Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Making It Home

A-26 Invader attack aircraft dropping bombs on the Siegfried Line.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
A comment on a recent post from my Camarade de Blogging LL (over at Virtual Mirage, a daily must read) made me think. In truth, most of the comments from my readers make me think, but this one more than most -
I viewed the film on your recommendation and you didn't steer me wrong. The Wilderness Campaign, and perhaps Shiloh, which had the same sort of terrain, were among the most bitter of the war, if for no other reason than much of it was small units in heavy cover. The Civil War/War of Northern Aggression was one of those horrible situations where Americans fought each other and the weapons far outstripped the tactics. Thus I always think of these sorts of films as particularly sad. The mechanics of moving from concept to script to shooting script to casting and set development make it interesting because making a movie is a lot of moving parts. But the experiential side of it reminded me of more modern conflicts. Particularly Laos, pulling a downed F-101 crew out of a triple canopy situation on the wrong side of a border that was not clearly defined. Hand to hand with Chinese, Hand to hand with Pathet Lao, because we ran out of ammo and they didn't. No it was not the Civil War, but wars have a way of being uncomfortably similar in many ways, and killing an enemy when he coughs out his last breath in your face (even if it smells like fish shit) is still killing. And years past, it was worth it to get the USAF guys out, but there were a lot of Chinese and Lao who never made it home.

Because making it home is really all that matters.
That last line really struck me to the core of my being.

All too often we who love our military history books tend to forget that history is made by real people, people just like us for the most part. They are born, they grow up, they love, they sometimes hate, they get tired, they get hungry, in short - they are human beings.

Yes, yes, some are fanatic bastards who deserve nothing more than a quick death, but in reality (if we are truly honest) that group is a small minority. For the most part, the folks who are "out there" - on the ground, on (and under) the seas, and in the air - are the ones who are often more or less unwilling participants in the grand scheme of things.

Would anyone of sound mind desire to be in battle, where one moment's indecision or lapse of concentration can lead to disastrous results? Instant or lingering painful death, or perhaps a lifetime of being an invalid, in either or both mind and body are far too often the result of battle. Even those who survive physically unscathed are marked for life by the event.

A good historian will remind us of the common people who actually fight the wars, who do the suffering and the dying. It isn't all about generals and admirals making the big decisions that determine the outcome of a war. The best plan, the best flag officers a nation can produce are meaningless if the soldiery are not up to the task at hand. 

Why does a soldier fight? The goal is to end the war, to go home and continue life as it was before the conflict began. I have seen (somewhere) a quote to the effect that "if it takes killing everyone of those bastards on the other side for me to go home, I'll do it." That's usually what stands between a soldier and going home again, a soldier wearing a different uniform who no doubt feels much the same way.



With that being said, I have just started reading a new book, Snow and Steel: The Battle of the Bulge, 1944-45 by Peter Caddick-Adams. A friend of mine (one of those friends I've never met that Lex often wrote of, no coincidence that I know him through Lex's old blog, Neptunus Lex) sent me an email recommending the book to me.

As he is a friend (and a retired Armor officer, he knows his stuff) I did a quick bit of research here, then immediately ordered the book. I mean, I did the "look inside" thing and was hooked. Last night I read the introduction and was enthralled.

In the introduction Dr. Caddick-Adams mentions no generals (though Churchill gets a nod), rather he writes about the American GIs, the British Tommies, and the German Landsers* who fought and all too often died in that bitter winter of 1944-45. But he also writes of the Belgian civilians who tried to carry on with everyday life while war raged around them, many of them died as well.

So if the posts for the next few days seem a bit short, let's just say, "That book ain't gonna read itself."

Stay frosty...






* Landser is a German colloquialism for a soldier, typically applying to the enlisted ranks.

70 comments:

  1. A succinct post Sarge. Almost everybody wants to go home during war, perhaps the exceptions being the Kamikazie and Kaiten pilots in the PTO. Unfortunately they've been replaced by the ROP suiciders. Thanks for posting the Bulge book, going to have to order that one... aaaaand I see Mr. Atkinson is coming out with a trilogy on the American Revolution, first book out in May.....dang....how much bookshelf space left is there?

