War and Remembrance (The Good War and the Bloody Shirt)


By Wayne Allensworth

If there be any glory in war, let it rest on men like these 

— Dedication to Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back

The elaborate and politicized commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, held on a bluff overlooking what had been Omaha Beach on that momentous day, provoked a wave of memories and emotions in me that I had not anticipated.

The cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer is the final resting place of nearly 9,500 Americans who died that day and in the days that followed. A memorial stands on the grounds of the cemetery, a semi-circular wall depicting maps of Operation Overlord. A bronze statue (Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves) is situated at the center of the memorial.

At the rear of the memorial are rows of names of those who were unaccounted for. A wall of the missing.

I spent some time at the cemetery in June, 1983. I had been in London and took a ferry across the channel, then a train to San Laurent where I stayed in a charming little hotel with low ceilings and a steep staircase. I couldn’t speak French, but managed well enough. The lady at the front desk lit up when I mentioned that I was from Texas. She asked why I wasn’t wearing a Stetson, and used her hands to show me that she meant a wide brimmed chapeau. She even brought a breakfast tray for me the following morning. I ate and left to catch a bus to the cemetery.

I wasn’t nervous or apprehensive, but solemn, even resigned as I watched the countryside flow by me. I would be the first family member to visit, and I felt a certain weight of responsibility on my shoulders. I had a camera in my pocket. I would take a few pictures but had determined that I would not let photographic technology get in the way of the experience. I would tell it as best I could to my parents and family.

I walked onto the grounds of the cemetery and took it all in. I spotted the memorial and knew that’s where I would end up. But first, I strolled slowly, even carefully down the rows of white crosses dotted with an occasional Star of David and read some of the names. Sometimes, I said them out loud before taking a few more steps and reading more names. Then I headed across the vast green sward of the graveyard for the memorial. I walked around the inside of the whitened walls and surveyed the maps, then stopped and tried to take in the statue and make a memory of it, a stylized Grecian piece, the spirit of the dead adorned with a wreath rising from the crest of a bronzed wave, arms lifted, palms raised in ascent. 

From the rear, the statue’s resemblance to a crucifixion is made more apparent.

The statue conveys a sense of sacrifice, of sorrow tempered by reverence. In the line of vision in front of the statue is a reflecting pool and those rows of crosses — water as the primordial source of life, the crosses a further commemoration of the fallen, the statue a concrete manifestation of emanating spirit.

I circled around the wall of the missing and slowly took it in, until I found the name I was looking for. I took a picture of the inscription, the namesake uncle I never knew, but had felt acquainted with my whole life. For me, bearing his name had been a responsibility as well as an honor. He was an 18-year-old gunner on a B-24 that went down in the channel during the early morning hours of the invasion. My grandparents held out hope he was alive and had been captured or would turn up somehow. I’ve read letters my grandmother wrote to the mothers of other crew members, hoping, praying, sharing the terrifying agony of what must have seemed interminable waiting.  Decades later, at the dedication of a monument to Houston’s WWII dead, I watched my grandfather, a man who had seldom displayed his emotions publicly, reach out and touch his son’s inscribed name.  

I found a way to descend to the beach and walked there towards the water, getting my feet wet and touching its surface in a ritual gesture. The water was surprisingly cold, and the cool breeze found its way down the neck of my jacket. I felt a shudder pass through me. How many didn’t make the slog through the cold waves to the beach? Interlocking fields of fire from German machine guns enveloped the landing craft and the men headed for the beach. Under heavy fire from the bluffs above them, some took refuge behind Czech hedgehogs, metal angle beam obstacles the Germans had set up on the beach. The operation’s planners thought the assault companies would face second rate German troops. But that was not the case. They learned too late that a newly formed division of Eastern front veterans would man the bluffs that day.

The situation at Omaha was so bad that General Omar Bradley seriously considered a withdrawal. I walked along the shore and tried to picture what transpired that day. And I wondered. Could I have done this? Could I have maintained sanity well enough to get off that beach … if I hadn’t been cut down by machine gun fire.

My family sent men to the war who flew overhead and came ashore on that day, men I had looked up to as a boy, but who never once that I recall even mentioned the war. It was my father who told me about them. When I turned 50, I took a trip with my parents and older brother to visit those who were still alive, knowing that would likely be the final call. Omaha was very much on my mind when we visited Uncle Eb, who had been there that day. I worked up the courage to ask him what that was like. It was a lame effort to get him to tell me what he had never before spoken of. And he wouldn’t this time, either, only cracking a half smile and saying that he had been very busy that day. He died shortly after that. They are all gone.

