Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Big One - WW II

Recently I read a couple books about World War II. I mentioned in an earlier posting that an uncle had served at Iwo Jima, and thinking about him and the aging veterans from the Great Conflict, I have sought to learn more about what they lived through.

We may have been "blessed" as an age group, too young for the Korean War and too old for Viet Nam. At least I have yet to hear of anyone from our class who served in that arena, and if you know of any such veteran perhaps you could pass information along.

It wouldn't hurt for me to bone up on Korea beyond what I know, and most of that I picked up from the Truman biography by David McCullough. The Korean Veterans seemed to have been forgotten as a group, and McCullough clearly illustrates the hazards they faced including a vicious enemy, severe weather, and a certain level of stupidity at the top.

The WW II vets are now disappearing. Most of them would be at least in their 80's and a dying breed. If you want to learn more of the reality of what they faced, here are two books that I would recommend, both of them focused on the Pacific:

With the Old Breed, at Pelelieu and Okinawa is an autobiography journal by E. B. Sledge, written originally to share his story with his family. War is clearly Hell, and the Japanese culture of the day was such that any non-Japanese person was a lesser being, making it an even greater Hell for these veterans to experience. It's a diary, and thus it does not lead to a dramatic conclusion other than the daily tragedies the soldiers were facing.

Unbroken, a World War II Story of Survival was written by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote Seabiscuit (also recommended reading). It's the story of Louie Zamperini, who could have been the first athlete to break the 4-minute mile and instead found himself adrift in the Pacific where he finally wound up in the midst of the South Pacific Island war zone, a couple thousand miles from where his plane had gone down. Eventually he was captured by the Japanese and spent a couple years as a Prisoner of War where he endured far more punishment than most could survive.

The Zamperini story is a little less believable even though it is true. Still, it provides insights into an experience that all of us missed, and a culture that led to brutality that we as Americans (I hope) would not want to be duplicated on our side. My whole point in sharing this thought is the recognition on my part that we grew up in a fairy tale, practically speaking, because we didn't know what we didn't know - about the life that our fathers and uncles were living, and all of it done so we could continue living the good life.

Having never served myself, I do try to make it a point of thanking those who have, and I hope you do the same. I feel like it was The Big One that "made the point" that armies should be restrained and people should live free. But time is running out on our options to thank those who were on the front line of that service.

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