We should remember, honor WWII sacrifices
Golly, I hate to leave this astute conversation we’ve been having about the rights of gas-powered golf cart owners to continue spewing their half-burnt hydrocarbons and filling our otherwise bucolic paths with their amazingly loud symphonic engine noise. I see that Terry Garlock was just warming up to some libertarian rant about giving choice to his neighbors. How about Harleys on the golf cart paths? No problem getting up hills with a hog and I wouldn’t want to limit my neighbor’s choices to merely the road.
But quickly moving on, I wanted to comment on the near silence concerning the previous week’s 65th anniversary of the surrender of Japan and the end of WWII. While these anniversaries are exactly and only that, I believe our failure to make them significant lessens the dialogue about important things in a world which seems to value the banal.
The end of WWII is important because it defined a century and it was the culmination of a national and international armed opposition to the most effectively tyrannical regimes to have existed on this planet. It was the end of Nazi Germany and the end of Imperial Japan. The former involved systematized murder on a scale never before achieved by the worst despots and the latter a universal disregard for human life by a national fighting force never before seen or imagined.
Victory was achieved at the cost of 362,561 American combat deaths, 264,433 British, 129,196 Commonwealth (of Great Britain), and 10 million Soviet combat deaths. Add to this 3.3 million Soviet POWs murdered in captivity.
The numbers of the victims are tossed around occasionally: the 6 million Jews taken from their homes in Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Ukraine, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Greece, Italy (after their surrender) Hungary (after their surrender), Romania (after their surrender) and the Balkans to locations designed specifically for their murder; the 7 million Russians either starved or executed; the 6 million Chinese also either starved or executed; the Philippines raped and tortured and murdered; the Gypsies; the homosexuals; the mentally unworthy (in Nazi terms).
Nowadays most of us don’t see those numbers, and for those of us who do, they are so unimaginable that they have little impact. Listen to the testimony of one British POW, Stan Wells who wrote in his diary on Jan. 26 1945: “God punish Germany. Never again will I help a German, never again will I speak well or defend them in my speech. I have seen today the filthiest, foulest and most cruel sight of my life. God damn Germany with an everlasting punishment. At 9 a.m. this morning a column struggled down the road toward Danzig — a column far beyond the words of which I am capable to describe. I was struck dumb with a miserable rage, a blind coldness which nearly resulted in my being shot. Never in my life have I been so devoid of fear of opening my mouth. They came straggling through the bitter cold, about 300 of them, limping, dragging footsteps, slipping and falling, to rise and stagger under the blows of the guards — SS swine. Crying loudly for bread, screaming for food, 300 matted-haired filthy objects that had once been Jewesses! A rush into a nearby house for bread resulted in one being clubbed down with a rifle butt, but even as she fell in a desperate movement she shoved the bread into her blouse.”
We should not live our lives always looking back. We should not hate Germans and Japanese because of the sins of their fathers. We should, however, be aware of the facts of history. We should take great pride in what was accomplished by a free people in their righteous indignation. We should honor the generation which did take up that cause; which formed mighty armies and navies and air forces and sent them against great evil and through great armed struggle ... prevailed.
And in knowing and acknowledging and honoring, I firmly believe we will find the inspiration to confront our difficulties today. So take the time to know and ensure that your children know as mine do. Their grandfathers fought with the American Navy and the British Army.
I own stuff just like everybody else but there is nothing I treasure more than this letter found among my father’s belongings after he had died. It is hand-typed, from the office of the Secretary of the Navy and is dated April 9, 1946, and is addressed to Mr. Hugh Murphy Parker, Gaylordsville, Conn.
“My Dear Mr. Parker, I have addressed this letter to reach you after all the formalities of your separation from active service are completed. I have done so because, without formality but as clearly as I know how to say it, I want the Navy’s pride in you, which it is my privilege to express, to reach into your civil life and to remain with you always.
“You have served in the greatest Navy in the world. It crushed two enemy fleets at once, receiving their surrenders only four months apart. It brought our land-based airpower within bombing range of the enemy, and set our ground armies on the beachheads of final victory. It performed the multitude of tasks necessary to support these military operations.
“No other Navy at any time has done so much. For your part in these achievements you deserve to be proud as long as you live. The Nation you served at a time of crisis will remember you with gratitude.
“The best wishes of the Navy go with you into civilian life. Good Luck.”
It was signed: “Sincerely yours, James Forrestal.”
This nation is far more than the petty ignorant chicanery our modern information network has presented us or to which our political parties would reduce us. Secretary Forrestal told my father, and several million like him, that this nation would remember. We do ourselves and our forefathers a disservice when we do not.
Timothy J. Parker
Peachtree City, Ga.