Category Archives: Uncategorized

Sometimes we like to write about happenings or news or stuff that, while only loosely within our authority, give off a certain – say – profundity. It’s part of our all-around service to bring these to your discerning attention.

Life After the War

Following up on my earlier post about my family friends and his involvement with Patton’s 3rd Army I wanted to discuss some of the stories he told me about his later life. It is important, in my opinion, to look at all the facets of a person to get a feel for them as a whole and in civilian life he was no less exemplary than while in uniform.

On being discharged after the end of WW2 he returned to a small town on the Minnesota/North Dakota border and started a career with the railroad. It had been his dream to become an engineer and through hard work he was able to achieve this goal. Talking with him his years driving trains in this rural part of the country were some of the happiest of his life.

He often spoke of the days when he would slowly be going through a town, the most excitement most small farming communities had at this point, and being hailed by kids running and waving trying to keep up with the train. Often, with the parents’ permission, he would give some of the kids rides in his train engine to the next town and return them later in the day during his return run. Other times, if he had the extra money but not the time, he would buy candy to throw to the kids who marked his path and brightened his day.

For years until his retirement he led a happy, simple, and generous life. I always found these stories of mid-century american idyll fascinating having grown up in a time of such easy transport and over-stimulation but he made the life of an engineer sound more glamorous than any CEO or actor could possibly have. I like to think that his kindness and joy during these later years of his life helped in some way to calm the turmoil he faced during the war. I know many veterans found such outlets and led wonderful lives as a way of saying thanks or simply celebrating their lives after violence.

As I said, it’s important to always look at every aspect of a person and my friend was a hero in every aspect of his life, like so many others like him throughout the country who helped create the world we live in.

 

Thank you for reading,

Mike

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Holocaust Remembrance

Today is a very important day and requires special attention in today’s fraught interpersonal climate. In order to do justice to the memory of those victims of the Holocaust I want to share another personal anecdote shared with me by a veteran of WW2.

My older friend, whose name I will withhold for the sake of his family’s privacy, was a scout for the 6th Armored Division of Patton’s 3rd Army. Being a scout meant he was often far from the front lines and was thereby the first to see many things which we know about now. One such thing was the concentration camp of Buchenwald. Now for those who may not know Buchenwald was one of the few places where the prisoners, hearing about the end of the war nearing and seeing the increased cruelty and efforts at extermination, managed to seize control. It was this scene of violence, deprivation, and horror that my friend was the first American soldier to witness.

Discussing his time in the army with him over the course of several unofficial interviews only once was he able to bring himself to talk about what he found or the impact it had on him. One thing that sticks out so sharply to me is the total lack of preparation he and his crew had for this discovery. While upper echelons of the military had at the very least heard rumors of work and death camps, especially as the Soviets had already liberated Auschwitz by this point, the rank and file servicemen were left in the dark. It was this that lead to the total shock experienced upon the discovery and the inability of many first responders to render appropriate aid.

Now while meeting a man who was one of the first American soldiers to see these horrors first hand is amazing enough his story does not end there. Those of you who may have read Night by Elie Weisel (if you haven’t I highly recommend it as a brilliant and unblinking account of the jewish experience in camps during the holocaust) know that the book finishes with the arrival of American tanks at the fences of Buchenwald the same day the prisoners overthrew the SS. It is, in fact, my friend and his crew who are mentioned.

Many years later my friend went to a reading by Elie Weisel, by then a celebrity and also a target for those who would continue to blame the Jewish people for WW2. After the reading he attempted to go and speak with Mr. Weisel and was stopped by security; however, Weisel recognized him, even after the span of roughly 30 years, and told his security that this man was welcome anywhere he was because of the lives he saved, his own among them.

I find myself immensely privileged to have known such a man who had such a lasting impact on the world. Whether he was just doing his duty as he frequently asserted or if he had a higher calling to humanity I will always call him a hero and a true witness to events which must never be forgotten. So, on this day, I want to call attention to the millions of victims, both alive and dead, of one of the greatest tragedies to befall humankind and to those who fought, and still fight tirelessly, against those who would seek to recreate history.

