War Stories 3

 

This post expands on the notes in War Stories I & 2 posted in March, 2015.

_______________________________

GUARD DUTY  As I walked a post one night, guarding maybe a warehouse or garbage dump, a jeep came slowly onto my post.  I came to attention, held up my hand, and called “halt”.  The jeep rolled too close to me and stopped.  I called, “Dismount one and be recognized”.

A large man got slowly out of the jeep,  started walking toward me, and then ran at me and grabbed my rifle!  I knew I should not give up my weapon.  I knew I could spin it and slam the stock into the lieutenant’s face.   As the the lieutenant chewed me out, I remained sure I should not create an incident that might delay my official escape from  basic training.

 

WEAPONS  The U.S. did not seem to be at war in 1958 when I was soldiering.  The Korean was over, in a way, but the authorities were working up the Viet Nam War, and the U.S., unhappy with election results in Lebanon, launched an air and land attack.
A man I knew broke both legs in the air drop–that’s another story.

Image result for corporal missile photo     Corporal Missile with “erector” designed to pick up, transport, and put in place  the 40′ missile.

There were other missiles in development but our Corporal units  in the field in Germany, supposed prepared to send a nuclear bomb 250 miles.  I don’t remember anything said about radioactive fallout blowing back in our faces.

 

 

 

 

 

GUARD DUTY

The Real Muhammad Ali

 

Image result for muhammad ali photos

What Happened To The Muhammad Ali I Idolized, Blackistone Asks

Growing up, sports commentator Kevin Blackistone idolized Muhammad Ali. With Ali’s death last week, he wonders why the man he sees in the obituaries is so different than the Ali he remembers.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Muhammad Ali will be laid to rest this Friday in his hometown of Louisville, Ky. And all the remembrances since the passing of this legend have left commentator Kevin Blackistone wondering – what happened to the Ali he idolized?

KEVIN BLACKISTONE: What I remember most about the 1996 Olympics, when Muhammad Ali lit the Olympic cauldron in Atlanta, wasn’t Parkinson’s shaking him as he stood on what appeared a precarious perch with a flaming torch in one hand.

 

Image result for ali photos

 

Instead, it was Bob Costas later telling the millions watching on NBC that Ali would receive a gold medal to replace the one from the 1960 Rome Games that he lost. Lost, not that he chucked into the Ohio River, as he recounted many times, after being slighted because of his skin color, no matter the pride he’d won for his country.

It wasn’t Costas’ intent, of course. But it did accelerate the disfiguration of the Ali narrative. It began when Parkinson’s increasingly muted his righteous audacity 20-plus years ago. It is all but being cemented in the days since his death last Friday. Everybody loves the post-black power, post-anti-war movement, not-so-militant Ali who was being highlighted.

Image result for ali photos

 

But this is what happens to transcendent, radical, black figures. Image-makers, accidentally or intentionally, reconstruct their radicalism into something more digestible.Nelson Mandela becomes an avuncular figure rather than the mastermind of Spear of the Nation, the armed wing of the African National Congress. Jackie Robinson is no longer the strident race man who was court-martialed for refusing to surrender a bus seat in the Jim Crow South. And as Harriet Tubman moves onto our $20 bill, it will be for the Underground Railroad, not for leading armed freedom fighters on attacks against Confederate slave states.

The remembrances of Ali in the immediate wake of his death remind me that he must be reclaimed for what made him – for being defrocked of his first world heavyweight championship because he dared exercise his religious freedom, reject his given name Cassius Clay as a slave name and openly taking counsel from Malcolm X; for becoming a target of Hoover’s FBI; for mustering the boldness April 29, 1967, to refuse conscription into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and saunter from the Houston induction center despite threat of imprisonment; for suffering reams of defilement from media like the Los Angeles Times, which refused to call him by his name and denounced him as a black Benedict Arnold.

And still, Ali stood.

