Category Archives: WW II

Which US war had most bald-faced liars?

Empire of Japan finalizes surrender aboard the USS Missouri September 3, 1945. By Army Signal Corps – Naval Historical Center Photo # USA C-2719. Photograph from the Army Signal Corps Collection in the U.S. National Archives., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2684817

WWI had an Armistice Day… it celebrated the end of that particular horror.     WWII had VE [Victory in Europe] Day, and VJ [Victory over Japan] Days.   Celebrations to the end of two more horrors.   Then there was Korean Armistice Day, which nobody ever heard of, much less celebrated.   And, of course, there’s Veterans Day, just acknowledging all us veterans no matter when we were in the military.

The trouble with having undeclared wars and losing them is that nobody knows why they’re there in the first place, what it takes to win it, or how to know when it ends.    Maybe for Vietnam we should celebrate the day the last helicopter with people hanging off it lifted from the US Embassy in Saigon.

The last helicopter leaving the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon April 29, 1975. By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31234270

But now there’s this:

Honoring Vietnam Veterans Day, March 29, 2018

US landing craft 1945, Iwo Jima

Ever noticed [assuming you’re old enough] you never heard a WWI vet bragging about whatever it was he did during his time in the service?    Most I ever encountered never spoke of it at all.

And WWII veterans are pleased to tell you they spent the war burying bodies in the Solomon Islands, or in a Japanese POW camp, surrendered without firing a shot, or as a postal clerk in North Africa.   It’s always been surprising to me just how few guys actually were on the front lines ducking bullets [or saying they were during the decades afterward].

Same with Korean War veterans.     Nobody ever wants to tell you he was on a ridge with a bunch of other cold, hungry, scared GIs gunning down swaths of Chinese with a quad .50 machine gun.    In fact, Korean War vets hardly say anything at all.

That’s the reason I’ve wondered many times why the same is not and has never been true of Vietnam vets.     I’ve seen file clerks, supply clerks, mechanics,  and one particular logistics officer all claim to have been heroes, laying ambushes in the jungle.    More recently I even ran across a guy who was in Korea at the same time I was when there were few incursions and firefights on the DMZ a decade after the ceasefire.     Even knowing I was THERE the silly bastard began laying BS about how he and his unit were setting up ambushes on the DMZ… he was in the 8th Cavalry, which was on the DMZ…..   But nothing else he said held any water.    Maybe he was jealous of all those finance clerks in DaNang who’ve now become jungle fighters by hindsight.

vietnam era veteran

They’ve even got these ‘Vietnam Era’ caps so we can all get into the act. Yeah, I’m one of them Vietnam era vets….. spent my tour in Asia crawling through the jungle trying to get a dose of clap for my country. If I ware one of these I’d be what they used to call, “All hat and no cows”, same as all those REMFs on patrol.

But I’ve digressed.   My real question is this:   What was it about the Vietnam War that brought out the lies and the brags?    Why were WWII file clerks never tempted to pretend they were heroes, but the Vietnam War file clerks bought themselves ball caps proclaiming themselves brothers to the finance clerks, the supply clerks, and all the other rear echelon folks who discovered later they’d been combat vets.  Hell hundreds happily tell one another they’ve been troubled with PTSD.     Not more than two hours ago I was talking to one who was in personnel administration who is actually drawing a service-connected disability for PTSD.    A personnel admin clerk.

Vietnam never had an Iwo Jima.    No Guadalcanal or Midway.   No Bataan Death March.     When US troops landed on Guadalcanal August, 1942, they’d never seen any movies about jungle warfare.    Surprise!    They had no idea what they were in for.

Maybe that’s the distinguishing factor.    Maybe it was all those WWII movies, John Wayne pulling the pins out of grenades with his teeth.   Frank Sinatra drooling over Gina Lollobrigida between firefights in Burma.   Robert Mitchum outsmarting the Japanese while protecting a nun [Deborah Kerr].    Maybe that was the missing factor, the systemic flaw in the Vietnam War that caused all those non-combatants to spend all the remaining decades of their lives trying to correct it.

After all, shooting water buffalo out the door of a helicopter with a machine gun is a story that can be embellished with a lot more vigor than stories about typing a company morning report at the motor pool.

Don’t get me wrong.  Not all Vietnam veterans are lying.    If a guy tells you he was a Navy engineer, and upon questioning tells you he ‘poured concrete for the Navy’, he’s telling you the truth.    If he tells you he repaired field telephones, he’s telling you the truth.

