Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas, Snoopy and The Red Baron, a Deserter Named Tenant, and My Father's War Stories

I heard the song about Snoopy and the Red Baron earlier tonight and my thoughts were set to wandering and my eyes almost to crying. This love thing, this generosity thing they show the best side of Christianity and why I sometimes feel a gravitational pull to that Faith.

A guy named William F. Frisbee Jr. wrote an interesting piece about soldiers and the psychology of killing. It seems that most infantry soldiers never try to kill anyone. That makes sense to me.

I went through US Army Basic Combat Training which supposedly turned me into a killing machine. It never did any such thing. Yes I learned some technical stuff and yes I was whipped into shape but no I was never going to shoot anyone not any Vietnamese and not Private Tenant.  Private Tenant was given over to me to transport to the stockade with stops to get clothes, and see the Protestant Chaplain . Lt. Michini told me that were Tenant to run I was, after warning him, to shoot him in the back I would then receive non- judicial punishment- a five dollar fine for murder and be given a carton of cigarettes. Not that I expected him to run but I knew I could never carry out this directive. Private Tenant did not run.

My father was never a Christian but he was influenced by Christian humanism via Karl Marx who was raised as a Lutheran and whose vision was a search in part for universal human familyhood.

My father was a foot soldier in a tank destroyer battalion that fought in North Africa and Italy. They would go behind enemy lines looking for tank formations they  could call artillery on or warn friendly forces about. Sometimes they got into shitstorms too. Of course you should know my father was Jewish pretty nationalistic in conflict with his pro Communism. My parents taught me universal brotherhood but sometimes they'd go off on scary anti Gentile and especially anti German  rants.

Yet when the rubber met the road my father twice could not kill a German soldier though it would have been a simple matter in each case. Once he was on patrol, actually dug into a fox hole. Not far in front of them, also dug in and hunkered down was a small German detachment. My father was on lookout. He saw an almost comical vision of a German soldier climbing out of his hole and with his winter coat flapping in the breeze. My father drew a bead on the German but he could not pull the trigger. The "Kraut" finished his piss and hopped back into his foxhole. BTW you know the one about atheists in foxholes. Supposedly my father would have been one but I would wager that on the night at Monte Casino when his youthful black hair turned white and the air smelled of loose bowels he prayed plenty.

The other time my father could have but did not kill he had found a German soldier, a young shivering conscript, cowering in a basement in an Italian village the Germans had quit. My father told me that his Lieutenant told him he could shoot "the bastard" if he so desired. As my father recounted he looked at the young man or big boy and imagined a mother, maybe a sweetheart staying pure for the soldier crying anx praying for this boy every day and my father "chose life" again.