Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Tribute to World War II vets

I'm going to take time out from make-believe stuff for a moment to post the following:

This year—2010—will mark the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II—V/E day on May 7 and V/J day on September 3.

Here are only a few of the many examples of courage set for us by those who fought during that war:

Private First Class Desmond Dross was a conscientious objector, declining to take up arms directly. But he served in the Army as an unarmed medic. In May 1945, during the battle for Okinawa, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to treat or rescue wounded men. On May 21, when the rest of his unit had been forced to retreat, he remained in exposed territory treating his wounded comrades until he himself was wounded in legs by grenade fragments. He treated his own injuries and waited five hours before he was found and taken away on a stretcher. But when PFC Dross saw a more seriously wounded man, he got up off the stretcher and told the bearers to take the other man to safety. Soon after, a sniper’s bullet broke his arm. After splinting his arm with a rifle stock, he crawled 300 yards to an aid station. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

In Italy on April 2, 1945, a troop of British soldiers were pinned down by German machine gun fire from a fortified position. Corporal Thomas Hunter offered himself as a target to draw fire from his men. Taking a machine gun and charging alone across open ground while under heavy fire, his actions demoralized the enemy troops. Six of them surrendered to him. Hunter continued to attack the enemy until he was killed—firing into them until the last. Hunter was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, his country’s highest military honor.

On October 25, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, a large Japanese naval force of battleships and heavy cruisers ambushed a smaller American force of destroyers and escort carriers. Despite overwhelming odds, the American ships and planes were able to beat off the Japanese. One particular ship, a tiny destroyer escort named the Samuel B. Roberts, fought so hard and so well before it was sunk that it became known as “The destroyer escort that fought like a battleship.” The Roberts’ gun crews expended nearly all their ammunition, firing so rapidly that one of her guns overheated and exploded. That gun’s crew chief—Paul Carr—was found horribly wounded and in agony. Not realizing his gun was out of action, he was begging—not for medical attention--but for someone to continue to load and fire.

In September of 1942, during the Battle of Stalingrad, Junior Sgt. Yakov Pavlov was ordered to seize and defend a four-story building. All but four of Pavlov’s 30-man platoon were lost in the attack, but the building was taken. Pavlov received 25 men as reinforcements, then fortified the building. For two months, from September 23 to November 25, Pavlov and his small force repulsed numerous German attacks—sometimes several per day—until they were finally relieved. During this time, Pavlov personally destroyed at least six German tanks. Pavlov’s determination to keep the Germans out of the building became a tangible source of inspiration and strength to the other defenders of Stalingrad.

Irena Sendler was a member of the Polish Underground. She rescued and found shelter for over two thousand Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. She was eventually captured, tortured and sentenced to death. Other members of the Underground were able to bribe her German guards into letting her escape. In 2007, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her heroic actions.

Pretty much the entire population of Denmark effectively refused to allow Jews to be taken away to death camps after that country fell to the Nazis. Most Jews living in Denmark were able to escape to Sweden. It is an extraordinary example of an entire country uniformly showing compassion and courage in the face of evil.

The state of Israel has recognized a total of 22,211 men and women from 45 countries as “Righteous among the Nations”—meaning they risked and often gave their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews from the Nazis. In a society in which anti-Semitism was often casually accepted and while being ruled over by a brutal and sadistic regime, each of these men and women freely choose to help the oppressed rather than simply give in to the oppressors.

One man designated as Righteous among the Nations was a Japanese. Chiune Sugihara was Japan’s Vice Consul to Lithuania. He issued thousands of visas to Jews escaping from the Nazis. When the Japanese government finally learned what he was doing, he was recalled from his post. He continued writing visas while on the train taking him out of Lithuania, tossing them out the train window to those who needed them.

