Monday, May 25, 2015

Memorial Day

Studied by few, the Allied invasion of Italy during WWII is largely forgotten in today's history books.  Yet, it occurred before D-Day, thrusting a knife into the soft under-belly of Europe.  One of the division commanders was a fellow named Lucian Truscott, who commanded the 3rd Infantry Division.  While his Corps commander was organizing on the beach, preperatory to the breakout, the Germans were able to ring the beachhead, resulting in a bloodbath.  Eventually, the Allies broke through and made for Rome, capturing it mere days before the Normandy invasion we now call Overlord.

That Corps commander was relieved, and Truscott took his place, eventually leading the Allied Forces to victory and liberating Italy.  In May, 1945, Truscott gave the Memorial Day address at the cemetery where some 3,000 of his Anzio soldiers were buried.  We don't have a recording of his address, but famed cartoonist Bill Mauldin was present and gives us his account of the address.

Mauldin's account of Gen. Truscott's speech at Nettuno is the best record we have of that day.  He recalled the general taking the stand and then turning his back on the audience in order to address the buried corpses arrayed behind him. "It was the most moving gesture I ever saw," Mauldin said.
In his heavy rasp, Truscott told the dead men that he was sorry for what he had done. He said that leaders all tell themselves that deaths in war aren't their fault, that such carnage is inevitable. Deep down, though, if they're honest with themselves, he said, commanders and politicians know it's not true. Truscott admitted he had made mistakes, perhaps many. 
Then he asked the dead to forgive him. He was requesting the  impossible, he knew, but he needed to ask anyway. 
Finally, Truscott debunked the idea that there was glory in dying for one's country. He saw nothing glorious about men in their teens and twenties getting killed, he said. He then promised the men buried at Nettuno that if he ever ran into anybody who spoke of the glorious war dead, he would "straighten them out." "It is the least I can do," he concluded.
Would that we had such leaders today.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

That is one piece of history I'd never heard. Thank you! And yes, may they rest in peace.