Wednesday, August 23, 2017

History by Sir Winston

I’m re-reading Winston Churchill’s “A History of the English Speaking Peoples”. I’m halfway through volume 4 at the moment. The series begins in 55BC with the Roman invasion of the England and covers the highlights up to the beginning of WWI.

Sir Winston was not a professional historian, he was a true student of history. Churchill like all great, thoughtful and astute leaders understood, maybe more than most, the lessons of history and the guidance history can provide for future generations.

When you read Churchill’s work, you get an English-centric view of history. It is good to get a view from the other side of the Atlantic of the emergence of our country during the revolution and the events leading up to our civil war. All of it grounded in real, unvarnished historical fact. Good reading for any American.

As I re-read the books I was again astonished at the bloodshed, carnage and chaos created by religion in England, France, Spain and other countries and regions all over the world for centuries. It is no wonder our Founding fathers wrote “freedom of religion” into our constitution, I only wish they would have written “freedom from religion”.

Churchill had a great interest in military history. His telling of how we won our revolution by winning so few battles against the English is refreshing.

Churchill lays out why the North won the civil war, not only because the North was on the right side of history, but because of the geographical and industrial advantages that doomed the Confederacy from the opening days of the conflict.

Churchill writes the South had arrogantly expected Britain and Europe to come to their aid and he reminds us that no foreign power recognized the Confederacy during the conflict.

Churchill’s thoughts on Robert E. Lee point out that Lee was conflicted at the beginning of succession and even after a long consultation with President Lincoln where he was offered command of the Union Army, Lee made his choice to resign and go home to Virginia to become a traitor to his nation and his entire, illustrious career as a soldier for the United States of America. Churchill felt Lee lost his chance at greatness the day he rode across the Potomac.

In earlier volumes Churchill writes of feudalism’s roots in the Roman system of government in every part of the Roman Empire.

He writes of religion’s caustic effects on civil society across the world.

He writes of  beginning and growth of the rights of average citizens to have a say in the way they are governed in English Common Law and how the American and French Revolutions spurred that thinking world-wide.

“A History of the English Speaking Peoples” is well worth reading. If for no other reason than it reinforces :

“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke

Saturday, August 19, 2017

My father fought the Nazis

Toward the end of World War II, my Dad flew the 2nd Glider across the Rhine during opening moments of Operation Varsity. (Varsity was and is the largest airborne operation in history.) Operation Varsity was the first phase of the invasion of Germany early in 1945.

The Army Air Corps learned from airborne operations earlier in the war to form up the glider pilots and glider crews into infantry units and put them in the fight after they were on the ground. My father fought in a battle that was pivotal during Operation Varsity. It was called “Burp Gun Corner.” The pilots were ordered to hold a critical crossroad near Wesel. My Dad’s company of glider pilots accomplished their mission by blowing up a Panzer tank on a narrow city street and that disabled tank stalled a Nazi counter attack allowing the Allie’s offensive to continue.

Here is what General Bereton, Commander of the 1st Airborne Army had to say:

“The conduct of glider pilots, in general, is beyond written words of commendation. Not only did they deliver a magnificent and well-coordinated landing which in many cases was in the midst of hostile positions, but were immediately engaged with the Airborne associates in the hottest kind of hand-to-hand fighting. In one instance, a glider pilot serial immediately organized for all-around defense and withstood heavy counter-attacks with the weapons at their disposal, putting one enemy tank out of action in this engagement. The discipline and combat efficiency of these glider pilots has called forth the highest praise of Division and Regimental officers."

When Dad came home from the war, he had his B-4 bag of uniforms, a duffel bag of flight suits and other pilot gear and 2 two foot lockers. In one of the foot lockers he carried home some Nazi memorabilia, two large Nazi flags, a small flag from the disabled tank, signed by his fellow pilots turned infantry men. A Nazi officer’s cap and dress belt and dagger and a Nazi army steel helmet.

No matter how many times my friends and I played “Army” none of us would ever use any of dad’s “Nazi stuff” to enhance our war play along the banks of the Red River. I remember putting on the Nazi helmet once and getting a strange feeling as I looked at my child face in the mirror.

I can’t recall my Dad ever looking at his little collection. Like every combat vet, he didn’t talk about actual fighting. He did tell plenty of great stories about London and Paris though. The best was his co-pilot getting a bloody nose when he walked into the glass door of a small Paris bistro or getting blown out of his bed in a London hotel during a Luftwaffe bombing raid on the city or listening to a speech on a French airstrip given by General Eisenhower after the Nazi surrender.

This past week I’ve often thought what my Dad would think of what happened in Charlottesville last weekend, Nazis marching and chanting by torchlight or the president’s defense of white supremacy. Dad hated everything the Nazi regime stood for. He knew and loved his fellow pilots who died or were wounded during his time in the Army Air Corps. He felt he was fortunate to come home alive to Mom and his family and to me. He went into battle knowing mom was pregnant with me, I’ve often wondered how that weighed on his mind. His letters to mom were upbeat and positive. He never sounded tense or afraid. I know he was from my conversations later in life with his friend Bob Anton, who spent his time at war as an Army tanker. Anton and Dad would sit and talk over Seagram’s VO from time to time, if I’d show up the conversation would stop. They were talking about the war, their war.

The only time I remember dad saying anything about Nazis was when George Lincoln Rockwell, the head of the American Nazi party was scheduled to speak at the University back in the 60’s. All Dad said was “he’s a Nazi son of a bitch.”

I think he’d feel the same today, I know I do.