John Rabe was a German businessman and a minor Nazi Party member who was in Nanking in 1937, when the Japanese took the city and brutalized the population in an orgy of rape and murder. Horrified at what he saw, Rabe was able to convince the Japanese that he was actually a much more important person in the Party than he actually was, then wield his newly-won influence to help hundreds of Chinese refugees to escape.

HMS Jervis Bay, an armed merchant cruiser, was part of a convoy that was attacked by the German battleship Admiral Scheer. Jervis Bay’s captain, Edward Fegan, ordered the convoy to scatter. Despite being overwhelmingly outgunned, Fegan then ordered the Jervis Bay to attack the German battleship. The smaller British ship was sunk, but bought enough time to allow most of the rest of the convoy to escape.

In January of 1945, Lt. Audie Murphy, already a highly decorated combat veteran, climbed aboard a burning tank destroyer and used its .50 caliber machine gun to fire at attacking German troops, ignoring the danger that the fuel and ammo in the burning vehicle might explode at any moment. When the Germans drew nearer to him, he called down artillery fire on his own position. When the fighting was done, over 50 Germans had been killed or wounded. Murphy was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

During the Nazi occupation of Greece, Princess Alice of Battenberg, a member of that country’s royal family, hid Jews from the Nazis, worked for the Red Cross, set up nursing centers and orphanages, and smuggled in medical supplies. Because she had German relatives, the enemy at first thought she would be sympathetic to their cause. But when a German general asked her “Is there anything I can do for you?”—she replied “You can take your troops out of my country.”

Lt. Col. “Jack” Churchill served throughout the war with the British Royal Marines. Known as “Mad Jack,” he carried a sword (and sometimes a bow and arrows) into battle, once saying “any officer who goes into action without his sword is improperly dressed.” He fought valiantly in Norway, Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia before being captured in 1944. Liberated from the Germans after the war in Europe ended, he was transferred to Burma, but the fighting ended before he had a chance to wield his sword against the Japanese. He was the only soldier in World War II known to have killed an enemy soldier with a longbow.

An Englishman named Douglas Bader lost both his legs in an airplane accident before the war. He joined the RAF regardless and flew as a fighter pilot, shooting down 22 enemy planes before being himself shot down over occupied France. One of his artificial legs was lost when he bailed out, but the Germans allowed the British to send him a new one. He promptly used his new leg to leave the hospital and escape. Re-captured, he was sent to a prison camp, from which he attempted to escape many times. The German commandant, embarrassed that he couldn’t keep a legless man from escaping, confiscated Bader’s artificial limbs. He was shamed into returning them—only to have Bader escape once more. Bader was eventually sent to Colditz, a castle in which the “most dangerous” POWs were kept. Bader convinced the German commander there that he couldn’t get enough exercise walking around the castle courtyard and was allowed out into the countryside. He filled his artificial legs with chocolate and tobacco from his Red Cross parcels and used these as gifts to the local farmers as part his own personal anti-Nazi propaganda campaign.

Captain Charles Hazlitt Upham, a native of New Zealand, is one of only three men in history to win two Victoria Crosses. The first was for numerous acts of heroism during the battle for Crete, including killing 22 Germans in a single engagement. The second VC came in July 1942, in Egypt, when he single-handedly destroyed a German tank and several machine gun nests with hand grenades, despite his elbow having earlier been shattered by an enemy bullet.

Maj. James Howard, U.S. Army Air Forces, was flying a Mustang fighter plane when the American bombers he was escorting were attacked by German fighters. Separated from the rest of his squadron, he single-handedly took on thirty enemy planes. Over the course of a half-hour, during which three of his plane’s four machine guns jammed, he made repeated diving and climbing attacks on the Germans, shooting down at least three of them. Not a single American bomber was shot down that day, in large part because of Howard’s actions.