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    1. Atkinson? Another trilogy, this time on the Revolution?

      TAKE MY MONEY!

      Loved his WWII trilogy on the U.S. Army.

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    2. "The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775 to 1777." Saw it on the link you posted for the Bulge book. Out May 14th......can't wait( SQQQQQEEEEEEEEE!!!!) Uh ..oh...... moar Black Tide Rising books from Mr. Ringo......ya I know....mindless drivel......can't......help.....myself......

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    3. So much to read, so little time.

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    4. I'm in. Loved Atkinson's tri on WWII. Here's another tri by the author of 'Six Frigates', Ian W. Toll, on WWII Pacific War. https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0393068137/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03__o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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    5. Loved Six Frigates and I am on a "learn more about the Pacific War" kick, so Toll's latest looks to be a great fit.

      Thanks Dwight!

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    6. Nylon12, at least it's not more Ghost from Ringo. Wait, I like the Ghost series... Now if he'd ever finish the Aldenata series, leaving the SS at a critical point doing an orbital insertion of a key enemy sight in tanks... And what about the lone trooper on that planet... And our Hero's command suit, did they ever recover it? And what about Salem and Des Moines? They killed Mueller, or is it Mosovich? Either Way!!!! Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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    7. Ifn you don't mind dusty historical books, try the US Army's historical series, all on pdf format...

      https://history.army.mil/html/bookshelves/collect/usaww2.html

      The Pacific Theater is well covered, and they include maps and charts and go into the planning very well.

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    8. Another Ringo reference. Dammit, I've already got too many books to read in one lifetime!

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    9. Sarge, you need to come visit Fredricksberg. The Nimitz museum is there. And it's a doozy. When I went through back in 1986, it's was riveting. I bet it's WAAAAAY better now. Someone around there might let you stay overnight....

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    10. That might could happen in the next cuppla years. Especially once I hang up the spurs.

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    11. Beans-The perfect world is one where John Ringo finishes his book series. (serieseses? seriesi?)
      But that's not the world we live in.
      My wife says she'd like to see another Queen of Wands novel.

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    12. Finishing a book series? Yup, don't get me started on A Song of Fire and Ice...

      George R.R. Martin owes us two books to finish that series, but I ain't holding my breath on that!

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    13. GRRM don't have nothing on not finishing series like Ringo. And, yes, another Queen of Wands book. Nothing like a ninja Southern Christian demon hunter with a gay soon-to-be-ex husband and a cat familiar. Maybe a crossover to "Monster Hunters International."

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    14. And GRRM basically said that HBO has finished the story for him.

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    15. ninja Southern Christian demon hunter with a gay soon-to-be-ex husband and a cat familiar

      Well, alrighty then!

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    16. Yes, GRRM is rich now, and old, and famous. Why finish one's life work?

      Me, jealous? Nah...

      Delete
  2. A quick thought re: "Would anyone of sound mind desire to be in battle?" I know a soldier, who, in combat, cracked a grin from ear to ear. He was "never more alive and aware" than he was during any action. He was born for battle, of that, I have no doubt. He has the ethos. His decisions were quick and correct. He held the respect of his men, and he took good care of them. He was honorable in his treatment of the enemy.

    I believe there are men that are born warriors and they are few. Being hunted by man and hunting men... He was good at it. And everything else is.....

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    1. There are some, rare, who revel in battle. I question the soundness of their minds, not their courage, not their dedication, just whether it's healthy. After all, battle requires killing the enemy, that is beyond any doubt. Taking the life of a fellow human being is a harsh thing, marks one for life and perhaps beyond.

      I just don't know.

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    2. Yup. There are some who are just warriors. There are some who will never be able to fight at all. And a whole lot of people in the middle.

      Real warriors are weird. Know one guy who lives near a rifle range because the sound settles him down. Just don't ever play the ROP morning wail...

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    3. They ain't quite right in the head, if you know what I mean. War does that.

