Wednesday, December 28, 2005

What Fools These Generals Be!

While doing research for my history of part of WWII, I came across a book that was written recently by a journalist (as opposed to a historian). It did not take me long to realize that the author seemed to think U.S. generals were buffoons while German generals were a breed apart. The author, of course, armed with sixty years of hindsight and a degree in journalism, really knew what should have been done.

No doubt the German generals were quite good in some areas. But I really doubt that U.S. generals were buffoons. In fact, my research pointed out several important details of WWII in Europe that may have escaped this nameless journalist.

One important detail was that the Germans lost the war. They were kicked out of Egypt Tunisia, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, Russia, Poland, and everywhere else they imposed themselves. They lost steadily for three solid years.

Another important detail that the journalist seemed to have missed was that the Germans fought over land contiguous to their own. That is, they did not have to launch an invasion over rough seas with a supply line that was some two thousand miles long. The Germans did not or could not even invade little England, which was a few miles away from France!

Finally, the journalist with all the right answers seemed to have missed the important fact that the U.S. was fighting two wars at the same time! We were dividing our resources between Europe and the Far East.

Yes, American generals had to learn how to conduct a type of war that no one had ever fought before. They made mistakes doing it. But they learned from their mistakes, did not give up, and stayed the course even when it was not clear that they were winning.

The Germans introduced blitzkrieg and technological innovations. But the Allies could move quickly and also innovated. On balance, the German generals got their butts kicked. But they seem to have won the media battle. German failures were attributed to Hitler and their few successes were attributed to the generals.

If Brig. General Mcauliffe were alive today, he would probably say “Aw, nuts” one more time.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Fallen Heroes

They're going pretty fast, those old soldiers from WWII. On the twelfth of December, Eli died. He was a third year student in The Citadel when his entire class was inducted into the military. They were trained and made officers. Eli was assigned to General Patton as his invasion of France was being prepared. Eli knew something about the General, since his older brother had served as Patton’s HQ Commandant since 1942 through the invasion of North Africa. Patton promoted his brother three times.
Of course Eli was not going to work for Patton as his brother had. He was going to be one of those expendable second lieutenants whose losses were so great in the 69th Infantry Division. But he did his full duty.

Eli swept through France and Belgium into Germany leading his men into battle as he went, attaining the rank of major. The Fighting 69th was the group that came up Buchenwald concentration camp.

Somehow Eli survived the bullets and was able to return home to central Kentucky in one piece. He got his degree at the University of Kentucky and was a framer who raised race horses and five kids. He did not whine or carp at his government for bad treatment or sympathize with the enemy.. He just carried on as normal a live as he could, passing away at the age of 83. What more can a country ask of its citizens?

There is no way Americans can repay its wartime soldiers, the often-forgotten heroes that quietly go about their business. But perhaps we can recognize Major Eli O. Jackson, Jr., for the hero that he was.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Freedom as a Catalyst

In my old files is a photograph of ancestors named Grover. I know who most of them are, too. The one in the back row a bit to the right of center with a beard was a U.S. Congressman in 1865. The folks in the picture are his brothers and sisters and a couple wives. They were all born about the turn of the century—the nineteenth century, that is.

What is remarkable about these people cannot be told from the photo. It is that they were all dirt-poor as kids. Their father was a farmer who lost a leg and who had to find another means of support for his twelve kids. He became a shoemaker in a small town in western New York State and supported everyone that way. It was through diligence and effort that he did a good job. What you see in the picture are fairly successful people in middle age, however grim they might appear. The seated man is a successful doctor while the congressman is a lawyer, politician, banker, farmer and land owner.

Dirt-poor no longer, theirs is a typical American story of personal growth in a nation that was growing.

The Grovers were religious. But people in other nations are religious. What seems to have made a difference with the Grovers and countless others is that they were optimistic, religious and free. Freedom was the catalyst, but the peculiar mixture of optimism and religion with the freedom made their lives and even ours possible. It is what separates us from the rest of the world, certainly from Europe.

There is an American culture. It has been in development for over two centuries and it is thrusting us forward toward unrivaled wealth and power. We do not want to give it up to satisfy the people who have their eyes fixed on European styles of civilization. Most of our ancestors came here to get away from European ways. They knew something some of us seem to have forgotten.

I am republishing a 1903 Grover genealogy. Included in the old details of the family will be corrections and additions and a few family stories. The Internet has allowed much more information to be discovered since 1903. My mother was one of the last to be recorded in the old book, so I can add a few more generations. It will not be a big seller, but for those of us in the Grover clan, it will be a very important book, almost as important as the family Bible.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Freedom Crosses the Centuries

Fortunate in friends, I was offered by one a copy of the book 1776 by the careful writer, David McCullough. As I read his pages, gobbling up the history of the Continental Army in America, I came across a quote from The New England Chronicle signed by a person who called himself "A Freeman." He said about America's battle for freedom, "Never was a cause more important or glorious than that which you are engaged in; not only your wives, your children, your distant posterity, but humanity at large, the world of mankind, are interested in it; for if tyranny should prevail in this great country, we may expect liberty to expire throughout the world." I added the italics.

