Heroes

[Most of you know that I tend to do a reasonably generic Veteran's Day post, which usually includes a bit about Remembrance Day as well. I wrote about Remembrance Day yesterday at All Along the Watchtower. If you'd like to read it, it is at this link, and everything I say there about our allies applies to us as well. But I'm going to supersede my Veteran's Day post to talk about a specific group of American veterans today. In addition I want you to go over to Mac's shop. He has a very important message for us all. I agree completely with him. Go there now, I'll wait for you.]

Raiders_Hrutkay_01

Heroes

Growing up in America in the 50s and 60s, most of my heroes were the men who fought World War II. For people my age they were all around us, for most of us, our parents, our uncles, our grandparents (sometimes), their friends; in truth most of the adults around us had something to do with the war effort, whether they were in the military or on the home front. Nearly all of them denied being heroes, but they were to us, and they still are.

But you know as we go through adulthood, we understand better why they denied being heroes, and in their terms, for the most part they were right. They were men and women with a mission, and they did their part, mostly well, sometimes not so good, and sometimes exceptionally well. As we grow old, we learn that the heroes of our youth, have feet of clay, like any mortal.

Nations at war are funny beasts, and the more total the war the weirder they are. When we are young we don’t understand the paralyzing fear that Audie Murphy or Alvin York must have felt while performing their timeless heroics. And we also learn that entire war efforts, and the morale of a country can turn on small events, that will echo through history.

And we also find that if we have the interest, and are lucky, we may meet some of those men, and in my case they were all men, that made history, itself, take notice. This story is about one of them, and the seventy-nine men he led on what looked like a volunteer suicide mission. I’ve said before that I wanted growing up to fly, and to fly bombers, this man was one of the reasons, and I did get to meet him, not much more than to shake his hand and say, “Good Evening, General” but I also got to hear him make a speech. He probably made a close variant of that speech a thousand times, but it moved me.

And while most of the heroes of our youth diminish as we grow older, a very select few become even more heroic. This is one of them for me.

Color_Patch_1Herman Wouk, in his romance, War and Remembrance, speaking of the raid, had a character say that he thought America to be “the Babe Ruth of nations” and in many ways it is true. Think about this: five months after the destruction of the Pacific Fleet during a steady diet of news of defeats in Europe, the Atlantic, and the Pacific, bombs fell on Tokyo. I’d call that a grand slam home run.

Especially since to accomplish it they had to figure out a way to launch army medium bombers from a navy aircraft carrier, knowing that if they fell into Japanese hands, which was a quite high possibility, it would go very hard with them. And some were executed by the Japanese. But they damned well did it and electrified America and the world. Doolittle was promoted Brigadier General and received the Medal of Honor, and from that day to this, and for as far as we are given to see the future, became the hero of the American bomber community.

But why am I talking about this now?

Because the other day, the last four of the 80 Raiders finished the mission. Those men, who have stuck together all these years, have been saving a bottle of cognac, that General Doolittle bought, it was dated 1896, the year of his birth. This year they decided that the time had come, and at a ceremony at the Museum of the United States Air Force, they drank for the last time the toast that they have been drinking in private all these years.

Here’s the ceremony

This is what a man, and a hero, looks like, sounds like, and does

There is a phrase I learned way back in Air Force ROTC which is the only thing left to say

Keep ‘em Flying

May they indeed rest in peace

Memorial Day Weekend

The John A. Logan Memorial located at Logan Ci...

The John A. Logan Memorial located at Logan Circle in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

 

And so began one of America’s most solemn holidays. It nearly always featured the reading of the names of veterans departed during and after the war. It is very close in meaning to the British (and Commonwealth’s) Remembrance Day, for it too commemorates a lost generation. In 1860 the population of the United States (free and slave) was 31,443,321, out of that population in the next five years there would be over 600,000 casualties or one out of every 52 people, and they were mostly young men.

They were nearly all volunteers, both sides had a draft but, in both cases it was ineffective and easily evaded. These were men who said what they meant and meant what they said, and proved it with their devotion to their cause.

