Naked war conversations

Blogging on war in a war zone is an interesting phenomenon. I am not sure it helps us understand it any more than we did when we had more “professional” journalists covering combat and the things around it, but it does remind us of one thing: many of the people fighting are just “kids” and are as human as the rest of us. Maybe even more so.

It seems that many of these blogs add that ‘slice of life’ or even of ‘death’ that brings us smack into the tragic human experience. One has said that there will be wars and rumors of war until the end of time. Likely so. But regardless of that fact, or at least opinion, human beings are human beings – on both sides. We can never, never forget that.

Throughout my life, I have been associated with those who have been in war and have listened to the stories of Americans who fought in Europe in WWII, Africa, Sicily and the Pacific. I often heard the stories of the (then) kids who flew in the bombers over Europe, watching their buddies getting blown out of the skies and the bombs below them making puff balls where people lived. One afternoon was spent talking to the Burgermeister of a small German town who was at Omaha beach – on the Wehrmacht side. He told of how he looked out and saw more ships than he ever imagined could exist that cold June morning in 1944. He ended up in an American prisoner farm in Arkansas where “the food was better than anything I had ever eaten.” I also had an acquaintance who had been a teenage panzer driver in the German army in Russia, and another Russian friend who was a sailor on a Russian submarine when the batteries exploded – he still could barely walk 30 years later.  Another German man, my landlord for a while, had endured the war (also as a teeneage German soldier), survived 10 years as a German prisoner of war in the Soviet Union, and lived to his 50’s in Germany – then took his own life for no known reason.

They were all very, human, and hearing the stories as seen through their eyes – on both sides – I was convinced that they felt many of the same feelings and cried many of the same tears.

War is like life – stranger than fiction. You could never write a novel so strange.

My father died during the Korean conflict when I was only 2. He was in Naval Intelligence in Guam, marking maps of Inchon harbor. But he did not die in combat – he got sick – they thought it was Malaria and gave him antibiotics – totally wrong thing – he had Lupus. He died 8 months later in Topeka Kansas. completely human. My mother was 21 and pregnant with my sister. We went to school on the GI Bill under the War Orphans Act and I was still classified Sole Surviving Son when I got to draft age – during Vietnam.

Speaking of Vietnam, I had one friend who served three tours there, a Green Beret serving in the highlands as an advisor to the Montanyard tribesmen. They saw a lot of combat. He never even had a bullet come close in Vietnam, though. Then he got back to the states, tried to break up a fight outside a California bar, and got shot through the back. The bullet barely missed his spine. He survived and went on to have a great life and a house full of lively kids.

Another childhood acquantance shot himself in the leg to get out of Vietnam and a classmate who graduated with me from high school was in a car wreck in Vietnam and came home a parapalegic. We used to drive in to UT together for classes (yes he had one of those specially-equipped cars).

Another a fine and outstanding young man, a son from a missionary family I know well, was a helicopter pilot – shot down in combat and killed in Vietnam. His name is on the wall and his parents, fine people, were still missing him badly years later.

Later on I knew many pilots and counted some as friends. The Cold War was on in Europe. Training missions were rigorous. One of them was training in an F-4 over the Mediterranean and something went wrong. He and the back-seater ejected. The guy in the back made it, but Charlie hit his helmet on the canopy coming out. He was dead before he hit the water. I heard that another friend who had transferred to England was flying in an ‘aggressor’ squadron mock dogfight and he clipped wingtips with another jet fighter. He ejected through a ball of fire as the plane hit the trees. I heard he survived but was burned badly. He had been a friend of Charlie’s.

These were all very human people. They were injured, or killed, or died of illness in strange and unexplainable ways. Some were in real war and some practicing for war or trying to prevent war or just in the war of life. It gets very hard to discern over time.

Maybe I am strange because I often listened to people who have suffered from war and was in a family which lost a father and husband during a war – though from illness. The blogging reminds me of what I already knew. People are human and lives are fragile. Courage is an extremely necessary ingredient.

To those who may not have experienced such trajedies in life, perhaps the blogs are eye-opening. I only hope that the open eyes see the human beings involved and understand the preciousness of life.

2 thoughts on “Naked war conversations

  1. Even though I was in the war, even though I escorted media to two memorials for Airmen who died during the war, even though I paid attention to new lists of deceased soldiers, the reality of the loss didn’t hit me until I got a call about one of my friends being killed over there. He didn’t die in a fierce battle. He died in a freak helicopter accident. It WAS stranger than fiction. When I had to go to his memorial — not as a media escort but as a mourner — I was changed forever.

  2. Pingback: green beret training

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