Most observers since Friday noted Ali as a singular personality, unique in our history. But he was part of a lineage of militant, black athletes. These include athlete-turned-activists Paul Robeson and Jack Johnson, the first black man allowed to fight for and win the heavyweight championship. Both wound up exiled for their boldness in challenging majority American, that is to say white, societal norms. And like Ali, most importantly, they came to inspire and energize radical activism, particularly among people of color, here and abroad. This is their story. It shouldn’t be so hard to tell.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Kevin Blackistone is a columnist for The Washington Post and teaches journalism at the University of Maryland.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.orgfor further information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Hero, in War and at Home

 

Remembering Sgt. York, A War Hero Who Built A School

Sgt. Alvin C. York in 1919.  Department of U.S. Army/AP

Here in Pall Mall, Tenn., you can walk up on the front porch of the Forbus General Store, est. 1892, and still hear Alvin C. York’s rich Tennessee accent.

Every day, the older neighbors gather on the store’s front porch.

“My grandfather used to cut Sgt. Alvin York’s hair,” Richard West recalls. “He would pay a quarter. He was a big man, redheaded.”

York was a Medal of Honor winner. One of the most decorated American heroes of World War I.

At the end of the war, when he returned to his home here in the mountains of north Tennessee, all he wanted was to build a school. A school that would help his neighbors’ kids get the education he had missed.

York had only finished the third grade in a one-room school. His family needed him on the farm. But he liked to read, kept a diary, and because of the war had seen a world beyond the ridgeline: London, Paris, New York.

Pete Smith, whittling red cedar on the porch, remembers the day of Alvin York’s funeral in 1964. Important people were coming from all over the United States to pay tribute. “I was out digging potatoes and I hadn’t never seen as many helicopters, about as high as the light wires and they was 12 or 15 of them. They like to jarred me out of the tobacco patch.”

Richard West likes to tell how friendly the York family always was. “When they’d have a dinner up there, they’d be 25, 30 people show up and eat. All the neighbors would stop by and the grocery trucks would stop and deliver so they’d have plenty of food.”

The 1941 Hollywood movie Sergeant York made the Tennessee farmer even more famous. Gary Cooper won an Oscar for the title role. The movie shows York coming of age in his home valley, then going off to fight the Germans in France.

On Oct. 18, 1918, advancing alone after his unit came under fire, York attacked a machine gun nest. He killed a group of German soldiers who were shooting at him and then captured 132 more.

Alvin York's son, Andy York, 85, says his father wanted a school where rural children could get a good education.

Alvin York’s son, Andy York, 85, says his father wanted a school where rural children could get a good education.  Noah Adams/NPR

York came home to marry his longtime love, Gracie Williams, and they began farming. He had turned down all the celebrity deals, even vaudeville — no tours, no endorsements, no books. But he did start raising money to build a proper high school.

He even mortgaged his farm, twice. He finished building and staffing the school in 1926.

His son, Andy York, now 85, tells why: “The kids around here, in the rural areas, they had no chance to go somewhere else to a big school. He was going to try to get that where they wouldn’t have to go very far and they could get an education there, see.”

The York Institute is 10 miles away from Alvin York’s homeplace, up the mountain in Jamestown, the county seat. The idea was to build a good school in the town and make sure all the kids from out in the valleys could get there, even on horseback and in buggies to begin with.

Every year now the new students learn about Alvin York. His story is told in classes, and the movie is shown often.

Principal Jason Tompkins is a graduate.

Outside the York Institute, a 600-student school in Jamestown, Tenn.

Outside the York Institute, a 600-student school in Jamestown, Tenn. Noah Adams/NPR

“We have an expectation at our school because we’re Sgt. York’s own,” he says. “When you come into our school we expect people to be exceptional.”

Tompkins points out that “Alvin York could have made himself rich and instead he chose to invest his money into the community. I wouldn’t have done it. I would probably have not put my farm up, I would probably have not put the amount of effort into working the way that he did. That’s just a phenomenal statesmanlike quality that very few people ever have.”

Senior Christopher Garrett, who is taking farm management courses, appreciates York’s love of the land. “He came from some rich farmland,” Garrett says.
“Some guys I know used to farm the York bottoms, down by the grist mill and it was some fertile soil that produced some really good crops and good yields.”

Sophomore Paige Cobb knows about York’s skill as a marksman, even beyond his wartime action. He used to win local shooting matches.