We’ve talked about them before and we shall again but, today let’s listen to some of their legacy, the music of America.

And so as you go about your day this Memorial Day, spare a thought and prayer for Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, those Americans who fought so hard for freedom, that they destroyed slavery as a by-product. They are also the only armies I know of that after a battle, or in camp would cheer themselves hoarse for each other.

If we may borrow from our British cousins:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

 

 

Armistice Day

English: John McCrae Français : John McCrae

English: John McCrae Français : John McCrae (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You have noticed I’m sure that I used the old title for the day, I did that for a reason. The reason is that for the footling reason of providing a three-day weekend we will celebrate Veteran’s Day tomorrow. I’ve no objection to three-day weekends mind but, 11 November was picked as Armistice Day for a reason. In the rest of the English-speaking world it is called Remembrance Day.

At eleven o’clock today 94 years ago the Great War ended. It had been a horrendous experience for everyone. In truth, Europe lost an entire generation in the war, it ended the optimism of the Victorian age and ushered in the defeatist Europe (and even America) we see now. We will talk more about this in the coming days but, today is a day to remember.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead: Short days ago,
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved: and now we lie
In Flanders fields!

Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you, from failing hands, we throw
The torch: be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die,
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields

That poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian Army at the battlefront at Ypres in 1915, and it has come to symbolize the day. You see while some credit the United States with winning the war, which may be true, we got there very late, not going into battle until 1918. Remember the war started in 1914. Others suffered much worse than we did. Since we joined the winning side, with which we had historic ties we joined in their commemoration.

If you happen to see the commemorations today across the Anglosphere you will notice nearly everyone wearing red paper poppies, that comes from the poem. I can still remember when I was in elementary school, members of the American Legion Auxiliary distributing poppies to us and explaining what they meant. Do they still do that? I hope so but, I doubt it, America has changed.

In any case, because our Veteran’s day is tomorrow, I think we would be wise to join our cousins as they remember the dead from the wars of Freedom today. We would be in good company

FROM THE LONDON TIMES of OCT. 18, 1921

Yesterday morning General Pershng laid the Congressional Medal of Honour on the grave of the Unknown British Warrior in Westminster Abbey. The simple and beautiful ceremony seemed full of the promise of new and happier times. And what we call Nature appeared to have laid her approval on the hopes that it aroused.

That the United States should confer on an unknown British Warrior the highest military honour that can be bestowed by its Government, that jealously guarded and rarely granted Medal of Honour, which can only be won “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty”; that Congress should pass a special Act enabling this honour to be paid to one who was not a citizen of the United States; that by the request and in the presence of the American Ambassador the medal should be laid upon the tomb by the hand of the great soldier who is now the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan as General of the Armies of the United States, and that the ceremony should take place while the eyes of all the world are turned to the coming Congress at Washington.

Here is great matter for pride and hope; and it seemed to be by something more than mere accident or the working of unalterable law that, just at the beginning of the ceremony, the sun should stream down, in its natural gold, through a window not yet painted, upon the Union Jack that was spread at the foot of the Unknown Warrior‘s grave. The ancient mystery of the great Abbey is never wholly dispelled bythe light of day. Yesterday, as ever, she preserved her immemorial secrets and her ever brooding silence; yet brightness, colour, confidence were the notes of the ceremony; and, contrasting the sunshine of yesterday with the tragic gloom remembered on other occasions since August, 1914, one could not but believe that the externals matched the inner truth of the act, and that the modern history which, as the Dean of Westminster reminded us, began with the war in which the Unknown Warrior gave his life was about, through him and his like,to bring joy and peace to the world.

With the Union Jack at its foot and the wreaths bestowed about its edge, the stone that temporarily covers the Unknown Warrior’s grave near the west end of the Abbey was bare, save for a little case full of rosaries and sacred emblems that lies at its head. The space about it was shut off from the rest of the Nave by a barrier, through which passed only those who had been specially invited to seats of honour round the grave. The Nave was packed with people facing north and south, and lined with soldiers and sailors of the United States Army and Navy, among them some of General Pershing’s picked battalion, strapping fellows in khaki or blue, who seemed to have all the smartness and the immobility to which we are accustomed in British troops on such occasions.

