposable puppets on the end of a line. Like any cult, leaving it would have major repercussions. Cults don’t give choice. If people could choose irregardless of rank, then they should be able to skip the battle without going AWOL and its downstream consequences.

    Your grand uncle chose to not fight, whether it be from fear of not having a future back with his family or his own moral values of violence begets more violence. Your grandfather convinced him and gave him a death sentence.

    Like the civil war, atrocities to people’s lives should not be celebrated with statues or reminders.

    1. We’re not going to see eye to eye on this.

      I’m opposed to violence and war in almost any circumstance, but I don’t think it was cult-like or immoral to take arms against Nazi Germany, as you do. Especially as, at that very moment, members of the other side of my family were not fighting Nazis, as you advocate, and as a direct consequence, were being shoved into gas chambers. I’m sure if they could have known that they would have been applauded by you, it would have been at least a small measure of comfort as they choked to death on their own foaming blood.

      So, while I take your point that violence often begets violence (though I doubt if my uncle went AWOL the Nazis would have somehow reevaluated there violent ways), and I believe war is a tragic, wasteful impulse in humanity, I actually can’t agree with your stance that fighting out and out butchers is somehow immoral, like those poor “puppets” you see on the news these days in Ukraine (I’m assuming you find the Ukrainians fighting off Putin as fools as well).

      Further, you didn’t read my piece with appropriate rigor. My uncle did not choose to go AWOL. That’s actually central to the post’s narrative. I’d posit that point wasn’t really hard to miss. He was debating it. If he HAD chosen, he likely wouldn’t have called my grandfather to seek his counsel.

      Moreover, while you view my uncle as a cult member and my grandfather as complicit in his murder, I find your view stunningly reductive and binary (not to mention – I can only assume internationally -insulting). Your claims are so sweeping and without nuance, in fact, I cannot treat them as serious.

      I wish you luck finding a receptive audience to advance your thesis we should never have gone to war with the Nazis (fyi: Germany declared war on America, as did, almost adorably, Italy).

      Lastly, there is such a thing as understanding context. And while when someone posts something online they by definition invite dialogue, there is also – or should be – a sense of time and place, an ability to “read the room” as it were, and, ideally, a realization that neither railing against fighting against Hitler, nor choosing this post as a means to voice this view is wise, from both the points of view of persuasion and basic respect.

      So, again, my guess is that on this topic, we’re not going to see eye to eye.

      1. Assumptions is the mother of all fuck ups. Ukrainians who chose to fight against the Russians have all my respect. There are a few allied countries fighting along side. However, even after pearl harbor, there was no need to fight on the western front of the war. Sure, USA was an ally, but most draftees probably didn’t want to go to war and had very little training. The STaS Act and other involuntary drafts didn’t give people much choice.

        Binary is the way of life. Lingering in the gray area creates stagnancy. At the end it comes to a decision to do it or not. Bigger picture, AWOL would have kept the family together.

      2. You begin by warning against assumptions, and then go on to make a deeply erroneously one. Americans after Pearl Harbor flocked to enlist by the millions. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of Americans felt ashamed unless they could contribute to the war effort in some ways.

        Further, had you read my reply well, you would have learned that Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, not the other way around. Is it your contention America should have simply pretended they never received that news? It was in all the papers, after all.

        You know who else would dispute your notion there was “no need” for the US to fight in Europe? Everyone in Europe in World War II. The British were hanging on by their fingernails, due to courage and American materiel in equal measures. The night after Pearl Harbor, Churchill wrote in his diary, “We have won the war.”

        The Soviets were adamant that there be a Western front to help siphon off the German forces they were losing millions of lives in repelling. Incidentally, tens of millions of Europeans were hoping the mostly British, Canadian, and American allies would sweep through into Germany as quickly as possible, including most Germans, in order to protect them from Stalin.

        In you first post you decried anyone who’d fight tyrants as “puppets.” Now the forces in Ukraine voluntarily fighting Putin have all of your respect. This is at best a serious abridgment of your first claim, and at worst both logically and morally incoherent.

        This is exactly the kind of online exchange I abhor, and one I think the community on this blog has no use for, either. I can only hope you’re a troll, because in the measure of two posts you’ve managed to 1) display a lack of close reading skills 2) contradicted your thesis in your first post with your second. 3) tried to shift that thesis from all those who fight tyranny are puppets to having your great respect for those fighting Putin of their own accord.

        If you’re central claim is that the draft is often morally problematic if not purely wrong, you’d be far better of attacking the US Vietnam draft, which was deeply classist, which in America also means racist, to fuel a war with no moral justification.

        Suffice it to say, your stance seems to have shifted already, and you might be well-searved heading your own advice about assumptions, as your assumptions about American attitudes in World War II, not to mention a competent knowledge of the history of World War II is profoundly wanting.

        Let’s not pursue this any further. I wish you well, and part of that means hoping you gain a more comprehensive understanding of history. But either way, I wish you well.

      3. In case the last post wasn’t clear, I won’t be responding to further posts, in the interest of self-respect, self-care, and not wanting to contribute to the disharmony online and in the world this site hopes to diminish.

  2. How hard for your grandfather. War is tragic. How brave of your great-uncle, to sacrifice all for us. Thank you for sharing this bit of your family’s history. I know he’s proud to share his name with you.

    1. I agree. I’m a dyed in the free range, locally sourced wool liberal, but I think a fundamental flaw in its worldview is that most people want to live in harmony, give or take. But those people tend not to run governments. As Lincoln once said (is there anything he didn’t have great aphorism for?), “Most men can handle adversity. If you want a true test of someone’s character, give them power.”

      Their North Star is self-aggregating power, and we often, so to speak, bring petitions to gun fights.

      War is abhorrent. Letting Hitler, Stalin, and now Putin run roughshod over the world is, horribly, more so.

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