Letters Home from the War

This was written about World War Two, however I think his message is profound and worth considering. I think it helps to explain why my grandfather and his peers never seemed anxious to speak of the war to their families.

War is hell, not a cause for celebration
By Donald M. Murray, Boston Globe Correspondent, 10/3/2000

I marched with the 82nd Airborne in the World War II Victory Parade down Fifth Avenue in New York and hated every long minute of the celebration.

This comes to mind because I just saw a television news report on the veterans who want to build a 7.4-acre World War II memorial on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and the veterans who oppose it.

Count me with the opposition.

My opposition is not because the National World War II Memorial e-store commercializes the memory of those who died in my war. It's not because I am offended by the golf shirts, caps, mugs, and umbrellas sold online, making my war equivalent to a trip to Disneyland.

I am not opposed because the large memorial may or may not obstruct the view of other memorials and crowd the already busy Mall.

I am opposed because what men and women do and survive in combat has nothing to do with statues and fountains and plaques and flags. It has everything to do with men and women, civilian and military, being killed, maimed, or left mentally ill because war became the only way to resolve human differences.

When suddenly the war was over, we were treated like heroes, but there are no heroes in combat, only those who do their terrible duty under difficult conditions.

I was 21 when I marched in that parade in 1946, and had survived only a fraction of what many others suffered. Yet my fury still burns that we could reduce the experience of combat to a parade.

As I looked at the long line of paratroopers marching ahead of me, I imagined legs marching without bodies, arms without bodies swinging to the Sousa tunes, heads rolling along by themselves, the torsos of young men tumbling along without limbs, skulls, or intestines and ...

On that day I was not quite sane. I was glad to be home, and feeling guilty that I had come home. Better men and women on both sides had not come home. I was angry at the old men who run governments and who so failed their responsibilities that war became necessary. I resented those young men who escaped the draft. I hated the officers who more often than not gave orders that cost lives unnecessarily. The higher the rank, the farther from the front and the less their danger. We called General George Patton ''Blood and Guts Patton - his guts and our blood.''

I resented the innocence of those who waved flags and cheered, who grinned with pride as their ''heroes'' marched past, the politicians who spoke of ''glory,'' the clergy of every faith who blessed victory from the reviewing stands.

I rejected my father's pride in me. A buyer for a department store, he had missed his war and wanted me to have mine. Well, I had my war, but I resisted the pleasure he took in his ''hero'' son. He dragged me around Manhattan to see those from whom he bought and others to whom he sold.

True story: Sitting in an office high up in the Empire State Building, a ladies' hosiery manufacturer asked my sympathy for how much American women had sacrificed in not having silk stockings during the war. Father nodded in agreement.

I despised all those soldiers, airmen, and sailors in my war who served far back from the front but, unblooded, were willing to play the hero after serving beer in a PX or checking paper records against the dog tags of the dead.

Only a few of all who served in the war were under fire. Most did important work, but the farther from the front they served, the easier it is for them to see war in simple terms of good versus evil, friend versus enemy, victory and defeat.

No. I don't want any memorials. We did what had to be done, and we found within ourselves the ability to perform acts more terrible than we could have imagined.

Do not make heroes of us. Allow those of us who served at the front to live out the lives we never expected to walk away with, quietly, with our lonely memories and our private, contradictory, and unresolved emotions of pride and shame.

This story ran on page D03 of the Boston Globe on 10/3/2000.
Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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