Cobb is on the rifle team, part of the ROTC program, and when they travel for matches she wears one of the team T-shirts: “They always say ‘Alvin C. York’ or ‘Sergeant York’s Own’ on them. Some people walk up to us and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, I know Sgt. York, I’ve watched a movie about him.’ And then you’ve got some that’s like, ‘Who’s Sgt. York?’ ”

The York Institute is now in its 89th year, with close to 600 students enrolled.

Perhaps the best way to see the scope of those years is to take a ride on the afternoon school bus. It’s close to an hour and a half out into the valley to the last stop, where Erin and Katie Perdue live.

Erin is 15, a sophomore. She’s looking to Tennessee Tech for college: “Computer science, then a minor in German.”

And for her 17-year-old sister, Katie, a senior, it’s the University of Tennessee. “Same for me, major in computer science, minor in a foreign language, probably Japanese.”

Film with biggest stars of the time.

Memorial Day

The uniforms                                                                                                                  who rang the bell
didn’t say your kid is dead.
Said soldier fought with valor,
fell in battle, earned this medal.
Norm said shove your medal,
go to hell, my kid is dead.

rjn

 

Dulce Et Decorum Est *

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!– An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.–
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Wilfred Owen

DULCE ET DECORUM EST – the first words of a Latin saying (taken from an ode by ancient Roman Horace). The words were widely understood and often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean “It is sweet and right.” The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori – it is sweet and right to die for your country.

Obama’s Texas Takeover

 

Texas Governor Deploys State Guard To Stave Off Obama Takeover

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the Texas State Guard to monitor a joint U.S. Special Forces training taking place in Texas, prompting outrage from some in his own party.   Eric Gay/AP

Since Gen. Sam Houston executed his famous retreat to glory to defeat the superior forces of Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, Texas has been ground zero for military training. We have so many military bases in the Lone Star State we could practically attack Russia.

So when rookie Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced he was ordering the Texas State Guard (not the National Guard) to monitor a Navy SEAL/Green Beret joint training exercise, which was taking place in Texas and several other states, everybody here looked up from their iPhones. What?

It seems there is concern among some folks that this so-called training maneuver is just a cover story. What’s really going on? President Obama is about to use Special Forces to put Texas under martial law.

Let’s walk over by the fence where nobody can hear us, and I’ll tell you the story.

You see, there are these Wal-Marts in West Texas that supposedly closed for six months for “renovation.” That’s what they want you to believe. The truth is these Wal-Marts are going to be military guerrilla-warfare staging areas and FEMA processing camps for political prisoners. The prisoners are going to be transported by train cars that have already been equipped with shackles.

Don’t take my word for it. That comes directly from a Texas Ranger, who seems pretty plugged in, if you ask me. You and I both know President Obama has been waiting a long time for this, and now it’s happening. It’s a classic false flag operation. Don’t pay any attention to the mainstream media; all they’re going to do is lie and attack everyone who’s trying to tell you the truth.

Did I mention the ISIS terrorists? They’ve come across the border and are going to hit soft targets all across the Southwest.They’ve set up camp a few miles outside of El Paso.

That includes a Mexican army officer and Mexican federal police inspector. Not sure what they’re doing there, but probably nothing good. That’s why the Special Forces guys are here, get it? To wipe out ISIS and impose martial law. So now you know, whaddya say we get back to the party and grab another beer?

It’s true that the paranoid worldview of right-wing militia types has remarkable stamina. But that’s not news.  What is news is that there seem to be enough of them in Texas to influence the governor of the state to react — some might use the word pander — to them.

That started Monday when a public briefing by the Army in Bastrop County, which is just east of Austin, got raucous. The poor U.S. Army colonel probably just thought he was going to give a regular briefing, but instead 200 patriots shouted him down, told him he was a liar and grilled him about the imminent federal takeover of Texas and subsequent imposition of martial law.

“We just want to make sure our guys are trained. We want to hone our skills,” Lt. Col. Mark Listoria tried to explain in vain.

One wonders what Listoria was thinking to himself as he walked to his car after two hours of his life he’ll never get back. God bless Texas? Maybe not.

The next day Abbott decided he had to take action. He announced that he was going to ask the Texas State Guard to monitor Operation Jade Helm from start to finish.