They were, as I recall very well from the earliest memories I have of them, plain, solid, rugged men, yet decent and cheerful, and reticent, direct and honest. And so American in a way young people can’t imagine because they never saw it. They had grown up under conditions that would appall post-war middle-class Americans who lived in a time when the country enjoyed a peak of prosperity. They were tough, but kind, and never complained. They never voiced a word indicating anyone owed them anything, and those who came back got on with their lives.

I have ambivalent feelings about the “Good War” now. I wish we — or “our” government — had tried to stay out of it. But the Roosevelt administration did its level best to provoke the Japanese to attack and get us into the war. Americans rushed to enlist and avenge Pearl Harbor, never suspecting the White House’s duplicity.

Like every war in that blood-soaked century, all the victory did was prepare the ground for another war, this time with our erstwhile Soviet allies who had gobbled up half of Europe at war’s end. The notion of a war to end war was transformed into a grotesque parody of itself — perpetual war for perpetual peace. 

The Cold War was never entirely cold, and we lost “our boys” as my elders used to say, in godforsaken places few of us knew existed or cared about. The powers-that-be kept telling us that if we didn’t fight, the dominos would fall. We fight them there to avoid fighting them here. If we lost in Vietnam, for instance, well, the Commies would be at our doorstep in the near future. It didn’t happen that way, of course, but the myth of the Good War always came in handy, and the war machine Eisenhower warned us about waved the bloody shirt and we charged at every new Hitler it could conjure up. The American Remnant still reacts that way, forming the spearhead of a war machine that does not serve any national interest because it can’t. We’ve grown addicted to our own Messianic Complex, a means that is at once a way for ordinary Middle Americans to express patriotism, which is no longer fashionable, and to bask once more in the glorious glow of the Good War. To share in its myth. So far, the military is still one place where “toxic masculinity” hasn’t been completely eradicated. Normal boys want to be heroes.  

It’s ironic that the globalist Blob that is so adept at manipulating us also supports woke ideologies that would have us spit on the graves of the GIs who waded ashore in the bloody waters of D-Day. Life is a complex and perplexing maze sometimes, and few of us can psychologically walk and chew gum at the same time. One can cast a critical eye on U.S. involvement in WWII and still acknowledge that the Nazis and the Japanese militarists were a barbaric lot of warmongers. We can celebrate their defeat. At the same time, that war created the Deep State, and “national security” became an excuse then on for violations of the freedoms our fallen soldiers had supposedly fought to protect. “Our” government has been lying us into war for a long, long time, the bevy of lies that “W” used to sic us on Saddam Hussein being a recent case in point. At the D-Day commemoration, the execrable Joe Biden waved the bloody shirt once more, warning us of “semi-isolationism,” the subtext being a rhetorical preparation for the incredibly foolhardy step of authorizing Ukraine to use American supplied missile systems, and American supplied targeting data, to attack Russian territory. What’s more, ironically again, the Good War is simultaneously a myth employed to prod us to participate in the Blob’s wars of choice and to condemn the very values the D-Day combatants held so dear, patriotism, family, faith, home, and traditional morality as “isolationism,” if not “fascism.” Perpetual war for perpetual peace. 

Even so, and with as many reservations as I have about the Good War and all wars, I can’t help but admire, even envy those very young men who fought. I have experienced the same wave of emotions I felt on Omaha beach while walking the battlefields at Gettysburg and Antietam. I can lament that cooler heads did not prevail and prevent that war, while I survey the battlefield and, in my imagination, I can hear the bugles and the cannon and rifle fire and see the flags waving in the breeze. And I wonder again whether I would have had the courage they had — their character and endurance, their selfless valor. Love of comrades. Magnanimity toward foes. The American tragedy played out in Homeric fashion. Robert E. Lee, a man I consider as among the best this country ever produced, once supposedly said that it’s a good thing that war was so terrible, lest we love it too much.

I am not a pacifist. But war must truly be the last resort only in the direst of circumstances, not to suit the precepts of anyone’s ideology or fears, and not so as to indulge in fantasies. For God’s sake. For the peace of humanity, we must grow to hate war the way we claim so often to hate it and halt the seemingly endless cycle of war and more war. 

We owe it to the fallen, as well as to ourselves and our posterity.

Chronicles contributor Wayne Allensworth is the author of  The Russian Question: Nationalism, Modernization, and Post-Communist Russia, and a novel, Field of Blood. For thirty-two years, he worked as an analyst and Russia area expert in the US intelligence community.

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Wayne Allensworth

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