On Sunday, the day before the anniversary of D-Day, I visited the National World War II museum in New Orleans. A visit to this facility should be required for every voting citizen. I am a small government guy, but I would support government subsidized trips to this museum (and two or three other key historic locations) as a prerequisite for receiving one’s high school diploma.
I thought the museum did an incredible job of making it clear that WWII was a confrontation between freedom and tyranny, without glorifying war. The curators and designers did not play the current President’s game of apologizing for America’s role in saving the world from tyranny; neither did they depict America’s role as a panacea. One cannot visit the exhibits without realizing that in many cases, even our most celebrated generals were capable of abject stupidity. That is not an overt criticism, but an acknowledgement of the chaos of war and the endless possibilities for Murphy’s Law to manifest itself, often repeatedly in the same battle, under such extreme conditions of duress.
You don’t need me to reiterate the battles or the history for you here; rather I want to focus on some personal takeaways. First, I am quite well read on the subject of WWII. At the age of twelve, I had the honor of getting to know my first WWII veteran. My dad was a history buff as well and turned me on to books about the war. I devoured many.
As an adult, when I went to get a company physical in 1994, I took great pains to make an appointment with a physician who I knew had jumped with the 82nd at St. Mere Eglise. As soon as the gray haired old doctor walked into the room I said, “You jumped with the 82nd at St. Mere, didn’t you?” His back was to me and he froze. He turned slowly and said, “How in hell did you know that?” I told him I saw his name in the glossary of Ryan’s book “The Longest Day”. I was in his office for a good half hour as he told me stories of the war without further prompting. His waiting room was full of patients. At the end he said, “Aww hell…you look fine to me,” and signed off on my physical. That appointment was a highlight of my life.
I say all that to say this…the museum made me realize I don’t know a thing. There are displays of individual fighting men, winners of awards like, the Medal of Honor, the Bronze Star and Navy Cross, who performed utterly mind-blowing feats of heroism, and yet I had never read of any of them. Sure, there were a few I had read about in other books, but the museum humbles you. It makes you realize that the war was such a massive effort that one can barely scratch the surface of understanding the individual courage and sacrifice, and the human toll of the war.
The film “Beyond All Boundaries” is extremely moving and powerful, and a must see for visitors. But what moved me even more were the uniforms on display. There are uniforms which were actually worn during the war, and donated by vets or their families throughout the museum, complete with biographical information and the service history of the original wearer. I was struck by how small they all looked. I haven’t looked it up, but the average weight of these fighting men couldn’t have been more than 150 pounds. My son toured the museum with me. He is 22 and slim, and many of the uniforms would have been tight on him. And then it hit me, he would have been called “Pops” or something similar by many of the eighteen and nineteen year olds who stormed beaches from Normandy to Iwo Jima or manned ships at war. These were not supermen. Many were skinny scared kids. Yet they overcame all fear to win the war.
Despite the emotions I felt that day of awe, wonder, abject sadness and horror, I left the museum with one overriding feeling that hasn’t left me even now, five days later…regret. I can’t stop asking myself how did the culture of the West go from that level of valor and selflessness and determination, to one that has nominated Clinton and Trump? How is it that my generation is in the active process of allowing what one writer called the unholy trinity of media, entertainers, and leftist university professors, to do that which our grandparents would not allow Hitler, or Mussolini, or Stalin to do? Namely, the dismantling of the greatest nation on earth and its civic and ethical foundations, while leftists replace it with the same species of tyranny that those dictators fostered? How is it that as of this writing, one state is passing a law to mandate fascism against those who won’t use the absurd and invented transgender pronouns, while another has proposed a law to prosecute man-made climate change skeptics, while the majority of people in the nation seem powerless to stop it, and the US GOP led Congress fiddles? Is this not a war of those same ideologies, freedom versus tyranny? Is this not a bloodless WWIII? If it is, freedom is in the process of losing.
The whole thing is beyond repulsive. So who will lead us out of this no man’s land? Will Trump? My God, will Hillary? It is past time for us to follow our grandparent’s example. There’s only one way out of this and that’s right across the beach…right at the metaphorical machine guns. It’s time for brand new, multiple, individual acts of valor. More on that in an upcoming column.