Monday, May 27, 2019

Forgiveness of the Dead

On this day, 64 years ago, Americans gathered at the cemetery at Nettuno, near what had been the terrible charnel-house beachhead of Anzio, to dedicate what would become the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and to "honor" those killed in the war that had just ended.
You know how I loathe all the flag-waving, pontificating, self-justifying “memorial” dog-and-pony shows that serve only to make the living feel better about themselves and their willingness – or, worse, eagerness – to cheer on others to die for their country if it wasn’t for those dang bone spurs.

The closest to fitting "memorial day" act I’ve ever read of was LTG Truscott’s address that day.

Truscott had commanded the VI Corps at Anzio, and a lot of the dead guys there were from his outfits. And he was a hard man, known to be kind of salty, and was probably more sick of hearing the pious patriotic platitudes than I am.

So when the opening caprioling was done he looked out over the rows of “dignitaries” and reporters and guests, turned, and faced the rows of silent markers behind the rostrum.

Nobody knows exactly what he said – probably because there was either no plan to record his words or because he couldn’t be heard – but based on Bill Mauldin's account the gist was that Truscott didn’t see how there was anything particularly good or heroic about getting killed in your teens or 20s or 30s, and that while generals and politicians would tell you that all your dying was noble and sacrificial that most generals, anyway, kinda suspected that was pretty much bullshit.

He agreed that lots of them had died because somebody, maybe he, had fucked up and if that had happened he was grievously sorry and apologized to them. That he knew that was a big ask, but that he owed it to them to ask their forgiveness anyway.

And that he promised that if, in the coming years, he ever ran into anyone tubthumping a line of guff about the glory of war and heroic death that he, Truscott, would tighten the joker's shot group damn quick smart.

So as far as I’m concerned it'd be great if every damn politician and talking head can stay the hell away and leave those haunted graves to the grass, and the sky, and the dead, and those who knew and loved and lost them.
They won't, because that's not how we do "Memorial Day". But I wish they would.

But I will be in that cemetery today, sharing a drink with my Army brothers. I hope you will, too.

And, as always today, this.


  1. Germany had a tradition of annually mourning the fallen heroes.
    The nationalists exploited that and even used monuments in all villages and towns and cities with the names of the fallen and missing men from the Great War (WWI) as a means to cherish nationalism and militarism. The Nazis upped the ante some more about that.

    Germans were finally fed up with it after 1945, but a couple years after the war they began (in West Germany) to mourn all those who died in the wars -combatants and civilians alike - on the second Sunday before first advent. It's called "Volkstrauertag" (people's mourning day). We also added the dead from WW2 to the monuments, and there are also monuments commemorating the killed boys at bombed flak sites (schoolboys had to help the air defences in 1943-1945), the killed forced labourers and so on.

  2. There are no words
    No platitudes
    No rousing choruses
    That can comfort the hollow echo of a loved one lost to war
    No amount of Freedom
    No amount of Liberty
    No amount of Sacrifice
    Can dispel the shadows haunting the lives of those mourning

    Who mourns the women and children, the men who did not take up arms?

    At least Germany does...not so here in the US.

    Glorious dead
    Heroes all
    Valhalla awaits it's own

    All bullshit

    The US has a National Religion, a Righteous Faith, practiced and perfected by all adherents with prophets, and Priests, laity, and Acolytes...

    We believe in Violence
    We have put our faith in carnage
    We are practitioners of murder
    We are the very things we condemn

    Now, I wish this for all

    on you, yours, and whomever you meet

  3. Bless you Chief. I'll share a drink with my departed compadres also, and make a toast to Sven's Flakhelfer schoolboys.

    I normally help the V put out flags on veterans graves at our local cemetery. And I used to get some grief from a diehard Trumpista who doesn't understand why I also put flags on the graves of drowned civilian fishermen, or put rum and tobacco on a Chinookan grave. I give him grief back though and tell him to kiss my keister and he has not complained since, at least not in front of me.

    Didn't make it this year with family commitments in Seattle. But I'll do it on the 30th. I never took to this making of Memorial Day into a three day holiday.

  4. I ended up in the old Civil War cemetery at Poplar Grove ( It's very much in the tradition of the more modern military cemeteries; very peaceful and manicured.

    Until you look at the rows of stones, and realize that way more than half of them aren't "headstones" at all but simply stone blocks with a number carved on them. These were the remnants of soldiers that lacked any sort of identity; nothing marked their original grave - or, it it had, was gone by the time the graves registration parties reached it - and nothing was left, if there had been anything, of a tag or scrap of paper with a name on it.

    There was just some bone, and scraps of cloth, and probably some less savory remnants, to be gathered up and put back in a hole with a stone with a number on it for the following hundred-plus years. And empty chair at a table, an empty peg on a wall, where the scraps of bone and cloth never returned.

    Perhaps even more grim were the separate files where the men of the U.S. Colored Troops were buried, still apart from the white soldiers in death as in life.

    All in all a very unsettling sort of day, one that raised more spectres than laid them.

  5. The living are sometimes worse off than the dead.
    I'll post this among my link dump next Saturday:

    1. "Only the dead have seen an end to war"...