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Retracing the Paths of My Uncles Part 9

Discussion in 'Philosophical Musings' started by cincibuck, May 27, 2017.

  1. cincibuck

    cincibuck You kids stay off my lawn!

    I'm winding down a nostalgic tour of France, a tour to deliberately try and place myself in France where three beloved uncles spent time during World War Two.

    I paused to think and be grateful at monuments. I spent a good deal of time behind the wheel and much of that time trying to imagine what they felt, what they were experiencing, what they might say to me today about their journey.

    I drew upon my own time in Vietnam, my sense of duty to a nation that had nurtured and educated me, my sense of duty to my dad and my uncles, to something greater than me. I thought of the men I knew in Vietnam: Willy, Wayne, Dominic, Beauchamp and Steve, and the debt I owe them for friendship; just as dad and the uncles remembered men who did the same for them.

    I saw the crosses and the stars of David on Allied tombs and the stark black squares marking the German graves. I met a man who lived through the war as a school boy, who was liberated as his own small village was blown apart and yet has devoted a portion of his life and money to thanking Americans for his freedom. I met and talked with Brits, Canadians, and Americans who were on similar missions.

    As I traveled I was taken back to May of 1970. I had been back from Vietnam less than a year. I was once more a student at Ohio State. The night before I had listened to the popping of tear gas and knee knockers as the Columbus police battled with students.

    The next morning I walked down to the campus to find the administration building surrounded by National Guard troops and the troops surrounded by a mob of students.

    I stood in no man's land taking pictures. I identified with the Guard. They didn't want to be there. They were not, as the students called them, pigs or Nazi's any more than I was. They were doing their perceived duty.

    I identified with the students. They did not believe in the war, a war I'd seen first hand. A war in which I saw how the Vietnamese peasants were preyed upon by both sides. A war in which our Vietnamese allies allowed the privileged to escape duty because American boys would fight the war for them.

    I stood in that circle and tried to find something to believe in, to commit to, one side to be in the right and the other side to be wrong.

    I could not do it.

    Today, a day of letting go of the uncles and World War Two, I stumbled on a small, simple monument. A monument you have to want to find. A monument that sits beside a gravel road, beside a graveyard that holds eleven thousand French soldiers, outside a town of two hundred houses, a post office, an ecole (grade school). It was at this spot that historians concluded a Christmas truce had been reached - not by the generals, not by the prime ministers - but by the men in the trenches.

    Here, British, French and German soldiers decided on their own to take a pledge to honor "love thy neighbor as thy self." It could not have been easy. they had been at each other's throats on a daily basis since August. They had all lost beloved comrades and yet they could accept their universality. They could meet with the enemy, share songs, tobacco, sausages, beer, play soccer.

    The chain of command on both sides was rattled by these events, this acceptance of "fraternization." In some ares of the front, commanders ordered artillery to fire into the meeting ground to force both sides back to their respective trenches.

    All of my journey, all of my experience as a devoted nephew and son, as a soldier in war, all of my respect and sorrow for all the crosses and stars I have seen in these two weeks came to a meeting with this simple monument, on a lonely farm road. and the words of French Corporal Louis Barthaus inscribed on the monument's threshold, "Maybe one day in this corner of Artois they will raise a monument to commemorate this spirit of fraternity."

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