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    4. And there starts the discussion of 'what's right in the head.' Personally, the fighters and people who can fight are right in the head. The ones that just panic and are complete victims aren't.

      But that's me.

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    5. Being able to fight is one thing, enjoying combat and the killing of another person is something else.

      I think we're coming at the same thing from two different paths.

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    6. This particular soldier was in his element in the chaos. He could make decisions almost unconsciously that worked... every time. He is a neat guy. The closest I remember reading about someone like him was a Korea war vet named Hackworth. Or maybe Coyle's bumbling LT before the invasion (in his first book). He reminds me of the Whermacht men that wound up in the Foreign Legion after '45.... Something awakened that won't sleep. He is so aware of noises, air pressure changes when the front door closes.... It was about the life or death struggle that sliced away all extraneous thought, and only what was necessary was considered....

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    7. There are men like that, while it ain't exactly "normal" (whatever that might connotate) attributes like that are invaluable in wartime.

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    8. You see some of the same attitude amongst firemen and other high-risk jobs. They aren't alive unless they're ALIVE!

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  3. "The War Of Northern Aggression", now that was a successful PR campaign! You'd think Fort Sumter started shelling Charleston in 1861...

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  4. Growing up around several uncles and a father who were all WW II vets, I was taught there is little glamorous about war. One, a Navy vet had four Purple Hearts. The first was from the Pearl Harbor attack. Another was a medic at Normandy. The oldest somehow was in both the Attu landings and on the fringe of the Battle of the Bulge. The one constant among all of them was their advice that, if you are in combat, better have your shit together.

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  5. This quote has always stuck in my mind--

    “Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn't even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.”

    ― Heraclitus

    Seems fitting to post this--

    https://www.slideshare.net/tomlindblad/these-are-my-credentials-27342666

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    1. I've seen those before. Very good.

      As for Heraclitus, a philosopher, not (to my knowledge) a soldier.

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    2. The dividing line between soldier and citizen was thin back then.

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    3. Not really, philosophers laid around and got all the chicks. So I'm told...

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  6. During my tour on the William R. Rush (DD-714) we'd pulled into Boston on a "Show the Flag" port visit, and the engineroom and fireroom snipes were in the crew's lounge waiting to get a port briefing before going on liberty. (the crew's lounge was the former DASH hangar) The snipes were the last ones off and the first ones on because lighting off and securing the plant wasn't like starting your car.

    The film, "The Enemy Below" was playing on the television and we snipes were poking fun at the flaws in the movie.
    We were laughing quite a bit until the point where the submarine torpedoes the destroyer escort right in the engineroom/fireroom area.

    The lounge got deathly quiet and while the movie actors walked around inside the engineering spaces surrounded by the wisps of Hollywood steam, each one of us knew the reality was that we would be either killed by the explosion, or killed by the fire, or killed by being flash boiled alive. That's the reality of war at sea in the Navy's engineering spaces.

    Hornfischer's "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" is one of the few books I've read that touches on what it would have been like below decks during combat.

    Not making it home was always an option, but we didn't think it would ever happen to us, we didn't dwell on it, and that sobering moment in the crew's lounge passed quickly because we were all much, much younger.

    Another very good, and thought provoking post.

    (If the email address at your contact page is still alive, take a look at it)


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    1. Yes, the engineering space during a fight, Hornfischer covered that well.

      On a similar note, no one ever thinks of what happens to tank crewmen who didn't make it out.

      And yes, that email address is active, got it.

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    2. My dad learned the correct way to detect the position of live steam leaks using a mop handle while on Range Tracking and Instrumentation Ships. He also learned from example the incorrect way to detect live steam leaks.

      The things my dad eluded to but never quite filled out the details...

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    3. Detecting live steam leaks...

      Uh, no, thanks, but no.

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  7. When I first saw the title, I thought, "Oh, good, OldAFSarge is going to be talking about Rhoddy drivers again..." Oops.

    As to LL, did you tell juvat about the F-4 ejection seat you're buying him with our royalty/commission monies?

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    1. Heh.

      I thought you and Tuna were doing that...

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    2. Don't look at me, my pay's the lowest of the four of us. Secretly funneling all the money to LUSH?