And there’s always that one-out-of-ten, or one-out-of-twenty, who actually did serve in the jungle and participated in all that stuff you’ve seen in the same movies the file clerks with the Vietnam veteran caps got their stories from.

So how can you tell if a Vietnam veteran is lying to you?   Well one of the ways is to listen to his claim.     If he says he was a medic in a VD clinic he’s probably telling you the truth.

But if the US is going to carry on endless presidential wars without having to re-institute the draft they’re going to have to keep glorifying their warriors.  And  a person who spent a tour in Asia greasing and changing the oil on jeeps in Saigon loves being called a warrior.   Loves the feel when he pulls a straight face and announces, “Yeah, I fought in Vietnam.”

Old Jules

 

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Echoes of the past – some books I used to love

In the early 1960s while I was stationed in Korea an officer I worked with dropped a paperback book onto my desk.   “You need to read this.”    The book was The Revolt of Gunner Asch, by Hans Helmut Kirst.     A novel about a young man in the German army during WWII.

I loved that book and it launched me into several years of good reading of other tomes by Hans Helmut Kirst.     Several Gunner Asch sequels, The Night of the Generals, The Officer Factory, The Adventures of Private Faust, The Seventh Day, and the Nights of the Long Knives.

So a while back I decided to try to find those Kirst books to read again before I die.    The 40-or-so libraries in the system here didn’t have it, so I put out a search on Inter Library Loan, came up with The Officer Factory, but none of the others.

The Officer Factory arrived and reinforced my hopes I could find the others somewhere.

Well, they’re out there New and Used on Amazon, but the days of inexpensive reads for used books are long gone.

https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=sr_pg_2?rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Ahans+helmut+kirst&page=2&keywords=hans+helmut+kirst&ie=UTF8&qid=1516206685

I’m thinking I’ll have to wait until my next lifetime to read the rest of those great books.    Don’t know what’s happened to the reading public when libraries don’t carry titles just because they happen to have been written before the librarians were born.

If you happen to be hungry for something to read and have money to spend on books, check out Hans Helmut Kirst ….. you won’t regret it.

Old Jules

Kamikaze Swimmers Finally Reach Pearl Harbor

The Onion – News in PhotosWorldwarISSUE 47•33Aug 16, 2011

http://o.onionstatic.com/images/15/15824/original/700.jpg?2614

 

 

When the world ended

Hi readers.  Thanks for coming by for a read.

Driving to Kerrville yesterday my mind wandered to the uncle of my ex-wife.  Uncle Ed.  Interesting man.

He was on the staff of Douglas MacArthur during WWII and was one of the first group of people into Japan after they agreed to stop fighting.  Stood on the USS Missouri while the documents were being signed by all the parties and served on MacArthur’s staff for a while when MacArthur was Supreme Commander of Allied Pacific Forces.

Uncle Ed had a lot to say about all that when he could find someone to listen.  I listened a good bit.

Ed thought there were a lot of serious flaws in the Japanese surrender speeches and documents by the Emperor and the other high-ranking Japanese officials.  Fact is, neither the Emperor, nor the high-underlings ever mentioned the word, surrender.  Nothing in any of it contained anything suggestingJapanese Imperial behavior toward the conquered lands was reprehensible, no mention was made of the treatment of prisoners, the tortures, the slaughters.

In fact, the ‘surrender amounted to a Japanese admission they’d tried to do what they thought was best for Asia and Japan, and lacked the moxey to pull it off.  The Emperor confirmed this as his view in a presentation to the Diet four days after the arrival of MacArthur onto Japanese soil.  Immediately following the speech by the Emperor his uncle, Prince somebody-or-other went further and proclaimed Japanese behavior was no different from the behavior of other strong, modern nations.  He pointed out they didn’t take Indochina from the Indochinese, but from the French, didn’t take Malaya from the Malayans, but from the British.  And so on.

Maybe it’s actually no surprise the Mayor of Osaka made his statements recently that the ‘comfort girls’ they forced to serve their troops were just a necessary evil to keep up the morale.

Carolyn’s uncle Ed recalled the Japanese aristocracy was egalitarian in this regard.  He smiled that within five days of the arrival of US troops in Yokohama they’d brought in hundreds of peasant girls to serve in brothels to keep up the morale of occupying US troops.  The money from those whore houses, the supposed, was the first significant US currency to circulate in Japan after the war.  A few hundred thousand GIs need a lot of comforting.

