A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Saturday, March 27, 2010

This Day in History

Making Amends

For those who recall this:

Sixty-five years ago today, a young man named Joe Flynn boarded ship preparing to depart Iwo Jima.  It departed the next day, his 20th birthday and the first day that the Old Man felt old.  During that approximately one month, more Americans died than in all the years of the Iraq War. 

He himself has now read that earlier post, having previously had difficulty opening the link.  However, he is disinclined to post his critique here.  He says I made several errors in my recollection of his recollections.  That would be recollections².  Thus: some corrections and additions. 


1. He did not go ashore in the first wave with his company commander.  He went ashore in the first wave with his battalion commander. 

The above is the beach.  Perhaps one of the figures is himself. 

2. On the occasion he was blown up, he was not returning with two satchels of anti-tank grenades, but with two satchels of C-2 explosives with which he proposed to plug bug holes.  Wait, that was Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  I meant caves that provided entrances to the underground tunnel complexes.  He specified that it was a mortar round that struck directly before him.  Concussion round, he said.  "If it had been a fragmentation shell, it would have filled me with holes."  Instead, he flew through the air while the high explosives flew to either side.  It happened in sight of his foxhole, and his buddy thought he had bought it.  He remembers the guy's name and told me, but I have now forgotten it.  Young Joe was completely numbed, as I said in the original post, but managed to drag himself along by his arms to the foxhole, where he simply slid in.  "Where am I bleeding?" he asked his foxhole-buddy.  The guy checked.  "Nowhere."  There was not even a scratch.  "How did I get through that whole battle and not get so much as a scratch?" he wonders now.  Gradually feeling returned.  It was like when your arm or leg has "fallen asleep," but this was the whole body -- filled with that tingling sensation. 

He went back to get the C-2. 

3. On the occasion when the marine next to him was shot between the eyes, he says a) there were only two of them, not three, when they came to the top and looked over and b) the man's name was Harry Blankenship.  The evening before, they had been off the line and everyone had gotten mail.  Young Joe looked over and saw Harry crying.  Tears were running down his face.  They asked him what was wrong.  "My grammy died," he said.  The next day, he was with his Grammy. 

Get Your Ass in Here

This is something I had forgotten.  While they were still on the beach and the DUKWs [pron. "ducks"] were bringing supplies ashore, the Japanese launched a mortar barrage.  Everyone went into foxholes.  Now, the DUKWs were driven and the supplies handled by Negro troops.  Young Joe had jumped in a foxhole with his Lieutenant.  Up to the lip of the foxhole comes a black marine, and he stops at the sight of two white men already in the hole.  "Permission to join you in the foxhole, sir?" he says. 

"GET YOUR ASS IN HERE!!" the LT suggested. 

Young Joe reflects: What sort of society, what sort of upbringing, can lead a man to stop amidst bursting mortar shells and ask permission to jump in a foxhole with white men?  Not a very good one. 

Tomorrow, Young Joe turns 85.  

A while back he was standing with his six brothers and sisters in front of their childhood home, where two of them still live.  The Two Finnegans drive down the street.  The Finnegans run a couple of funeral parlors.  They stop the car and roll down the window.  "Hey!" one of them calls.  "We offer group rates!" 

Ah, the Irish. 

+ + +

Gittelsohn's Sermon

After the battle, the Fifth Division Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Cuthriell, asked Rabbi Roland B. Gittelsohn to deliverer the sermon at a joint memorial service.  Rabbi Gittelsohn, the first Jewish chaplain in the Corps, had been "in the thick of the fray, ministering to Marines of all faiths in the combat zone. His tireless efforts to comfort the wounded and encourage the fearful won him three service ribbons."  However, some of the other chaplains objected on the grounds that only 1,500 of the 70,000 marines who had fought there were Jewish, and so Gittelsohn could not "represent" the vast majority.  In the end multiple services were held.  At the Jewish service, attended by 70 marines, Gittelsohn delivered the sermon he had planned to deliver at the original joint service that Cuthriell had planned. 

Three Protestant chaplains, angered by the prejudice, boycotted their own service and attended Gittelsohn's instead. One of them asked for a copy of the sermon and later had several thousand copies made and circulated to his regiment.  Some of the marines included the sermon in letters they wrote home.  A copy found its way into Time magazine, and the wire services spread it even further.  It was inserted into the Congressional Record, the Army used it in short-wave broadcasts to US troops throughout the world. 

Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding. And other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and Whites, rich men and poor, together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. 

Among these men there is no discrimination.  No prejudices.  No hatred.  Theirs is the highest and purest democracy!  Whosoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or who thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty hollow mockery. To this then, as our solemn sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: To the right of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, of White men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

We here solemnly swear this shall not be in vain. Out of this and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come, we promise, the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

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