David Bruce: War Stories

During the Civil War, soldiers occasionally showed great kindness to soldiers fighting on the other side. At Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the battle on July 1-3, 1863, resulted in great loss of life on both sides. A private fighting for the Union as a member of Co. E, 153rd Pennsylvania Regiment, lay wounded on the battlefield between some Union soldiers and some Confederate soldiers they were firing upon. The wounded private was afraid that he would be killed by friendly fire, so he asked one of the Rebels to move a large, loose stump in front of him, saying, “I don’t like the idea of being hit by my own own regiment.” The Rebel did as the man requested, and after the Rebel had gotten back to his own soldiers, the stump was hit by three shots. The Rebel yelled, “Young man, I saved your life.” The young man acknowledged the truth of the statement, and gave the Rebel many thanks.

During World War II, British civilians were trained to be members of the Home Guard. Soprano Joan Hammond was out for a walk one evening when a well-dressed man wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella pointed his umbrella at her and said, “Boom! Boom! Boom!” Ms. Hammond thought that he was harmless, so she said, “I’m dead.” The well-dressed man raised his bowler and said politely, “I beg your pardon, Madam, but there is a Home Guard exercise here this evening, and I thought you were one of the enemy.” Ms. Hammond writes, “I was delighted with this bit of whimsey as there was an air raid in progress at the time, and here we were preparing for the invasion of Eaton Square, bowler hats and all.”

Sonja Henie was photographed shaking hands with Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympic Games. This came in handy when the Nazis were bearing down on her house in Norway. Knowing that the Nazis were coming, Ms. Henie ordered for the photograph to be displayed prominently in her house. When the Nazis saw the photograph, they refrained from looting her house. (Although the photograph came in handy at that time, many Norwegians resented it, especially after Ms. Henie declined to contribute money to the Norwegian Resistance, saying that she was no longer a Norwegian but an American. Many Norwegians never forgave her for her lack of support during the war.)

When children’s mystery writer Joan Lowery Nixon was a teenager, World War II was raging, and one night while she was asleep the Coast Guard fired at what they thought was a Japanese submarine. The next day, her grandmother told her, “I stood here at our bedroom window and watched the bullets trace red lines across the sky. I was terrified. I didn’t know if we were being attacked or we were defending ourselves.” Ms. Nixon was disappointed at not being woken up because she had missed an exciting part of history, but her grandmother explained, “It was a school night. I wouldn’t wake you on a school night. You’re young. You need your sleep.”

The grandfather of Meg Cabot, author of the best-selling Princess Diaries books, fought during World War II. He was a young soldier who was shot quickly after arrival in France. This sounds like bad news, but the result turned out to be good for him. Soon after he was shot, the other soldiers in his platoon raided the wine cellar of an abandoned farmhouse. Unfortunately, German soldiers had poisoned all of the bottles of wine, and so all the soldiers in the platoon died. According to Meg’s grandfather, “Even being shot in the butt can have a silver lining.” Meg’s grandfather is the model for Princess Mia’s grandfather on her father’s side.

Elizabeth, the late Queen Mother, believed in sharing the pain and keeping a stiff upper lip when necessary. During World War II, she did not send her daughters—Elizabeth and Margaret—to the relative safety of the English countryside or to another country. Instead, she kept them in London even while the Nazis were dropping bombs frequently on the city and killing civilians. In addition, due to shortages the members of the royal family bathed in only four inches of water during the worst parts of the war. The Queen Mother even used tape on the bathtub to let her daughters know to what height they could fill the bathtub.

During World War I, Sir Thomas Beecham was conducting Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at Drury Lane when an air-raid took place and bombs started falling and exploding. Sir Thomas thought that panicked audience members would be as much or more of a danger than the bombs, so he stayed calm and continued conducting despite the explosions coming from outside the theater. The audience members also stayed calm and stayed in their seats. The theater was not hit by bombs, and no one was injured.

On September 23, 1779, off the coast of England, the American ship Bonhommie Richard, captained by John Paul Jones, battled the British ship Serapis. At one point, the Bonhommie Richard seemed about to sink, and the captain of the Serapisasked Captain Jones if he wanted to surrender. He roared in reply, “I have not yet begun to fight!” Eventually, he Bonhommie Richard captured the British ship.

During World War I, tenor Henry Wendon was with a fellow British soldier in Palestine when his companion suddenly fell to the ground during one of their walks. He thought something was wrong, but his friend had seen some black tulips growing in the wild, and he asked Mr. Wendon to help him dig some bulbs for his garden back home in England.

During World War II, soprano Kirsten Flagstad was in Norway, so that she could be with her husband. A friend asked her what she would do if the Nazis asked her to sing. She replied, “I am not going to sing for them. You know a singer can always be ill.”

The Roman general Marius equipped his troops with a new kind of pilum, or javelin. This pilum had a wooden rivet that broke when it hit after being thrown, thus preventing enemy soldiers from re-using the pilum and throwing it at the Romans.

“War is Not Pro-Life.”—bumper sticker.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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