“It is important that Texans know their safety, constitutional rights, private property rights and civil liberties will not be infringed upon,” Abbott said.

The idea that the Yankee military can’t be trusted down here has a long and rich history in Texas. But that was a while back. Abbott’s proclamation that he was going to keep his eye on these Navy SEAL and Green Beret boys did rub some of our leaders the wrong way.

Former Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst tried to put it in perspective for outsiders when he explained, “Unfortunately, some Texans have projected their legitimate concerns about the competence and trustworthiness of President Barack Obama on these noble warriors. This must stop.”

Another former Republican politician was a bit more pointed.

“Your letter pandering to idiots … has left me livid,” former state Rep. Todd Smith wrote Abbott. “I am horrified that I have to choose between the possibility that my Governor actually believes this stuff and the possibility that my Governor doesn’t have the backbone to stand up to those who do.”

There’s no argument that after the 2014 election, Texas politics took a further step to the right. The 84th session of the state Legislature has given ample proof of that. But the events of this last week have been an eye-opener for Texans of all political stripes.

You will find the names of Texans etched into marble at war memorials from Goliad to Gettysburg, from Verdun to the Ardennes and Washington, D.C. The governor’s proposition that these soldiers and sailors constitute a potential threat and need watching as they go about their duties certainly stakes out some new political ground for the leader of the Texas GOP to stand on.

CorrectionMay 3, 2015  An earlier version of this story indicated that Gov. Greg Abbott had deployed the National Guard in Texas, when in fact it was the Texas State Guard.

Viet Nam–Photo of Horror

 

Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today?. Anti-war slogan.

The Viet Nam War ended in more horror, 40 years ago this week.  rjn

I’ve never escaped from that moment: Girl in napalm photograph that defined the Vietnam War 40 years on

It only took a second for Associated Press photographer Huynh Cong Ut to snap the iconic black-and-white image 40 years ago.

It communicated the horrors of the Vietnam War in a way words could never describe, helping to end one of the most divisive wars in American history.

But beneath the photo lies a lesser-known story. It’s the tale of a dying child brought together by chance with a young photographer.

Crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them

Crying children, including 9-year-old Kim Phuc, center, run down Route 1 near Trang Bang, Vietnam after an aerial napalm attack on suspected Viet Cong hiding places as South Vietnamese forces from the 25th Division walk behind them

 

A moment captured in the chaos of war that would serve as both her savior and her curse on a journey to understand life’s plan for her.

‘I really wanted to escape from that little girl,’ says Kim Phuc, now 49. ‘But it seems to me that the picture didn’t let me go.’

Kim Phuc giving a lecture at Oundle Festival of Literature in Cambridgeshire in 2010

Kim Phuc giving a lecture at Oundle Festival of Literature in Cambridgeshire in 2010

It was June 8, 1972, when Phuc heard the soldier’s scream: ‘We have to run out of this place! They will bomb here, and we will be dead!’

Seconds later, she saw the tails of yellow and purple smoke bombs curling around the Cao Dai temple where her family had sheltered for three days, as north and south Vietnamese forces fought for control of their village.

The little girl heard a roar overhead and twisted her neck to look up. As the South Vietnamese Skyraider plane grew fatter and louder, it swooped down toward her, dropping canisters like tumbling eggs flipping end over end.

‘Ba-boom! Ba-boom!’

The ground rocked. Then the heat of a hundred furnaces exploded as orange flames spit in all directions.

Fire danced up Phuc’s left arm. The threads of her cotton clothes evaporated on contact. Trees became angry torches. Searing pain bit through skin and muscle.

‘I will be ugly, and I’m not normal anymore,’ she thought, as her right hand brushed furiously across her blistering arm. ‘People will see me in a different way.’

In shock, she sprinted down Highway 1 behind her older brother. She didn’t see the foreign journalists gathered as she ran toward them, screaming.

Then, she lost consciousness.

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, left, is visited by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut at her home in Trang Bang, Vietnam in 1973

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, left, is visited by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut at her home in Trang Bang, Vietnam in 1973

 

Ut, the 21-year-old Vietnamese photographer who took the picture, drove Phuc to a small hospital.

