Monday, May 30, 2016

For Memorial Day

I'm spending a quiet Memorial Day NOT going to Costco to pick up some food item or other that I've run out of (and consequently NOT chatting with my Costco buddies). I appreciate the fact that Costco closes on holidays in order to give their employees time to spend those holidays at home with their families.

Instead, I've been catching up on some of my internet reading, those articles and opinion columns I've opened in separate tabs in the morning to read later when I have a few minutes to rub together. Normally, that means very late at night when I'm beyond sleepy, and I end up just scanning the columns and deciding that I don't want to take the time to read most of them after all. Sometimes I fall asleep sitting in front of the computer, and one time when I woke up from this, both of my hands were asleep from having dozed off with my face cupped in my hands.

So it's a treat to be able to read when I'm actually awake. Which brings me to today's reading...

The Library of Law and Liberty yesterday reprinted a Memorial Day column from 2013 by Richard Reinsch, called, With the Old Breed. It's Reinsch's take on Eugene Sledge’s book of the same name. Reinsch explains, "I’ve been reading With the Old Breed, Eugene Sledge’s classic account of his experiences in the battles of Peleliu and Okinawa. Many have come to know his story from the successful 2010 HBO Series The Pacific that relied in part on his diary of these two battles." 

I've mentioned before that I don't have much family connection to World War II. My dad was too young to enlist, and his dad had fought in World War I. By WWII, he was stateside training the troops until after the war, when he was sent to Europe to do Graves Registration work for a couple years. Still, my heart seeks out stories that highlight America's greatness, and World War II was about the last time when that greatness shone brightly throughout our nation. Not only did good menand good women as wellvolunteer to fight against the wickedness and evil that threatened to take over the world, but on the home front, individuals, corporations, and even Hollywood and the news media supported our war efforts. Dissenters were relatively few and far between.

Not so now. And stories like the one told by Eugene Sledge only serve to highlight the changes that have occurred in America since then. 

In his opening, Reinsch includes a quote from the book:

The narrative “Sledgehammer” provides is compelling, horrific, and fascinating. A member of the famous 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, he describes the landing on Peleliu:
Huge geysers of water rose around the amtracs ahead of us as they approached the reef. The beach was now marked along its length by a continuous sheet of flame backed by a thick wall of smoke. It seemed as though a huge volcano had erupted from the sea, and rather than heading for an island, we were being drawn into the vortex of a flaming abyss. For many it was to be oblivion.

The accounts of the island battles are appalling. There is little redeeming value, Sledge concludes, from these sojourns into hell. But the “Old Breed” must abide, he says.

And who are the Old Breed for Sledge? At one level, this was simply the nickname given to the First Marine Division that had served in the earliest engagements of the Pacific campaign at Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester. That much is true. Their lineage is great, stretching back to World War I.  Sledge is proud of being a part of this unit of men, and it comes blaring through the text. No punches are pulled in his description of the fighting.

One more quote from Reinsch:

Sledge is at turns bitter at his training officers in boot camp and in later preparatory phases. Camp was humiliating and physically exhaustive. Failure at a task led to a visit from the screaming instructor. You operated without requisite sleep. However, in a footnote he criticizes those who now critique the Marines for being too extreme, too inhumane in their training. Sledge knows that in the mud of combat, the discipline and the supports such training gives your will are all that a Marine possesses. It comforted him, he reports, that the man in his foxhole, and in surrounding foxholes, had received the same treatment.

That men enduredand continue to endure—such training and then willingly engage in overwhelmingly dangerous battle on our behalf is both humbling and impressive beyond measure. Those who paid the ultimate price deserve daily the remembrance and honor they receive each year on Memorial Day.