I know that Memorial Day is, officially, a time for honoring those who died in service to their country, and Veteran’s Day is the time for honoring those lucky enough to have survived. But in practice, we take this weekend to honor all those who have served our country.
As with all things, it means more when it gets personal. Two weeks ago, Shar’s cousin Laurence Martin passed away. He was a veteran of the 71st Division in France, Germany, and Austria from 1943-1946 and liberated Gunskirchen-Lager, one of Hitler’s concentration camps. In this time when we hear of people denying that the Nazi concentration camps even existed, it’s important to preserve what these soldiers witnessed. The booklet pictured on the left can be accessed on the web. It records what the soldiers found and how they dealt with the situation.
WILLARD G. WYMAN, Major General, wrote in the forward, “The damning evidence against the Nazi war criminals found at Gunskirchen Lager is being recorded in this booklet in the hope that the lessons learned in Germany will not soon be forgotten…. I saw Gunskirchen Lager myself before the 71st Division had initiated its merciful task of liberation. The horror of Gunskirchen must not be repeated. A permanent, honest record of the crimes committed there will serve to remind all of us in future years that the freedom and privileges we enjoy in a democratic nation must be jealously guarded and protected.”
It’s hard for me to imagine how soldiers like Larry Martin were able to witness what they did, clean up the mess, care for the living and bury the dead, and then go home to places like Marion, Iowa, and lead normal, productive lives. There’s a good reason they were called the Greatest Generation. And to honor their service, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to read a little about what they accomplished: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/Gunskirchen.html
On a lighter note, the June issue of The Smithsonian Magazine has a reference to Jack Fogarty who served with the Army’s 98th Evacuation Hospital in the Pacific Theater in 1944-1945. He developed a close friendship with a fellow soldier, John MacDonald and MacDonald’s wife, Mary. While Jack and John were in the Pacific, Mary wrote to both men, and Jack Fogarty replied to her letters with illustrated envelopes showing scenes of camp life. The friendship lasted for a lifetime until Mary died, in 2003,and John died in 2007. John and Mary’s daughter recently donated a collection of the envelopes to the National Postal Museum. They can be seen at: http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/. In a world where email is the standard, and nobody writes “real” letters anymore, these are a fascinating record of what the world was like at that time. And one more thing to admire about the Greatest Generation.
Thank a veteran. Most of the WWII vets are at least 90, and more than 600 of them are dying each day. We don’t have a lot of time left.