Winter is more winter…when winter is in war.
December, 1944, American troops are surrounded by German soldiers in a small Belgian city called Bastogne. Out in the forest, on the outskirts of town, two paratroopers hide in a foxhole in the frozen ground. Here come the shells. They explode in the tree tops, and spray metal and lumber down on the soldiers. One GI gets his windpipe smashed.
His buddy uses his paratrooper knife to cut a hole in his neck. He yanks the ink cartridge out of a ballpoint pen and inserts the tube of the pen into the neck of the wounded soldier to allow him to breathe.
Years from now, somebody their son’s age will be principal of an American school, and he will suspend a child their great-grandson’s age, for using his finger as an imaginary pistol in a recess game of cops and robbers.
The Deserve Word
Before Bastogne was surrounded the American commander moved the hospital out of town, away from the shelling, which made great sense until a German Panzer tank battalion captured the hospital.
American medicine and supplies are now in the hands of the enemy. The doctors and medical staff are now POW’s…
…all but one… One doctor, aided by two Belgium nurses, is in charge of 700 injured soldiers…and when you read “injured,” put “battlefield” in front of it…Wounded GI’s lay in piss, poop, vomit, blood and pain…and waited their turn…
…and now their descendants live in the Age of Entitlement, where commercials tell them that “No one deserves the pain of…” and when that commercial is over, here’s another, “Everyone deserves a beautiful smile.”
I don’t know how to break it down to either political or correct. That I live has nothing to do with deserving. That I ever was, is All gift. That I still am, especially with my resume, is All gift. If you’ve got a pulse, you’ve got grace. If that isn’t your starting point you’re trying to recite your ABC’s without starting with A, B, and C.
From That To This In Four Generations
Neither side had the right clothing for winter. Trench foot is epidemic on both sides. The German boots were slightly better than the American boots. An American officer comes across a sergeant who has hoisted a dead German from a tree limb, has started a fire beneath his feet, trying to thaw him out, so he can take his boots.
Friendly fire was common. There is no outrage over being shelled by your own artillery or bombed by your own airplanes. It happened, it was part of war. It was all percentages, and you just wanted your side to be on the 51 and the other side on the 49, and let God figure out who gets to go home, marry Susie Q, make babies, have a life.
Listen to this one: an American GI is standing guard over some German POW’s. One of the Germans is getting on his nerves. “Quit smiling at me.” The smiling doesn’t stop. The GI raises his rifle, and he means it when he says, “You keep smiling and I’m gonna shoot you.”
Another GI intervenes. “He ain’t smiling. He’s lost his lips to frostbite.”
The American Gene Pool
Folks, we come from tough stock.
One of the most famous battles of the American Civil War was Gettysburg. Want to know what kicked it off? Shoes.
Many of the Confederates were marching barefoot, and by marching, we’re not strolling to the mailbox and back, we’re pumping some serious miles, on dirt roads, through rivers and woods, carrying sizable loads. They pass this little town, Gettysburg, and some of them think, let’s go back ‘n see if we can find some shoes there, and they run into Union cavalry…
It used to be a joke, a few decades ago, when Nike was telling Civil War descendants that we needed a different shoe for every sport and every form of exercise.
Now we’ve got gardening shoes!
We’ve Gotten Soft, But The Soft Is Recent
In the 1770’s a guy named Jefferson aimed high, thought he’d give posterity something to shoot for, when he put this line, “…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…” into a document he was working on.
Prior to 1776, for as long as human beings have been human beings, it wasn’t that way.
It wasn’t that long ago that “forty acres and a mule” sounded like a pretty fine situation, because a lot of America had neither land nor mule.
Better Than Money In The Bank
I started doing man work as a boy. My first job paid me $5 a day. I’d leave home wearing a white t-shirt and come home wearing a brown one. And really, really, really, I had it easy, compared to my father and his father, and back it goes…
I’ve got less hair and more waist, but what I’d mourn the most is thinking that I’d gone soft. Better than money in the bank is Knowing that you Can Do because You Have Done, all proven, all solid, all yours.
Consider this story a salute, to all those invisible ancestors, who endured man against man, man against nature, man against rock ‘n a hard place, and made it, made it long enough to make a chain, from them to us…
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we appreciate pretty, but respect toughness.
Other Bedtime Stories may be found on the Eighty-one Facebook page. Uncle P can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.