Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Eleven Eleven Eleven

Though I never knew him, the story goes like this...  My Great Uncle Nils, the day after the United States entered the Great War, went to Sausalito and took the ferry to San Francisco (the Golden Gate Bridge did not exist at that time) where he enthusiastically enlisted in the Amry.  After basic training, he was shipped to France and was immediately sent marching to the front to counter the Ludendorff Offensive which had made huge advances toward Paris.  With little rest and probably still a bit seasick from the long ocean voyage, he went over-the-top and into the Argonne Forest.  Whether he was one of the famous "Last Battalion" I honestly don't know, but what I do know is that he was cut down by machine gun fire not long after the assault began.  He took a ride across the river Styx, departing in Northern California and reaching the other side in a wasteland called a forest.  He rests someplace here now...
Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery (France)
Has there ever been a war so terrible to have been a soldier in?  Only a few battles from other wars are comparable in their scale of brutality and certainty of death (e.g. Stalingrad, Gettysburg), unless you start to take into account civilian casualties and events such as the firestorms of Tokyo, Hamburg, Dresden, the Battle of Berlin, Hiroshima, etc.  Whether you are talking about WW1's Eastern Front, Western Front, Gallipoli, or Isonzo, the casualty and death toll were horrifying.  There's no doubt in my mind that if it possible for any of the soldiers stuck in the thick of those battlefields to transfer through time to Okinawa, Tunisia, Khe Sanh, etc, and trade one version of Hell for a seemingly lesser, they would have done so.
I've sometimes felt that I've been reincarnated from a prior life that ended in those cryptic trenches.  I remember taking a train from Frankfurt to Paris and for whatever reason, the train had to stop somewhere on route.  Passengers were allowed to disembark temporarily and as I did I immediately recognized the tortured landscape around us.  I remarked to the people I was with, "Do you realize where we are?"  None did, though we stood in a giant killing field.  The trench lines were still recognizable.
Why do we take time to remember the mistakes of the past if we continue to repeat them?  God damn the people who have the power to prevent war, but let it happen anyway.

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