Contributor Post Created with Sketch. A “What If” Memorial Day

 
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General George Washington with his army at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania during the winter of 1777- 1778, from the Valley Forge Historical Society

The news could not have been worse. Starvation, malnutrition, diseases such as typhoid, smallpox, dysentery, and pneumonia, along with freezing temperatures that assaulted thousands of shoeless feet bloodying the snow, attached to bands of “walking skeletons” exposed to the elements by threadbare garments—all combined to claim 2500 lives from General Washington’s army of 12,000 Continentals, who struggled through their encampment at Valley Forge during the 1777-78 Winter. One bitter soldier wrote, “Poor food — hard lodging — Cold Weather — fatigue — Nasty Cloaths — nasty Cookery — Vomit half my time — smoak’d out of my senses — the Devil’s in it — I can’t endure it — Why are we sent here to starve and freeze…?”

Why, indeed? Desertions were rife — “astonishing,” according to one observer — and mutterings of mutiny escaped from cracked lips of desperate, shivering volunteers, many of whom vowed to liberate themselves from their confinement as soon as their enlistments were up. Rumors of replacing General Washington were whispered in some ears — was there a conspiracy lurking in this misery? Finally, a detachment from the Continental Congress showed up to query the good general about what was going on. Washington exploded: “I’ve been leading this band of rabble under the worst conditions imaginable against the most powerful country the world has ever seen, and you have the unbridled impudence to question my leadership? That’s it, I’m done, I resign!” And he stomped off in fury, mounted his horse, and galloped away. Within three months, the British attacked what was left of the garrison, and the Americans’ aborted attempt to gain their independence and secure their rights for themselves and their posterity was quashed. History took a different, and very uncertain turn.

That is not what happened, of course; but Valley Forge is just one instance representing many scores of crucial “what if” experiences in American history, involving the battles, agonies, and wartime hardships that American soldiers have endured on behalf of their country, often receiving due credit for their sacrifices, and, to our country’s shame, occasionally not. Indeed, who can plunge into the soul-numbing specifics of any combat in America’s wars without being humbled by accounts of bodies blown to bits, of mortally wounded soldiers still leading charges, of bravery so profound that it mocks our efforts to describe it? But describe such bravery and sacrifice, we must. And remember, we must. Indeed, who could forget?

Who could forget a “what if” scenario of the Normandy Invasion, to cite another instance? What might have happened if Erwin Rommel had persuaded Hitler and General von Rundstedt to alter the Reich’s Festung Europa defense in ways that would have slaughtered Allied forces on the beaches? A re-energized Germany, is one answer, perhaps in a position to bolster its position on the Eastern front and fight the war to a stalemate with the Soviet Union, leaving the continent enslaved by two totalitarian powers while a demoralized United States, Great Britain, and Canada contemplate another invasion attempt in year or so. All the while Americans at home wonder why we got into that war to begin with, as they read about General Eisenhower getting sacked and Roosevelt dying even more prematurely from a heart attack.

Indeed, the “what ifs” about the brave men and women who have sacrificed their lives for our country fill books, all of them fascinating, all of them disturbing. One last point needs to be made. I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Normandy American Cemetery — several times, in fact — bereft of speech and breath as my lonely steps walked softly and lightly among those perfectly aligned rows of crosses, with a scattering of tiny flags fluttering here and there. Then you come to a particular cross and stop. And read:

HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY
A COMRADE IN ARMS
KNOWN BUT TO GOD

I ponder this, of course. Silently. Reverently. I think of those intrepid 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds storming the beaches of Normandy, facing murderous volleys of German machine-gun fire from MG34s, and the terrifyingly high muzzle reports of Maschinengewehr 42s. Then my thoughts wander from those young heroes to some of their counterparts on American college campuses today, clamoring for “safe spaces,” demanding “trigger warnings” for speech that hurts their feelings, and sobbing about “micro-aggressions” that make them “uncomfortable.” One cannot help but wonder how any of them would fare on the beaches of Normandy on that June day in 1944. Not well, I think. In fact, too many in this generation have behaved in contemptible, cowardly ways, and would choose the worst “what if” scenario for their country imaginable, in favor of the America we all live in now.

I, for one, love the America that has survived all those horrible “what ifs” of our history. I love the America where our fallen heroes are revered and our serving men and women are held in the highest esteem. Let us all thank God that He has blessed the America that we have, and always remember those courageous men and women who sacrificed their lives to secure it, for us and future generations.

There are 15 comments.

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  1. Boomerang Inactive

    Amen, Marvin.

