David Bruce: War Stories

Bryan Anderson, a 25-year-old Army sergeant, was horribly wounded in George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, losing both legs, his left hand, and part of his right hand. He nearly died from his wounds, but survived. That means that he now has an “alive day” in addition to a birthday, but he isn’t really happy having an alive day. He says, “Everybody makes a big deal about your alive day, especially at Walter Reed [Hospital]. And I can see their point, that you’d want to celebrate something like that. But from my point of view, it’s like, ‘O.K., we’re sitting here celebrating the worst day of my life. Great, let’s just remind me of that every year.’” Dawn Halfaker, a 28-year-old former Army captain, also was horribly wounded in the war in Iraq, losing her right arm and shoulder. She says, “I think I was a little bit naïve to what combat was really like. When you’re training, you don’t really imagine that you could be holding a dying boy in your arms. You don’t think about what death is like close up. There’s nothing heroic about war. It’s very tragic. It’s very sad. It takes a huge emotional toll.” However, she and other soldiers are not asking for pity. Ms. Halfaker adds, “We’re just saying we had this experience and it changed our lives, and we’re coping with it.” In my opinion, the horrors of war are lessons that we learn each war and forget about in between wars. 

Ohio State University football coach Woody Hayes visited Vietnam a few times to show football films and talk to soldiers. Once back in the United States, he would telephone (at his own expense) the families of the servicemen he had met or write to them. He once went to a very small firebase in Vietnam, where he projected football movies on a sheet. There he met Parker Jarvis, who had attended Ohio State for a while, but who had not graduated yet. Coach Hayes asked him about his parents, his wife, and any teacher that he wanted to say “hi” to. (Assistant coaches wrote down all the contact information.) Mr. Jarvis says, “Six weeks later, he had called my wife three or four times and talked to my dad for 45 minutes. He called my mom separately and talked to her and called the professor I had talked to him about. That was Woody. He never asked for any adoration or recognition. He was a pretty special fellow.”

Sometimes it is very difficult to protect children from knowing more than they should. After Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, Tomie dePaola, who was then in the second grade, was scared. His school practiced air raid drills, although no one was willing to tell him what an air raid is. At a double feature at the movie theater, young Tomie and his mother and a young friend and her mother enjoyed an animated feature titled Mr. Bug Goes to Town, and then a newsreel came on that showed London during the Blitz with lots of air raid sirens, explosions, and burning buildings. Of course, the two mothers got their children out into the lobby as quickly as possible and talked to them. Tomie’s mother told him, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to see that!” Mr. dePaola’s 2006 book about the beginning of his war years is titled I’m Still Scared.

Australian Murray Rose and Japanese Tsuyoshi Yamanaka were teammates together at USC, but they swam against each other at the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. Although a Japanese team was competing in Australia, World War II had been over for only 11 years, and many people remembered when Australians were worried about being invaded by the Japanese during the war. Mr. Rose and Mr. Yamanaka competed in the 1,500-meter freestyle, and despite a strong finish by Mr. Yamanaka, Mr. Rose won by two meters. The two men then embraced each other in the water, resulting in a photograph that was widely reproduced in Australia and elsewhere. One of the captions in Australia said, “The war is finally over.”

The mother of Ramones bass player Dee Dee Ramone had a rough life as a young German citizen in Germany during World War II. When Dee Dee was a child, his military family was stationed in Berlin, and he remembers how happy he was to discover an indoor swimming pool. He wanted his mother to go swimming with him, but she had endured three years of bombing attacks on the city. The war ended when she 14, and she had buried many, many corpses by then. He told her about the pool, “Mom, it’s great. Why don’t you come swimming there with me?” She replied, “Because I remember that pool after the war. It was filled with blood from the bodies of dead horses and dead people.”

Mel Brooks, creator of such movies as The Producers and Young Frankenstein, enlisted in the United States Army in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Once, the Germans rigged up a public address system and used it to broadcast Nazi propaganda to the Allies. Mr. Brooks retaliated by using the Allied PA system to broadcast his own version of Allied propaganda to the Nazis. Mr. Brooks’ version of Allied propaganda included a rousing rendition of Al Jolson’s hit “Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye.”

Famed Canadian portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh took many photographs of World War II leaders to be added to the Canadian National Archives. Among the people whose portrait he took was Viscount Alexander, who led British soldiers to victory in North Africa and Italy. During the portrait session, Mr. Karsh asked him, “What is the greatest lesson the war has taught us?” Viscount Alexander replied, “Not to have another war. Next time all of us will be obliterated.”

“It is my country, I love it, I will fight for it, but when it is wrong, I will admit it.”—Lenny Bruce


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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