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Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

 

 

Recently, I watched the classic movie The Guns of Navarone with Gregory Peck. Set in the Aegean Sea during World War II, it’s the story of a small band of soldiers sent to take out a German fortress which is a threat to Allied ships. Of course, our heroes can’t just go in and destroy the enemy’s guns, they have to suffer through a series of ordeals on the way. And they can’t just keep the mission to themselves, they have to interact with innocent bystanders and beautiful women.

Gregory Peck, David Niven, and friends

I’m not here to tell you the entire plot of the movie, only one part that got me thinking. An officer gets seriously wounded, so they take him into a Greek village for medical attention. There are Nazis in town, and the villagers try to hide our heroes from them. When the enemy finds out, they destroy the town in retribution.

What caught my attention was that the Germans made the people leave their homes before they bombed them. It’s heartbreaking enough to have your home destroyed. It’s even worse when your life and that of your loved ones is put in jeopardy. At least the Germans spared the villagers’ lives.

Listening to the news about the war in Ukraine, we are shown a different scenario: civilians deliberately targeted, even when they try to evacuate, bombs dropped on hospitals and schools.

In the movie, the Nazis are hardly pictured as nice guys, but other than the SS officers, who are sociopaths, the German soldiers show a little compassion, first for the wounded American officer, then for the Greek villagers.

How true to life this is, I can’t say. The movie was released in 1961, nearly two decades after the war. By this time, hatred toward the Germans had softened. In fact, we were on good terms with them. Did German soldiers actually show compassion for their conquered foe? War creates atrocities. Can it also bring out compassion?

My father served in the Pacific theater in World War II. He wouldn’t talk much about the war, certainly not about combat. I don’t know what horrors he was exposed to, but although the rest of the world moved on and made friends with the Japanese, he harbored a life-long hatred of them. He even disapproved when his children bought Japanese-made cars.

His attitude toward other Asians was quite different. When one of my sisters brought home a Korean friend, he was okay with that. When I went on a tour of China, he expressed admiration for the Chinese people, if not their government.

But when he had personal contact with one of the enemy, he had a different attitude. Dad told about an incident when he was stationed in Hawaii. A Japanese soldier was being held prisoner in the camp. One day he tried to escape but didn’t make it out of camp before he was recaptured. For some reason, Dad expressed compassion toward that young man. He identified with the fear the Japanese soldier must have felt, being held captive by the Americans.

Dad in uniform. He’s the short one.

I grew up during the Cold War. In high school, one required class was Problems of American Democracy, in which we were indoctrinated against all things communist. (I don’t understand why some authorities think young people are just itching to go over to the “dark side.”) Perhaps that accounted for my reaction the first time I saw Red Army soldiers in China.

I was fascinated by the history and culture of China. One of the first historical sites we visited was crawling with Chinese soldiers. I felt fearful, paranoid, as though I thought they were watching the evil American tourists, waiting for a chance to arrest us. Actually, they were on leave, tourists like myself. By the end of the two weeks, I saw these soldiers for what they were, teenagers in uniform. Familiarity does not breed contempt.

Back to the war between Russia and Ukraine. We admire the heroism of the Ukrainians and ache for their suffering. We condemn the actions of Putin’s government. However, most of us don’t blame the Russian people. We sympathize with them because of what their government is doing to them.

In the throes of battle, compassion is in short supply. Yet we can identify with the hopes and fears of other humans, even in time of war. Perhaps if we cultivate more compassion, we can learn to avoid war.

 

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On this Veteran’a Day, I’m posting a family story about my Dad, in the words of my sister, Sue Rogers Kreikemeier:

“My father, Russell G. Rogers, was a born storyteller. There was no end to his collection of yarns, but like many veterans, he seldom spoke of his war experiences. While most of his stories told of light-hearted adventures, his occasional comments, pieced together with his faded diary and letters home, fill in some of the gaps that he left us with.

Dad was an 18 year old farm boy when he was drafted into the Army during World War II. After basic training and a train ride across the United States, he was shipped out to the Philippines. While the majority of Japanese soldiers had retreated from their strongholds, ‘hold-outs’ existed for some time to come. Dad simply described his assignment there as ‘mop-up duty’. He recalled the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, noting that President Truman’s decision to do so probably saved his life, as his unit was being outfitted with wool uniforms which he suspected was preparation for a land invasion of Japan.

(In this picture, Dad is the short guy on the right, with his schoolmate Marty Zemek. This was not taken in Hawaii, but in my grandparents’ front yard. Dad served in the Seventh Army Air Force.)

After the surrender of the Japanese to the Allied Forces, Dad’s next stop on Oahu must have seemed like landing in paradise! During this time he was assigned the task of cleaning the officers’ quarters on the base. Photos later brought home to the States show the joyful faces of Dad with several of his hometown buddies, unexpectedly reunited thousands of miles and one war later, from home. Having attended a one room country school together, they knew how to make their own fun, and joined him in such antics as ‘borrowing’ officers’ uniforms and visiting the Officers’ Club.

When General Dwight Eisenhower was scheduled to arrive on base and inspect the troops, Dad was assigned to prepare the classiest suite on the base for the General. He, like many of his comrades, greatly admired Eisenhower. I’m sure he did his farm-boy best to make a bed you could bounce a dime off. To his great disappointment, after inspecting the troops, General Eisenhower left the base, opting for the comforts available in Honolulu. In spite of his initial chagrin, Dad was always proud to be known for having made the bed that General Eisenhower never slept in.

These tidbits have led me to explore more about what his war experiences might have included. I’m sure his story is reflective of many other stories, if they had been told, of young farm boys and girls thrown into circumstances beyond their imaginations. I am humbled by the resilience of our ‘Greatest  Generation’, who, in spite of a heavy veil of pain and suffering, were able to find joy and wonder in a hurting world.”

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Our sister Bonnie Rogers Grundel adds:

“So here is a picture of Dad’s military shadow box. Also, he got the Combat Infantryman Badge.

Per Wikipedia: “On 27 October 1943, the War Department formally established the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB) and the Expert Infantryman Badge (EIB) awards in Section I, War Department Circular 269 (27 October 1943): The present war has demonstrated the importance of highly-proficient, tough, hard, and aggressive infantry, which can be obtained only by developing a high degree of individual all-around proficiency on the part of every infantryman. As a means of attaining the high standards desired and to foster esprit de corps in infantry units; the Expert Infantryman and the Combat Infantryman badges are established for infantry personnel.”

Supposedly Dad got an extra $10 a month for obtaining this badge!”

Dad with old Army buddy Frank Ross.

And here’s my contribution: When we were kids, we asked Dad if he ever got shot in the war. With a straight face, he lifted his shirt,  pointed to his belly button, and said, “Yes, here.”

 

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