    • #1
    • May 29, 2016, at 2:32 PM PDT
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  2. Michael S. Malone Contributor

    I often think of Brig. Gen Ted Roosevelt standing with his cane on Utah beach, under fire, surveying the situation. He calls together his commanding officers, points at the map, and says, “It’s the wrong beach. They’ve dropped us more than a mile off our objective.”

    Roosevelt could have justifiably recalled the landing craft and taken the 4th Infantry Division off the beach and repeated the landing in the right place. That would have taken hours, even as the rest of the U.S. Army troops were trapped on Omaha beach . . . and Gen. Bradley would have likely called off the invasion. Instead, Ted Jr. says, “We’ll start the war right here.”

    History often turns on the character of a single individual. Thank God America has had more than its share of them.

    • #2
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:04 PM PDT
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  3. Herbert E. Meyer Contributor

    Thank you for writing this.

    • #3
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:19 PM PDT
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  4. OldDanRhody (this comment has … Member

    A worthy post for the day. Thank you.

    • #4
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:25 PM PDT
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  5. BastiatJunior Member

    Thank you for posting this.

    • #5
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:45 PM PDT
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  6. kylez Member
    kylez Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    That drummer boy could be my ancestor, Frederick Metzger, a drummer boy who was at Valley Forge, and had joined the army against his German immigrant father’s wishes.

    • #6
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:54 PM PDT
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  7. Bigfoot - Human Impersonator Thatcher

    Yes!!

    • #7
    • May 29, 2016, at 3:58 PM PDT
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  8. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Marvin Folkertsma: One cannot help but wonder how any of them would fare on the beaches of Normandy on that June day in 1944. Not well, I think.

    It is unnecessary to impune some men to honor others.

    Many boys are not men until reforged in a merciless fire.

    • #8
    • May 29, 2016, at 4:39 PM PDT
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  9. MJBubba Inactive

    G-d blessed us with General Washington.

    • #9
    • May 29, 2016, at 6:40 PM PDT
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  10. Arthur Beare Member

    Marvin Folkertsma: One cannot help but wonder how any of them would fare on the beaches of Normandy on that June day in 1944.

    I’m sure most of the men in the Higgins boats wondered how they would perform in the test they knew awaited them when the ramp dropped. Yet most managed to do what they had come to do.

    With proper leadership, I think most of our kids would do the same. Pray we never have to find out.

    • #10
    • May 29, 2016, at 10:13 PM PDT
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  11. Cow Girl Thatcher

    Thank you. “Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!” And praise all those Americans who have sacrificed to keep our freedoms intact.

    • #11
    • May 29, 2016, at 11:33 PM PDT
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  12. Hartmann von Aue Member

    Many thanks!

    • #12
    • May 30, 2016, at 2:51 AM PDT
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  13. Marvin Folkertsma Contributor
    Marvin Folkertsma

    Arthur Beare:Marvin Folkertsma: One cannot help but wonder how any of them would fare on the beaches of Normandy on that June day in 1944.

    I’m sure most of the men in the Higgins boats wondered how they would perform in the test they knew awaited them when the ramp dropped. Yet most managed to do what they had come to do.

    With proper leadership, I think most of our kids would do the same. Pray we never have to find out.

    Yes, I’m sure you’re right. I’ve been following the anti-American activities on our campuses so much, that likely it has left me a bit jaded. Thank you for your comment.

    • #13
    • May 30, 2016, at 5:48 AM PDT
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  14. Marvin Folkertsma Contributor
    Marvin Folkertsma

    Aaron Miller:

    Marvin Folkertsma: One cannot help but wonder how any of them would fare on the beaches of Normandy on that June day in 1944. Not well, I think.

    It is unnecessary to impune some men to honor others.

    Many boys are not men until reforged in a merciless fire.

    My goal was not to impugn some men to honor others. As I mentioned in another response, I find the rampant anti-Americanism on our college campuses quite discouraging–the flag burners, the blame-America-first radicals, and so forth. It is this minority that is most troubling. Thank you for your comment.

    • #14
    • May 30, 2016, at 5:54 AM PDT
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  15. Pugshot Member
    Pugshot Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My wife and I spent a small portion of today planting flowers on my father’s grave. He served in WWII fighting in the North African and Italian campaigns commanding a battery of anti-aircraft artillery before being assigned stateside to oversee ordinance procurement in Detroit. That you, Marvin, for remembering our soldiers’ sacrifices.

    • #15
    • May 30, 2016, at 12:38 PM PDT
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