In my defense, I never claimed to be anything other than what I am, a pretty sensitive guy who served in the Infantry. Probably the only guy in a war zone ever who never left the wire without a copy of Cyrano de Bergerac in my pocket in case I got plugged so I could go out reading my favorite passages. Wasn’t a Nancy Kerrigan beat by a bat sort of tear thing, just a few times needed to clear the eyesight. I certainly didn’t advertise it, but wasn’t exactly embarassed by it either.
I told you a week ago about the movie I was going to see. Wasn’t just the movie that got me going, mind you. The 5 Guinness at Bullfeathers and then the 4 Beam and Cokes didn’t help. But, I REALLY didn’t want at rehash of the PTSD episode from At War either. You know how you feel a little bump when you see people you haven’t seen in a while? One of the things exclusive to guys who went to war is seeing guys you served with, in a situation unlike what you experienced. I had my best friend, Sgt Donkey Dong Owens, and Sniper of course. And Sgt Lilly, wearing a full on pimp outfit from A-stan. And Sgt G, on his best behavior. And SFC Holt, who was in the movie. I ran into a former XO of my company, I even ran into my nom de guerre COL Ortner, and I ran into dudes I don’t even remember their names.
I was in the lobby guzzling down the free booze when I heard the name “Lazlo.” Kind of an odd name, no? But I went to basic with a dude named Lazlo. All limbs, like 6 feet tall, and all of 18 years old. Dude was afraid of his shadow and Christ he would NEVER SHUT UP. I remember one really dark day at basic when he confided in me he was a virgin. I told him then that if we made it through this crap, I would correct that deficiency. And I did. Well, it was him. Now like 33 years old he’s a SFC, a monster, and a trooper who is ready to deploy wherever we need him. And he talked about me like I was something special. I suppose to him I was, I mean hell, who ever saw a 24 year old at Basic who honestly didn’t give a shit and once humped a rock 25 miles because he thought his drill sergeant might like it as a keep sake?
The movie struck me hard. Lots of movies do, no lie. This one was tough. It was about the Bedford Boys, and that name should be familiar to anyone who reads this blog. At one point they showed a guy who on the eve of D-Day got Eisenhower’s missive, and displayed it with the signatures of all the guys he went with, many who never made it off the beach.
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.
But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man to man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our home fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to victory!
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
— Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
Can you imagine being a scared soldier, ready to embark on the ships and reading that?
As we were preparing to go in, Sgt Owens and I were outside when a priest walked by. We greeted him and he responded with a cheery smile and a hello. Owens called him “father”, being the good Catholic Irishman he is. The Priest was in the movie. He was a child during the embarkment, and was driven to God by the fear of what might happen to these brave boys from Bedford. Can you imagine it?
During the movie there was a man, an elderly man, named Roy Stevens. They showed pictures of him and his twin brother, Ray. And they showed Roy reading a poem that he wrote after his twin brother’s life was cut short on June 6.
Twin brother farewell
I’ll never forget that morning
It was the sixth of June
I said farewell to brother
Didn’t think it would be so soon
I had prayed for our future
That wonderful place called home
But a sinner’s prayer wasn’t answered
Now I’LL have to go there alone
Oh brother I think of you
All through the sleepless night
Dear Lord, he took you from me
And I can’t believe it was right
This world is so unfriendly
To kill now is a sin
To walk that long narrow road
It can’t be done without him
Dear Mother, I know your worries
This is an awful fight
To lose my only twin brother
And suffer the rest of my life
Now fellows take my warning
Believe it from start to end
If you ever have a twin brother
Don’t go to the battle with him.
That poem now rests on his mantle. Can you imagine?
Part of the movie dealt with my platoon, my company, my battalion. SFC Holt was the guy featured, and he recognized me on sight, which rather surprised me. I won’t claim we know each other well, but he’s my brother, and he did a phenomenal job of laying out what our unit was like, why we fought, why our brothers were lost, and what we think about it. He’s a humble guy, but a better spokesman for us I can’t imagine.
But it was a man I never met that really sealed the deal for me. Marine LT Joshua Booth never actually lived in Bedford. Born in Virginia Beach, he was raised in Massachusetts like me. And like me, he chose to leave the North to go to school at the Citadel. Going there isn’t like going to USC. It’s a whole way of life difference. On your first day you learn “Dixie.” Why go there? I don’t know why he did, but I went there to be a part of something bigger than myself, to learn what Robert E. Lee meant by “Duty is the Most Sublime Word in the English Language.” I suspect that is why Joshua went there too.
But his dad was in the movie, proudly wearing a Citadel hat. And he talked about his lost son, and his pride was evident. From an article in the Roanoke news:
John Booth last visited his son in August in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, where Joshua and his family lived as he served with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 3rd Marine Division. There, the pair had the difficult conversation about what to do if he were killed in duty.
Joshua Booth told his father that he wanted spaces in Arlington National Cemetery to be saved for the men in his platoon. “I’ve got a good place to be in Bedford, Virginia,” he told his dad.
“How many people had a ticket to Arlington and didn’t get it punched?” John Booth asked.
Joshua Booth was born in Virginia Beach but moved to Massachusetts as a child. Relatives had held onto an ancestral home on Baltimore Avenue in Bedford. The Booth clan gathered there on holidays.
“He felt a connection to all those folks,” John Booth said.
When Joshua and his family migrated south for holidays they visited Smith Mountain Lake and the Peaks of Otter. They played Booth Ball, the family’s name for touch football, in the back yard.
The pair were visiting the National D-Day Memorial in March 2001 when Joshua told his dad he wanted to be a Marine.
“I’m not just going to be a Marine,” he said. “I’m going to be a Marine tested under fire.”
I’ll never be as deserving of praise as Mr Stevens or Lt Booth. But, that doesn’t mean I can’t try. I intend to work as hard as I can in their memory for the Warrior Legacy Foundation. I believe in what we do here at TAH in preserving the memory of men like this, and I intend to see what I can do in WLF.
Yeah, I cried tonight watching it. And I’d like to think that you would have too.