There, he was told the child was too far gone to help. But he flashed his American press badge, demanded that doctors treat the girl and left assured that she would not be forgotten.

‘I cried when I saw her running,’ said Ut, whose older brother was killed on assignment with the AP in the southern Mekong Delta. ‘If I don’t help her – if something happened and she died – I think I’d kill myself after that.’

Back at the office in what was then U.S.-backed Saigon, he developed his film. When the image of the naked little girl emerged, everyone feared it would be rejected because of the news agency’s strict policy against nudity.

But veteran Vietnam photo editor Horst Faas took one look and knew it was a shot made to break the rules. He argued the photo’s news value far outweighed any other concerns, and he won.

A couple of days after the image shocked the world, another journalist found out the little girl had somehow survived the attack. Christopher Wain, a correspondent for the British Independent Television Network who had given Phuc water from his canteen and drizzled it down her burning back at the scene, fought to have her transferred to the American-run Barsky unit. It was the only facility in Saigon equipped to deal with her severe injuries.

‘I had no idea where I was or what happened to me,’ she said. ‘I woke up and I was in the hospital with so much pain, and then the nurses were around me. I woke up with a terrible fear.’

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, right, with Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, left and Phan Thi Kim Phuc, center in London in 2000

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, right, with Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, left and Phan Thi Kim Phuc, center in London in 2000

Thirty percent of Phuc’s tiny body was scorched raw by third-degree burns, though her face somehow remained untouched. Over time, her melted flesh began to heal.

‘Every morning at 8 o’clock, the nurses put me in the burn bath to cut all my dead skin off,’ she said. ‘I just cried and when I could not stand it any longer, I just passed out.’

After multiple skin grafts and surgeries, Phuc was finally allowed to leave, 13 months after the bombing. She had seen Ut’s photo, which by then had won the Pulitzer Prize, but she was still unaware of its reach and power.

She just wanted to go home and be a child again.

Phan Thi Kim Phuc embraces Associated Press staff photographer Nick Ut during a reunion in Cuba in 1989

Phan Thi Kim Phuc embraces Associated Press staff photographer Nick Ut during a reunion in Cuba in 1989

For a while, life did go somewhat back to normal. The photo was famous, but Phuc largely remained unknown except to those living in her tiny village near the Cambodian border. Ut and a few other journalists sometimes visited her, but that stopped after northern communist forces seized control of South Vietnam on April 30, 1975, ending the war.

Life under the new regime became tough. Medical treatment and painkillers were expensive and hard to find for the teenager, who still suffered extreme headaches and pain.

She worked hard and was accepted into medical school to pursue her dream of becoming a doctor. But all that ended once the new communist leaders realized the propaganda value of the `napalm girl’ in the photo.

She was forced to quit college and return to her home province, where she was trotted out to meet foreign journalists. The visits were monitored and controlled, her words scripted. She smiled and played her role, but the rage inside began to build and consume her.

I wanted to escape that picture,‘ she said. ‘I got burned by napalm, and I became a victim of war … but growing up then, I became another kind of victim.’

She turned to Cao Dai, her Vietnamese religion, for answers. But they didn’t come.

In this 1992 photo provided by Phan Thi Kim Phuc shows her, top row second from right, and her husband Bui Huy Toan, top row right, with guests during their wedding day in Havana, Cuba

In this 1992 photo provided by Phan Thi Kim Phuc shows her, top row second from right, and her husband Bui Huy Toan, top row right, with guests during their wedding day in Havana, Cuba

‘My heart was exactly like a black coffee cup,’ she said. ‘I wished I died in that attack with my cousin, with my south Vietnamese soldiers. I wish I died at that time so I won’t suffer like that anymore … it was so hard for me to carry all that burden with that hatred, with that anger and bitterness.’

One day, while visiting a library, Phuc found a Bible. For the first time, she started believing her life had a plan.

Then suddenly, once again, the photo that had given her unwanted fame brought opportunity.

She traveled to West Germany in 1982 for medical care with the help of a foreign journalist. Later, Vietnam’s prime minister, also touched by her story, made arrangements for her to study in Cuba.

She was finally free from the minders and reporters hounding her at home, but her life was far from normal. Ut, then working at the AP in Los Angeles, traveled to meet her in 1989, but they never had a moment alone. There was no way for him to know she desperately wanted his help again.