[...]

Backed by a row of Abbey dignitaries were the Dean of Westminster, the American Ambassador, and General Pershing, standing at the gravehead, and facing up the great church.

At the invitation of the Dean, the American Ambassador then spoke as follows:

“By an Act of the Congress of the United States, approved on March 4 of the present year, the President was authorized “to bestow, with appropriate ceremonies, military and civil, a Medal of Honour upon the unknown unidentified British soldier buried in Westmister Abbey.” The purpose of Congress was declared by the Act itself, in these words: “Animated by the same spirit of comradeship in which we of the American forces fought alongside of our Allies, we desire to add whatever we can to the imperishable glory won by the deeds of our Allies and commemorated in part by this tribute to their unknown dead.”

The Congressional Medal, as it is commonly termed because it is the only medal presented “in the name of Congress,” symbolizes the highest military honour that can be bestowed by the Government of the United States. It corresponds to the Victoria Cross and can be awarded only to an American warrior who achieves distinction “at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty.”

A special Act of Congress was required to permit the placing of it upon the tomb of a British soldier. The significance of this presentation, therefore, is twofold. It comprises, in addition to the highest military tribute, a message of fraternity direct from the American people, through their chosen representatives in Congress, to the people of the British Empire.

There were two soldiers. One was British. The other was American. They fought under different flags, but upon the same vast battlefield. Their incentives and ideals were identical. They were patriot warriors sworn to the defence and preservation of the countries which they loved beyond their own lives. Each realized that the downfall of his own free land would presage the destruction of all liberty. Both were conscious of the blessings that had flowed from the English Magna Charta and the American Constitution. Well they knew that the obliteration of either would involve the extinguishment of the other. So with consciences as clear as their eyes and with hearts as clean as their hands they could stand and did stand shoulder to shoulder in common battle for their common race and common cause.There was nothing singular, nothing peculiar, about them. They typified millions so like to themselves as to constitute a mighty host of undistinguishable fighting men of hardy stock. A tribute to either is a tribute to all.

Though different in rank, these two soldiers were as one in patriotism, in fidelity, in honour,and in courage. They were comrades in the roar of battle. They are comrades in the peace of this sacred place.

One, the soldier of the Empire, made the supreme sacrifice, and, to the glory of the country whose faith he kept, he lies at rest in this hallowed ground enshrined in grateful memory. The other, equally noble and equally beloved, is by my side. Both live and will ever live in the hearts of their countrymen.

What more fitting than that this soldier of the great Republic should place this rare and precious token of appreciation and affection of a hundred millions of kinsmen upon the tomb of his comrade, the soldier of the mighty Empire! Proudly and reverently, by authority of the Congress and the President, I call upon the General of the Armies of the United States, fifth only in line as the successor of Washington, Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan, to bestow the Medal of Honour upon this typical British soldier who, though, alas! in common with thousands of others, “unknown and unidentified,” shall never be “unwept, unhonoured, and unsung.”

Then General Pershing said:

One cannot enter here and not feel an overpowering emotion in recalling the important events in the history of Great Britain that have shaped the progress of the nations. Distinguished men and women are here enshrined who, through the centuries, have unselfishly given their services and their lives to make that record glorious. As they pass in memory before us there is none whose deeds are more worthy, and none whose devotion inspires our admiration more, than this Unknown Warrior. He will always remain the symbol of the tremendous sacrifice by his people in the world’s greatest conflict.

It was he who, without hesitation, bared his breast against tyranny and injustice. It was he who suffered in the dark days of misfortune and disaster, but always with admirable loyalty and fortitude. Gathering new strength from the very force of his determination, he felt the flush of success without unseemly arrogance. In the moment of his victory, alas! we saw him fall in making the supreme gift to humanity. His was ever the courage of right, the confidence of justice. Mankind will continue to share his triumph, and with the passing years will come to strew fresh laurels over his grave.

