Friday, November 11, 2016

On this Veterans Day

"These GIs could not be let down. This was neither the time nor the chance for tactical fencing. The "Lost Battalion" had to be rescued, the German threat to the Yank breakthrough smashed, at any cost.

Thus, on the bright, hot afternoon of August 10, 1944, with magnificent daring, doughboy-laden tanks spearheading the 320th Regiment's attack barreled up the road directly into the powerful positions of the Wehrmacht's elite.

Out of 55 tanks 31 were knocked out in a few hours of furious fighting.

But the Nazi grip on the Mortain redoubt was cracked.

In the bloody and confused struggle which continued on throughout the night and next day many units of the regiment themselves became lost or surrounded, the attack disorganized.

During the following night, under the flares of the Luftwaffe, the remaining men of the 1st and 3rd Battalions were reorganized, combined. At dawn the infantrymen, without the aid of armor, stormed Mortain and the crest of the ridge, seizing both. The Lost Battalion was rescued, its wounded cared for by all the medical resources of the regiment.

The Battle of Mortain, the most dramatic in the 320th's combat record, exemplifies the regiment's relentless style of fighting, the driving power that has been used with four armies in five countries and has been called upon continuously from Normandy through Bastogne to the east bank of the Elbe. The 320th and her superb comrade regiments, the 134th and 137th, form a division - the 35th (Santa Fe) Division - whose record of achievement in the European campaigns ranks with the best."

This is an excerpt from The History of the 320th Infantry Regiment, outlining a battle during WWII as US troops attempted to wrestle France out of the hands of the Germans.  My father, John Loyd Gray, was wounded and taken prisoner of war on August 11, 1944.  I always wondered what he was going through that day because he spoke so sparingly of it.  Except to say that the Germans intervened by taking his bleeding and broken body to a hospital in Paris where German doctors labored to save his limbs and his life.  

Irony at its best.

He was one of those doughboys on foot inches from the tracks of those huge, clamoring tanks, plodding  courageously forward, one foot in front of the other.  A small piece of ground at a time.  From one hedgerow to the next.  

Until a machine gun ripped his legs out from under him and he fell wounded into the mud and blood- thousands of miles from home.

Veterans Day couldn't have come at a better time.  While Americans are marching in the streets protesting the election process that defines our republic, while people are kneeling or sitting through our national anthem, while our country quivers and quakes in the throes of an enormous divide, Veterans Day provides a reminder of what it took to get here in the first place.

My father was a 19 year old rural American (we've heard about those rural Americans these last few days) when he volunteered to fight for his country.  By the time he was 21 he had two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart, and battle scars.  About the age of so many of the youngsters marching in the streets of cities, towns, and on the campuses of universities around this country.  They can thank him and every other combat soldier, men and women, for giving them that right to march.  They can thank him and all soldiers of the past for sacrificing part, or in some cases all, of their lives for the right to protest the very thing that defines us as a free nation.  They can thank everyone who has spent their time or their blood in our military securing the greatness of this nation we call the United States.

I don't have any astute prose to offer here.  Just facts.  Just a piece of history.  And an undying sense of pride for one man in particular, my father, for having the courage to defend all that we hold sacred.

And I can't help but feel a little disgusted at those who disrespect those sacred things.  But my father would forgive you and my Father forgives you, so I guess that it will just have to be alright for me.

Thank you, Dad.  And believe me, I'm trying to do right by you.

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