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    3. " Oops.

      Hey Andrew, when are you going to close that quote?

      Paul

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    4. Hint, hint; nudge, nudge; wink, wink; know what I mean, know what I mean?

      Paul

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    5. Sorry, I spent all my blogging salary on my Mustang- nothing left for the ejection seat.

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    6. Paul @3:08 The opening quote is in front of the "Oh, good, OldAFSarge

      The ellipsis confused me as well.

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    7. Paul @3:11, "Does she like sports, is she the sporting type? Nudge, nudge, a nod's as good as a wink."

      Quoting Monty Python now, I like that!

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    8. Tuna, I told ya not to spend it all in one place.

      :)

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    9. OldAFSarge @ 1553hrs: Yes, you are right; however, I was mostly just twitting Andrew on something inconsequential.

      Paul

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  8. Thanks for the book recommendation( s ).

    "That book ain't gonna read itself." So true. Between the library books I have checked out and my to be read list, I shall have to live as long as some of the old testament biblical characters ( and that's provided no new books are published until I finish my list ).

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. Oh dear yes. I hope there's a good library in the afterlife! (I'm sure there is...)

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    2. Yes, in heaven, hell will have no library or books either.

      Paul

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    3. That's for sure, but I'll bet CNN is on 24/7.

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  9. Another post that the only reply I have for is "Thanks".....

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  10. "Why does a soldier fight? The goal is to end the war, to go home..." That's very true. Here's another similar reason I remembered from OEF:

    "What I realized in the five months that I spent at this little outpost at the Korangal Valley in eastern Afghanistan -huge amount of combat, very isolated place – what I realized is that the guys were not fighting for flag and country,” he said. “They may have joined up for those sorts of reasons, but once they were there, they were fighting for each other and there was a completely kind of fraternal arrangement that had very little broad conceptual motivations behind it.”

    Not many American soldiers in Afghanistan take their time to reflect on why they are fighting this war, they are just fighting it..."

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    1. Amen, you fight for the guy next to you, pure and simple.

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  11. My good wife is complaining loudly that I sit too much. Does anyone know how to read stuff standing up and perhaps walking around?

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    1. Treadmill. Have a thing to hold the book in front of you while you grind it out. It's hard, I know, but doable.

      Don't ask me how I know...

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  12. You can try an audio version of your print book, that way you can walk on the tread mill, or the exercise bike, and walk or ride. No fair reading the book where you stop listening, and if you walk in the real world, as opposed to the treadmill world, keep one ear bud out so you can hear what is coming up behind you. Safety first! That way to hear the rest of the story, you will get back on the treadmill. Ask me how I know...

    Seriously, there are a lot of books out there to listen to.

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    1. Leave it to Suz to come up with a practical solution.

      Not bad, not bad. (Have you folks thawed out yet?)

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    2. Cold arctic blasts here now. Down to 63 degrees. Had to put on a heavy t-shirt. Brrrrrr..

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    3. Any kind of a t-shirt sounds good about now Beans...turtle necks are the attire of the moment currently. with a fleece sweater...supposed to get more snow, changing to freezing rain tomorrow into tomorrow night...but wait...going to be mid 40's by Sunday with rain...sigh. Very tired of freezing rain and ice I am.

      We went to Kentucky middle of last week. Left early to avoid the ice storm, and succeeded!! It was great!! Sunny, warm and 50*!! Sometimes I think about finding a winter job in the South. Gotta be a need for homecare nurses from Nov 1 til April 1 someplace where winter attire consists of a sweater and shoes instead of sandals. Was zero here again this morning.
      At least it is daylight til almost 6:15PM. I hate going to work and returning home in the dark.

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    4. And thank you for the heads-up on the latest offering from John Ringo. I do like his stuff. More books to read!! Yea!!!

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    5. My sister-in-law lives in Kentucky, whatever storms they get we tend to get a day or so later. She's our early warning weather watcher. Seems to work.

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    6. Suz, I forgot to mention, your forecast sounds just like ours, although we're probably 20° "warmer."

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)