Maynard H. Smith was a ball-turret gunner on an American B-17 bomber when his plane was hit by anti-aircraft shells and caught fire. Despite the flames that were closing in on him, Smith aided two wounded crewmembers, then began using a fire extinguisher on the flames. At that moment, two German planes attacked, so he took time out from his fire fighting to man one of the bomber’s machine guns. Then he began to throw burning ammunition boxes out of the plane. When he had used up the last fire extinguisher, he urinated on the flames and used his hands and feet to beat them out. For his actions, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

During the Battle of Leyte in 1944, the Japanese launched a counterattack against the U.S. beachhead. Pvt. Harold H. Moon was in a foxhole targeted by enemy gunfire and mortars. After those with him in the foxhole were killed, Moon manned a machine gun and fired on the advancing Japanese. Surrounded, he held his position for over four hours. The Japanese sent an entire platoon to finish him off, but he killed eighteen of them and forced the others to retreat. He was shot and killed while trying to throw a grenade. After the fight was over, nearly two hundred Japanese dead were found near his foxhole.

During the Battle of Britain, Flight Lieutenant John Nicolson’s fighter plane was damaged by the enemy and caught fire. Badly burned, Nicolson began to climb out of his cockpit, intending to bail out. Seeing a nearby German fighter plane, he climbed back into his cockpit, shot the German down, and only then bailed out. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty was a prominent official at the Vatican during the Nazi occupation of Rome. He helped numerous escaped Allied POWs and Jewish refugees avoid capture, hiding them in various locations and sometimes in the Vatican itself. When one man he was hiding developed appendicitis, O’Flaherty managed to smuggle him into a hospital and trick a German doctor into operating on the man.

Edward Charlton was a tank driver with the Irish Guard. While advancing into a German village, Charlton’s tank and several other tanks were damaged during an enemy counter-attack. Charlton exited his burning tank, dismounted its heavy machine gun and charged the enemy, firing from the hip. He single-handedly stopped the German attack. He continued fighting until he had been wounded three times, later dying from his wounds. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Jacques Lusseyran was a French teenager when he joined the Resistance in 1941. He did this despite having been totally blind since he was 8 years old. He helped recruit other members and distribute pro-resistance leaflets. In 1943, he was arrested by the Gestapo and was sent to Buchenwald. He managed to survive, though, and was liberated in April 1945.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, chaplain Father Joe Lacy landed with an Army Ranger unit on Omaha beach. While the rest of the unit took cover, Lacy remained exposed to heavy enemy machine gun and mortar fire while he pulled wounded men out of the water and gave comfort to the dying. One of his fellow soldiers later said he was “doing the work for which God had chosen him.”

On the island of Iwo Jima, on February 21, 1945, Marine PFC Donald Ruhl threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade, giving his life to save that of a fellow marine.

On the island of Iwo Jima, on February 27, 1945, Marine Gunnery Sergeant William G. Walsh threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade, giving his life to save those of his fellow marines.

On the island of Iwo Jima, on March 3, 1945, Marine PFC William R. Caddy threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade, giving his life to save those of his fellow marines.

On the island of Iwo Jima, on March 8, 1945, Marine PFC James D. LaBelle threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade, giving his life to save those of his fellow marines.

On the island of Iwo Jima, on March 14, 1945, Marine Private George Phillips threw himself on a Japanese hand grenade, giving his life to save those of his fellow marines.

On the 20th Anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, Dwight Eisenhower honored those who had given their lives fighting the Axis powers in World War II with the following words: "When I look at all of these graves, I think of the folks back in the States whose only son is buried here. Because of their sacrifice, they don't have the pleasure of grandchildren. Because of their sacrifice, my grandchildren are living in freedom."

To every single man and woman who fought against Nazi tyranny and Japanese aggression in whatever way they could—Thank you.

Thank you for your courage.

Thank you for your sacrifice.

Thank you for your compassion.

Thank you for the example you set.

Thank you for showing us it is possible to be a good person even when surrounded by evil.

Thank you for being there for your fellow warriors when they needed you.

Thank you for being there for complete strangers when they needed you.

Thank you for our freedom.

Thank you for saving the world.

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