While at school, Phuc met a young Vietnamese man. She had never believed anyone would ever want her because of the ugly patchwork of scars that banded across her back and pitted her arm, but ui Huy Toan seemed to love her more because of them.

In this May 25, 1997 file photo, Phan Thi Kim Phuc holds her son Thomas, 3, in their apartment in Toronto. Her husband, Bui Huy Toan is to the left.

In this May 25, 1997 file photo, Phan Thi Kim Phuc holds her son Thomas, 3, in their apartment in Toronto. Her husband, Bui Huy Toan is to the left.

The two decided to marry in 1992 and honeymoon in Moscow. On the flight back to Cuba, the newlyweds defected during a refueling stop in Canada. She was free.

Phuc contacted Ut to share the news, and he encouraged her to tell her story to the world. But she was done giving interviews and posing for photos.

‘I have a husband and a new life and want to be normal like everyone else,‘ she said.

The media eventually found Phuc living near Toronto, and she decided she needed to take control of her story. A book was written in 1999 and a documentary came out, at last the way she wanted it told.

She was asked to become a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador to help victims of war. She and Ut have since reunited many times to tell their story, even traveling to London to meet the Queen.

‘Today, I’m so happy I helped Kim,’ said Ut, who still works for AP and recently returned to Trang Bang village. ‘I call her my daughter.’

Huynh Cong Ut visits Kim Phuc's house near the place he took his famous Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of her as a terrified 9-year-old in Trang Bang, Tay Ninh province, Vietnam

Huynh Cong Ut visits Kim Phuc’s house near the place he took his famous Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of her as a terrified 9-year-old in Trang Bang, Tay Ninh province, Vietnam

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2153091/Napalm-girl-photo-Vietnam-War-turns-40.html#ixzz3YsvhjrXt
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World War I Soldiers Underground

 

Suggested by Susan Nowak

Graffiti by 1,800 WWI soldiers found in underground quarry

Story highlights

  • World War I graffiti is discovered in an underground quarry
  • The writings are generally plain, with listings of names and places
  • The area is about 50 miles from where the Battle of the Somme was fought
Graffiti from WWI found underground

(CNN)The graffiti, written in a French chalk quarry and dating back almost 100 years, is plain and stark.

“HJ Leach. Merely a private. 13/7/16. SA Australia,” reads one inscription.

“HA Deanate, 148th Aero Squadron, USA. 150 Vermilyea Ave, New York City,” another says.

 “9th Batt Australians, G. Fitzhenry, Paddington, Sydney, N.S.W., 1916 July; Alistair Ross, Lismore, July,” reads a third.

They were World War I soldiers, four of almost 2,000, whose writings have recently been found underneath battlefields near Naours, France, about 120 miles north of Paris.

“These cities beneath the trenches form a direct human connection to men who lived a century ago. They make hundred years ago seem like yesterday,” photographer Jeff Gusky, a doctor, writes on his website about the find. Gusky has chronicled the area in a portfolio he calls “The Hidden World of WWI.”

The underground city actually dates back centuries but was sealed up in the 18th century. It was rediscovered in the late 19th century.

In recent years, archeologists and historians have been researching the area.

The Battle of the Somme — a months-long offensive that produced more than 1 million casualties, one of the costliest in world history — was fought about 50 miles to the east in 1916.

Gusky has noted 1,821 names. About 40% are Australian, with most of the others identified as British. Fifty-five are Americans, and 662 have yet to be traced.

The U.S. didn’t officially enter the war until April 6, 1917, 98 years ago Monday.

The writings are, if nothing else, a nod to posterity, Gusky told the UK Independent.

“All these guys wanted was to be remembered,” he said.