Thank you for reading and remembering.

 

-Mike

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Filed under American History, Holocaust Remembrance, Uncategorized, World War 2

FORGOTTEN HOLLYWOOD: Three Came Home (1950)

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20th Century Fox / Public Domain

It’s difficult to judge a performance, to articulate why some expressions or intonations worked while others do not. For me, the best performance I’ve ever seen on film was Sessue Hayakawa as Colonel Tatsuji Suga in the 1950 war film Three Came Home. The movie follows Agnes Keith (Claudette Colbert), an American writer being held in a Japanese POW camp run by Col. Suga.  Their interactions are cordial (he’s a fan of hers), but Agnes never forgets that he’s dangerous.

In this regard, the character is reminiscent of other roles Hayakawa played after World War II. He became typecast as the honourable Japanese officer, seen most famously in The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957). However, in most of those films, Hayakawa’s character rarely exists as separate from the American protagonist. In Three Came Home, he is allowed one final heartbreaker of a scene.

If you haven’t already seen the film, you might want to skip this paragraph. Japan has surrendered. Suga receives news of Hiroshima, where his family was staying. He gathers up all the children from the camp (including Agnes’ son) and drives them to his estate for a tea party. As the young ones gleefully devour the sweets, the camera holds on Suga, sitting off to the side, not participating in festivities. As the sounds of happy children play in the background, his façade slowly crumbles with sorrow. The real-life Suga committed suicide shortly after being captured by Australian troops.

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Sessue Hayakawa as Col. Tatsuji Suga │ 20th Century Fox / Public Domain

Ever since Hayakawa’s rise to stardom in the 1910s (he was the original Rudolph Valentino), he stood apart from his acting peers. Instead of continuing the theatrical excesses of the stage, he recognized the power of a closeup and how subtle changes to his expression could carry substantial weight. In my opinion, the level of control that he had over his face has only ever been matched by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Those talents would continue into Hayakawa’s post-war “rediscovery.” For example, in Hell to Eternity (1960), he delivered an emotionally powerful speech entirely in un-subtitled Japanese. But, here, in Three Came Home, especially in that final scene, I believe that his talents saw their best implementation. For a few seconds, a man’s entire life passed across his face, wordlessly conveying more pathos than an entire monologue.

If you want more stories about surviving a Japanese POW camp, be sure to check out Unbroken (Laura Hillenbrand, 2011) from the 2AD Memorial Library. You can also reserve a copy of Agnes Keith’s original account of these events: Three Came Home: A Woman’s Ordeal in a Japanese Prison Camp (Agnes Newton Keith, 1948). The film is in the public domain and can be watched for free on the Internet Archive:

-Francis

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This Week in History

While we normally focus on WW2 or older US History in conjunction with American Culture I thought it would be nice to briefly discuss some of the more recent coalition actions performed by the US and the UK in alliance. In this week, 1991, Operation Desert Shield which protected Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression shifted to the offensive. This offensive, known as Operation Desert Storm, began January 17th with the counter-invasion of Kuwait by allied coalition forces with the goal being to liberate the country. This swift and united action, the first of its kind since the fall of the USSR and ending of the Cold War for the US, resulted in a freed Kuwait and the Iraqi army being forced back within their own borders.

The opening moves of this offensive would have been readily recognizable by any member of our own esteemed 2nd Air Division. A widespread bombing campaign of militarily important targets, a tactic largely unchanged since WW2, was used to cripple the Iraqi ability to continue hostilities. Also, similarily to WW2, ground offensives were held until the men in the skies had done their job; sometimes as many as 2,500 missions a day making it a very busy job indeed. This intensive and focused air campaign allowed the ground forces to declare victory within just 100 hours of their involvement, a feat which would likely would not have been possible without the skills and techniques developed by the Air Force in WW2 and honed since.

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