I don’t suppose there’s actually any reason the Japanese today should feel any shame and remorse for the actions of their grandfathers.  Any acknowledgement.  The fact is, Asia remembers for them, even though the US has forgotten.  Of all the countries in the world in danger of flexing their military muscles, probably there’s not one with as many willing hands on whatever it would take to stop them among their potential adversaries.

Digression:  Aside from the deck of the USS Missouri and the whore houses, one of Ed’s most vivid recollections of immediate post-War Japan was that every civilian vehicle he saw ran on charcoal.  Charcoal!  Imagine that!

Old Jules

Graham Greene – The Heart of the Matter – Book Review

[With the exception of Brighton Rock] I’ve never read a book by Graham Greene I didn’t consider worth tucking away for at least one future reading.  I encountered The Heart of the Matter too late in life to feel any confidence I’ll live long enough to enjoy this one again, but that’s the result of the aging process, not the book.  It will be there with the others still waiting if I kick before I get around to it again.

Set in an imaginary West African British colony early during WWII, The Heart of the Matter is vaguely reminiscent of  Maugham’s Ashenden series in some ways, Of Human Bondage, in others, with a touch of Heart of Darkness thrown in for seasoning.  Scobie, the aging, passed-over-for-promotion Deputy Commissioner of Police, is the primary character and the only European character in the book who loves Africa and wants nothing more than to remain there his entire life.

However, his wife, Louise, hates it, bludgeons him with his lack of upward mobility, harnesses his kindness and determination to avoid causing her pain even though there’s no love left between them, and tortures him with guilt.  She frequently declares tearfully he doesn’t love her and draws his assurances, “Of course I love you.”

The native population loves his unique respect and fairness in the execution of his duties whenever the individuals are not involved in crime.  When they are involved they despise him for identical reasons.  The Indian and Syrian merchants and Neutral Nation Shipping and Smuggling concerns mostly just would rather he could be bribed or tricked into seeming to be vulnerable to bribes.

Through this tightening stricture of War, Colonial idiosyncracies, needy personal relationships, and intrigue Greene threads Scobie’s strait-jacketed life along a complex and interesting plot worthy of far more well-known and durable writers.

I’d suggest readers who’ve only been exposed to Brighton Rock might find themselves surprised to discover in The Heart of the Matter that Greene is a writer they want more of.  Same as so many other of Greene’s works.

Old Jules

WWII Time Warp Encounter

The father of a man I used to know had been a Hungarian tank commander on the Eastern front during WWII.  (He bore a striking resemblance to an aging  Robert Shaw in his role as a German tank commander in Battle of the Bulge).  He was there for the Axis invasion of the USSR, all the way to the suburbs of Moscow.

He was captured by the Soviets early in the war before they began shooting their officer prisoners, then exchanged and sent back to Hungary to recuperate.  But later as the casualties mounted and the Eastern Front meat grinder demanded more meat, he was sent back.

One of the battles late in the war provided him a ticket to a German Hospital facility and an injury sufficient to keep him there until the surrender.  Surrender, by incredible luck, he vowed, to US forces.   He was held in a camp while prisoners from USSR-held  countries were sent back for mass executions.   His membership in the NAZI party in Hungary would have made his demise a certainty.

Disguised as a woman, this man escaped the camp and journeyed to South America.  That’s where my amigo was born.  Afterward the family moved to Canada.  I became friends with his son during the ’70s at the University of Texas where he was several years ‘all-but-dissertation’ for his PHD in Linguistics.  His father’s status as a ‘wanted’ war criminal in Hungary remained in force throughout the old man’s entire life.

I asked him once about the Eastern Front experience, knowing he was unrepentant.  I’d been carrying a nagging curiosity about it for years.

Those were heady times,” he smiled, Kind of fun, actually.  Going up against infantry and squadrons of Soviet cavalry in an armored vehicle.  Sometimes you might kill a hundred men before breakfast.

He stopped and pondered a moment.

Then they got the T-34.  That took a lot of the fun out of it.”

I guess it did.  The other side never really appreciated how much fun it was, though.

Old Jules

 Panzerlied (Battle of the Bulge with english intro)

http://youtu.be/8JDkdc246QQ