American Romantic, 2014, Excerpt and Review

 

Suggested by George Lynch:

Product Details

An excerpt from Ward Just’s novel, American Romantic, 2014

Harry was quiet once again. Then he said, I grew up in Connecticut. That’s like growing up in your chateau country down near the Loire. Most Sundays we’d have a splendid lunch with the squires, our neighbors, a congresswoman and her husband, a professional soldier and his wife, two bankers , other locals, including a retired ambassador and various characters who had been in and out of government. The congresswoman was an excellent mimic and hilarious as she went about describing the legislative sausage machine. Brigadier General Candless was similarly superb on military science and tactics, including the Bulge in 1944. He had taken part in it. The bankers were entertaining as they went about demystifying Wall Street, or trying to. Where my mother and father fit into this company I cannot say, except they were fine hosts. Everyone was fond of them. I think it’s fair to say my parents established a sphere of intimacy, almost of confidentiality, at their Sunday table. No one had to say, This stays in the room among us. Everyone knew that the conversation stayed in the room and the remarkable, or contradictory, fact was that indiscretions were rare. These were people of the wider world and sexual or financial escapades had no real interest for them unless a president, a secretary of state or defense, or the speaker of the House was implicated, whereupon the worm of malice began to crawl as at any other table. But that aside, the company rarely spoke of current events but of things of the past, the general’s campaigns, the congresswoman’s battles with Senator Joe McCarthy. Elections won and lost, wars won, stalemated, or lost, promises kept, promises broken. I would say also that the atmosphere was often melancholy. At my father’s table failure was more instructive, more revealing, than success.

The admiral nodded thoughtfully, adding a ghost of a smile. Thing was, Harry went on, all the stories they told had something missing. This, it seemed to me then as it does now, is common among government people. Congresswoman Finch, for example, in describing the eternal struggle over foreign aid was meticulous in her account of who said what to whom and when, the politics of it, the influence of the lobbyists. But at a certain point she shrugged and changed the subject. To go beyond that certain point might have – would have- undermined faith in the system. She had realized she was addressing – I suppose the word would be civilians. Brigadier General Candless was eloquent on the progress of the Battle of the Bulge, an account drawn from a set-piece annual lecture he delivered to senior cadets at West Point. He had the names of the principal officers and their units, which performed well and which performed badly. The flow of the engagement. He had the German order of battle. He noted the weather, the terrain, and the fortifications. He quoted from diaries and after-action reports. Still, there was something between the lines where you found a hint of something else, something excruciating, beyond words, unspeakable. The hint was indistinct, a single voice in the chorus of a thousand. Brigadier General Candless was an intelligent man and knew a blank space when he saw it, and the same was true of Congresswoman Finch, even the bankers. As they were talking there would come a moment when their voices trailed off and any attentive listener would know they were deep in their memories, pondering what they were unable – not unwilling but unable – to say aloud. The missing piece. All the stories had missing pieces that spoke to motive and perhaps misprision or something very like misprision. This was something personal and inexplicable, the fact that refused to fall in line with the other facts. A black sheep fact, important enough to make a tidy account a little less tidy. To grasp it you had to have been there. More than any other single thing you had to understand the context, what was at stake and the consequences. No civilian could know that, even the worldly civilians around the Regency table at my father’s house. These were inside jobs. That was the world they lived in.

Review in Booklist:

In this deft portrait of a promising young foreign service officer, Just reaches back to the earliest, hazy days leading up to the “misbegotten” Vietnam War, a time and place he witnessed firsthand. Though he never names the country Harry Sanders is posted in, Just describes it with molecular particularity, from the roiling city streets to the malevolence of the deep jungle, creating an arresting visual lexicon drawn from the paintings of Matisse, Vuillard, and Munch. This adds evocative textures to Just’s lushly sensuous and moodily introspective tale while also conveying Harry’s cultural legacy as a man born to privilege in orderly Connecticut, the opposite of this dense, lacerating land. Stubborn and idealistic, Harry envisions a bright future as a diplomat with the beautiful if haunted Sieglinde at his side, though they hardly know each other. She tags him as an “American romantic.” He sees himself as a “connoisseur of the counterfeit and the inexplicable” after a dangerous, clandestine mission and Sieglinde’s abrupt disappearance leave him hobbled and scarred. As Just circles forward and back to tell their dramatic stories, he dissects the romance, presumption, nobility, and futility of the diplomatic life and weighs the stoniness of the past. Master writer Just’s eighteenth novel is elegantly structured, worldly wise, shrewdly suspenseful, and profoundly satisfying. –Donna Seaman

About Ward Just and his work.