As we solemnly gather about this sepulchre, the hearts of the American people join in this tribute to their English-speaking kinsman. Let us profit by the occasion, and under its inspiration pledge anew our trust in the God of our fathers, that He may guide and direct our faltering footsteps into paths of permanent peace. Let us resolve together, in friendship and in confidence, to maintain toward all peoples that Christian spirit that underlies the character of both nations.
And now, in this holy sanctuary, in the name of the President and the people of the United States, I place upon his tomb. the Medal of Honour conferred upon him by special Act of the American Congress, in commemoration of the sacrifices of our British comrade and his fellow-countrymen,and as a slight token of our gratitude and affection toward this people.

On the conclusion of his speech the Congressional Medal of Honour was handed by Admiral Niblack to General Pershing, who, stooping down, laid it on the grave, above the breast of the unknown hero beneath. Shining there, with its long ribbon of watered blue silk, it lay, a symbol of the past, a pledge for the future.

And General Pershing stood at the salute to his fallen comrade.

Which is entirely appropriate as well. As most of my American readers will be aware, the recipient of the Medal of Honor is entitled to be saluted first by all American service members.

[It should also be noted that on Armistice Day that year, by order of the King, the American Unknown Soldier was awarded the Victoria Cross. ]

There is considerably more, here is the link to the entire article from the Times, it is very moving.

After all the speeches and the award the congregation joined in singing

All across the English Speaking World, people today will be remembering those incredibly brave soldiers of Freedom, from all over the world, who fought that war. In Canada and the United Kingdom especially there is a hymn associated with it.

Take a moment today to thank God for our gallant allies in that greatest alliance of the free ever seen, the British Commonwealth and the United States.

That service in Westminster Abbey ended with this

For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon

 

Memorial Day

Headquarters Grand Army of the Republic

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

And so began one of America’s most solemn holidays. It nearly always featured the reading of the names of veterans departed during and after the war. It is very close in meaning to the British (and Commonwealth’s) Remembrance Day, for it too commemorates a lost generation. In 1860 the population of the United States (free and slave) was 31,443,321, out of that population in the next five years there would be over 600,000 casualties or one out of every 52 people, and they were mostly young men.

They were nearly all volunteers, both sides had a draft but, in both cases it was ineffective and easily evaded. These were men who said what they meant and meant what they said, and proved it with their devotion to their cause.

We’ve talked about them before and we shall again but, today let’s listen to some of their legacy, the music of America.

And so as you go about your day this Memorial Day, spare a thought and prayer for Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, those Americans who fought so hard for freedom, that they destroyed slavery as a by product. They are also the only armies I know of that after a battle, or in camp would cheer themselves hoarse for each other.

If we may borrow from our British cousins:

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

ANZAC Day

Poppies, a symbol of remembrance

Poppies, a symbol of remembrance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

97 years ago today the ANZAC Corp landed at Gallipoli. It was supposed to be a daring thrust to take Constantinople (Istanbul) but it bogged down almost immediately becoming a slugging match that lasted until 9 January 1916. It was a decisive defeat for the Allies and had many repercussions. Including for the First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill. It was also very important to the Turks in founding the Turkish Republic under Ataturk who was one of the commanders.

It is often said that this campaign marked the beginning of national consciousness for Australia and New Zealand, much as the War of 1812 did for us Americans. It is the main memorial holiday in both countries, surpassing Remembrance Day, much as Memorial Day surpasses Veterans Day for us.

It is also commemorated in England, Canada, the United States, Thailand, India, France, Turkey, and several other countries.

And so we should take a moment today to remember those heroes who have stood with us in Europe (twice), in the Pacific campaign, in Korea, in Vietnam,in the cold war,  in Iraq (twice) and in Afghanistan, and probably elsewhere that I’ve forgotten as well.

Here is what Atatürk himself had to say in 1934.

“Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours.
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.”

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

 

ANZAC Day service in Portsmouth.

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