Memorial Day

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As a southerner, we didn’t celebrate Memorial Day the way that folks in the north did, but over time, the concept which began as “Decoration Day” has grown on us. It’s not that we didn’t remember our fallen, because I remember that my uncle’s army photo was on a desk in my grandmother’s living room, and a certificate from the government, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, honoring his death, was framed and on the wall. As a child, I remember playing in the cemetery, while my grandmother tended the grave. Now, my grandparents are buried at the same site, in a small churchyard near Buford, Georgia, where they lived at the time.

My uncle was just 20 when he was killed in action, in Dortmund, on April 12, 1945, just a few days short of the end of military action in Europe. He was in the 9th Army, 75th Infantry, 290th Regiment, Company K. Because my grandparents had a detailed grave marker installed when they buried him, I was able to find some information about his unit’s activities during the big war. There is one site, in particular, that gives quite a bit of information about this group of soldiers, which the site owner calls “Bulgebusters.” Rather than repeat all that, I’ll simply say that he was among a group of soldiers tasked with clearing out remaining pockets of remaining German forces in the industrial area of northern Germany. His platoon encountered heavy enemy fire from machine guns and mortars, so the C.O. ordered them to retreat and A.L. was killed by machine gun fire. According to the account of a survivor, there were five other soldiers in his group, another soldier died, two were wounded, and two returned safely. The military does not supply such details, of course, but my grandparents took out ads in military publications asking for information, and there were a few letters from other soldiers who were part of the same regiment, and they were quite specific as to where, when, and how my uncle died.

As Memorial Day is an annual event, there are usually some canned “news stories” about how we should all remember the fallen heroes who have kept America free, and those are entirely appropriate. But, many families do not have a name, a face, or a grave to remember. I never met A.L. Dodd, but his face is quite familiar, because that original black and white photo is in my living room, still in its antique frame. He’s smiling in the picture, which seems odd, because current military pictures usually depict the subject in a “tough” stance. In his letters home, A.L. spoke of the scenery, saying that spring was coming, and he was sure the lands they were traveling through would be beautiful. These citizen soldiers were effective, for they defeated one of the most evil regimes in all of recorded history, but they were real people, too.

AL Dodd marker

Killing Patton— a quick review and commentary

Killing Patton cover imageGeorge C. Scott’s portrait of World War II General George Patton was my introduction to the famous hero. And, that is a very good film, but the book Killing Patton has an even more narrow focus. Authors Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard begin at the end, Patton’s untimely death, then jump back a year or so, to meticulously trace Patton’s role (and that of the 3rd Army) in the successful final campaigns against Germany at the end of World War II. General Patton was quite a character, with his ivory handled pistols and flashy uniform, but he also was far more aggressive than other American generals, and actually lost fewer men because he didn’t mess around! Anyway, he did not always suck up to those in authority, spoke his mind on the dangers of the Soviets, thus he made both friends and enemies. The authors label him as the most “audacious” U. S. general, and that’s a good word. I’ve always admired Patton’s forthright approach to war and life. Rather than give away the suggested culprit in Killing Patton, let me say that O’ Reilly and Dugard offer multiple possible persons who might want Patton dead. These authors do seem to believe that one of them was behind several attempts on Patton’s life. Certainly, they make a good case that Patton’s death was not an accident. Killing Patton is a very good book, with plenty of history and just enough mystery to keep it entertaining, and I highly recommend it.

My interest in the book goes beyond my admiration for General George S. Patton. As this Veteran’s Day approaches, my mind has often turned to my uncle, A.L. Dodd, Junior, who was also in Europe. PFC Dodd served as an automatic rifleman in the 9th Army, 75th Division, which was somewhat north of Patton’s 3rd Army in their journey through Europe. My uncle, just nineteen years old, was killed in action in April of 1945, a few days before the German surrender. Of course, my uncle died long before my birth, but family members told me that he was in the Ruhr Valley, and he was shot by a German machine gunner. So, seventy years ago, he died, along with hundreds of thousands of others. This book, with its detailed accounts of the major players in the war, helped me understand what was happening in Europe (and in America) in 1945.

At the time, the United States was very much a singular nation, which rallied to do what was right. Neither Patton nor any of the other U.S. soldiers were perfect men, but many of them performed nearly miraculous feats of bravery— they were heroes.

Monuments Men— on DVD

Monuments Men film posterA friend mentioned that she had seen and liked Monuments Men when it was in theaters, but I didn’t get around to seeing it then. However, it is out on DVD so hubby put it in the Netflix que, and we saw it recently. The cast is, perhaps, the best part of this effort. Lots of big name stars have roles, including Matt Damon, George Clooney, John Goodman, and Cate Blanchett. Essentially, this is the story of the men tasked with finding and protecting the art which was stolen by the Germans during World War II.

The script is good, but not especially memorable. In this film, however, the dialogue takes a back seat to action and suspense. And, there is certainly an element of education in the film. In order for the suspense to work, the audience must come to care about the historical artifacts and those who worked so hard to restore them to their rightful places. As my friend said when she recommended it, the movie isn’t great, but it is good, and it helps modern viewers appreciate the risks and hard work of those who went to war to help preserve these works.

Oddly, there are few people now who care enough to publish accounts of the destruction of art, as is happening in the middle east, much less go to war over it.