Sunday, May 27, 2001

A common purpose




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        “See paradise. Tropical sunsets. Adventure. Excitement. All expenses paid by the U.S. Navy.” I'd sign up in a jitterbug minute. Who wouldn't?

        “Tour Europe. Live like a king in England. Liberate Paris. Beat the hasenpfeffer out of Hitler and come home a hero. Call Uncle Sam for details.”

        The recruiting poster versions of World War II are irresistible. All that and more: crisp uniforms, guns, ships, airplanes and opportunities to play with high explosives. What guy has not dreamed of flying a P-51 into combat, commanding a tank
for Gen. Patton or standing on the deck of the USS Missouri when the big guns cough flames and brimstone?

        I know, war is no Pearl Harbor movie. I've read lots of books that describe what Gen. Sherman saw in the smoky dark corners of Hell.

        But here's something curious.

        I've met and interviewed dozens of veterans, including two recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor. They endured incredible hardships and demonstrated unimaginable heroism. Some were POWs, tortured and trapped in hopeless prison camps. Some were “ordinary” G.I.s whose eyes were forever shadowed with grainy images that could fill a library of stories about World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Gulf War.

        And many would do it all again.

        Some come right out and say so. With others, you just know. They went someplace that the rest of us will never see. And in their stories I've heard a moral: Life is like a setting sun — it is most spectacular and intense out on the edge of the world where it meets nightshade death.

        What they shared is something we can't even picture today: A common purpose. A unity of spirit. As if shaking hands with hatred has made them members of a brotherhood of love.

        They know the price of peace. And they look out for each other.

        The other day, Roy Miller of the Korean War Veterans Association stopped by to remind me that 8,100 men are still missing in Korea. These are not just numbers to men like Roy. They are freckled faces and nicknames, jokes told and cigarettes smoked by boys they knew like a boot knows its laces. Most Americans forgot long ago. Not Roy.

        “I'd like to get people to realize this is important,” he said. “Let's bring our boys home.”

        Last week I heard from Thomas Schram, US Naval Academy, 1969.

        One day he found out that the man who runs the lumber store where he's been shopping for 20 years, Bud Huber of Huber Lumber in Norwood, served on the USS Carter Hall in World War II.

        So he went to work to get Mr. Huber a ship's plaque and a proclamation of honor from the mayor of Norwood. “Giving these guys attention is a good idea,” Mr. Schram said.

        Mr. Huber modestly stipulates that he was not on the LSD (Landing Ship Dock) Carter Hall at Iwo Jima or Okinawa. “We were supposed to be in the invasion fleet to land in Japan, but the war ended.”

        “I was very young. It was a very glamorous time in my life.”

        He described a time of hazards and adventures that permanently tattooed his ship and the Navy to the soul of Bud Huber. “It's very personal to me. I did what I had to do and gave my service to my country and I am very proud of that.”

        OK, so the glory of war is a myth, but it's a stubborn lie that goes all the way back to a recruiting poster by Homer: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

        The translation I read on a stone at Shiloh said, “It is sweet and beautiful to die for one's country.”

        There must be something to it, or men who went to war wouldn't say, “Yes, I'd do it again.”

        For all the ones who did not come home, we can only pray it is so.

        E-mail: pbronson@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/bronson

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