What foresight! The writer was prophesying , correctly as it turned out, that if America lost its battle against England, the potential for freedom in the world would suffer in the distant future. Somehow this writer was able to step outside his daily experience and see across the centuries.

It is early in the morning of December 15, 2005 as I write this. Headlines flashing across the Internet (from the AP) are saying, "Iraqis voted in a historic parliamentary election Thursday, with strong turnout reported in Sunni Arab areas that had shunned balloting last January. . ."

Americans are responsible for the ability of Iraqis to vote. They are the distant posterity written about in 1776. While not necessarily blood-descendants of the Revolutionary soldiers as some of us are, today's freedom-loving Americans who cared enough to fight so that Iraq citizens might be free, are political descendants. They are the ones whose American heritage takes them to a distant country so that they might share their freedom.

Freedom is infectious. The American Heritage is important not only to Americans but to others around the world. People want to be free. Not only do most of us want to help them to be free, but it is in our self interest to make them so; democratic nations seldom war against each other.

It will be a glorious badge of honor to wear--the one that says "I helped Iraq to free itself from tyranny." Many of us see Iraqi freedom as the beginning of freedom throughout the Middle East. It is still true that "humanity at large, the world of mankind, are interested in it."

Thank you, David McCullough and thank you "A Freeman," for reminding us.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pages of History

When I was a kid in the late 1930’s we had several Regular Army officers as friends of the family. They told stories about Col. George Patton and his high society following, his polo ponies, and the envy that followed him because he was so wealthy. Even the doctor the army sent over to save Patton’s life in 1945, Glenn Sperling, was a good friend of one of the members of my family. And my first cousin was Patton’s HQ Commandant. Both my cousin and his wife knew the Pattons and General Wayne and Mrs. Clark.

It was natural for me to follow the career of the famous General as I grew up. Here it is, years later, and I am still involved with his career, this time by writing a small history of WWII in which Patton took a large part.

That is why I have added two pages to my conglomeration of web sites. I have added one for General Patton and one for the Fifth Army. I am hoping that those people who are interested in reading something new about Patton and Clark and the Fifth Army will take a look at my book. It is the only new material that has been written for years.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A General in the Marines

“I’ve sent a lot of men to their deaths,” my friend once told me. It has been my pleasure to know a man who has seen all kinds of trouble, and he has seen it on behalf of his beloved country. In World War II Tom enlisted as a swab jockey recruit, the lowest form of life there was in the U.S. Navy. Or anywhere else, for that matter. I know. I have been one.

A big man, half American Indian and half Irish, he stands at least six foot two. So there wasn’t any way for him to hide behind other recruits. He just stood out.

Somehow Tom and the Navy parted. He immediately enlisted in the Marines at a very low level. I know he flew pursuit planes. And that he was in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I also know that when Tom was finally retired, he was a Lt. General in the Marines. He is not the type to run a desk. He is what some would call a combat general. I have seen him in full dress Marine uniform with lots of medals and campaign ribbons. I don’t know what they all mean, except for the Purple Heart.

Even though I am still deathly afraid of military officers, I generated enough courage to ask Tom if I could write a small book about him. I figured that anyone who went into the military as a seaman recruit, who went through three wars, and who emerged as a three star general in the Marines must have a hell of a story to tell. And I have five books to my credit already, one of them a small history of part of WWII in North Africa and Italy.

But when I asked permission to write, this giant Marine said, “What for? I didn’t do anything.”

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Elusive Oil Profits

There is a move afoot in the U.S. Senate to force oil companies to give a tenth of their profits to several worthy causes, such as relief of the poor in the cold northeast. Beside the fact that this is outside the scope of U. S. lawmaking ability, the idea has a great deal more dumbness attached to it.

Oil company profits are large in lump sum amounts but not as a per cent of sales. Therefore news media and populist senators talks in terms of the total amount, not per cent of sales. They seem to forget that profits are used to pay taxes. Since profits are taxed twice, they pay lots of taxes. Profits in the form of dividends are also used to help stockholders make ends meet.

Congress wants to stop oil companies from drilling for more oil. If they allowed more drilling, supplies would increase and prices would fall. But Congress wants no part of that. It wants more dependence on offshore supplies, less domestic supply and profits handed out so as to impoverish stockholders. (All oil stock holders are not rich--many are ordinary people who live on their dividends). Some senators are very liberal with other people's money.

In the final analysis, corporations do not pay taxes. They simply pass them along to the users of their products. The largess of congress with oil company profits may well result in another price increase.

It goes back to the notion that all money belongs to the Government. The Government just lets us keep some, part of the time.