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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

I lost a friend today...

Actually, he was my friend, but I don't think I was his at the end. He was 94.

I knew him fairly well for 35 years as a friend, then years after as his ex-friend because of a misunderstanding that did not lead to a discussed resolution. He was someone I closely worked with for most of those first 35. He was one of the guys that you would have seen in the movie, Saving Private Ryan. He was a combat infantryman in World War II... one of the guys who could say he walked his way through Italy... and it was not a vacation. He was one of those guys.

He fought every step of the way in what was called The Italian Campaign. It was no small thing. It is estimated that between September 1943 and April 1945, some 60,000 Allied and 50,000 German soldiers died in Italy.

He talked little about "The War," but one story he did tell: His platoon was being fired upon by the enemy from a farmhouse. In the encounter, the Americans stormed the house and my friend was the first to burst in, expecting enemy fire. Apparently the enemy had escaped out the back but he didn't know that. Hearing noise in the cellar, he assumed it was the enemy. He threw a hand grenade down the steps... and, as it turns out, it was an elderly couple, probably the farm owners, hiding in fear.

He would become quite angry when there was critical post war talk from a newsman or congressman... or anyone...  about soldier atrocities, saying unless you were there, no one could ever know or judge the life or death circumstances that led to any incident.

He once told a reporter: "Ambivalence about civilian deaths during war is resolved while peering down the sight of a rifle, heart pounding, finger tightening on the trigger. No one who has not lived through combat can judge that moment."  He fought in five major campaigns in Europe during World War II and grappled with memories of death and carnage. He riled about criticism and the morality of soldiers in war from anyone who has never been in that position.

My friend grew up in The Great Depression of 1932-33 watching his parents struggle, as so very many did. He was a young man when Pearl Harbor was attacked and he became one of the many who fought the ground war in Italy and France and wherever else the horror of war sent him. These events marked many for the rest of their lives.

Today we recognize post traumatic stress disorder as a very real syndrome that is estimated to affect as many as one of three veterans. Whether my friend was one of those, I do not know. but for someone who has never experienced what that was like, there is no possible understanding other than, how could one go through so much, see so much, live in such circumstances and conditions and not be, in some way be impacted?

Today the media is recognizing the 10th anniversary of our war in  Iraq. There was NPR talk on the historical value of that war... or any war. One commentator said that, in his opinion, so many died in vain. But another... much, much wiser, countered... no American military person has ever died in vain if they fought for our country. No soldier ever chose the battle, they just did what their country needed at that time... and so many gave the ultimate sacrifice in doing so. And an even greater number of wounded and survivors lived with the memories... and the consequences.

They are all heroes... all of them. As was my friend. 

Thank you friend, for the opportunity to know and respect you. I was honored.         

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