Thursday, July 7, 2016

Memorial Day 2016: Talking To Tombstones

                                                                     (google image)

Between 1942 and 1945, US soldiers as well as soldiers from the UK, Australia, Greece, and New Zealand funneled up both sides of the Italian peninsula, desperately seeking the German high ground. They fought for small patches in frozen ravines and mountain fingers and took massive casualties, then went to another valley and repeated the process. Moving up the central Italian spine took three years and 150,000 casualties. Italy comprised an abstract of stunning carnage.

In Rick Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize winning Liberation Trilogy, The Day of Battle, the author recounts a speech at a military cemetery by General Lucian Truscott, the former commander of the 3rd Infantry Division, on Memorial Day in 1945"...just three weeks after the end of the war in Europe, a stocky, square-jawed figure would climb the bunting-draped chairs. Then Truscott, who had returned to Italy from France a few months earlier to succeed Mark Clark as the Fifth Army commander, turned his back on the living and instead faced the dead. 'It was,' wrote eyewitness Bill Mauldin, 'the most moving gesture I ever saw.'

In his carbolic voice, Truscott spoke to the thousand who lay beneath the ranks of Latin crosses and stars of David. As Mauldin later recalled:
He apologized to the dead men for their presence here. He said everybody tells leaders it is not their fault that men get killed war, but that every leader knows in his heart that this is not altogether true. He said he hoped anybody here through any mistake of his would forgive him, but he realized that was asking a hell of a lot under the circumstances....He promised that if in the future he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out."

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