David Bruce: War Stories

By the end of the twentieth century, only one woman had ever won the Medal of Honor. That woman is Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who served in the Civil War. She volunteered her services to the Union Army, but the officials were unsure what to do with her. Although she wanted to serve as an army doctor, time after time her request was turned down. Still, because of the many wounded soldiers and the great need of doctors, she managed to help the wounded in a hospital temporarily set up in the Patent Office building in Washington D.C. as well as in field hospitals in Virginia. Later, she went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where the wounded of the Battle of Chickamauga were coming. However, because of prejudice against women, who were not thought to be capable of being physicians, a medical board of male doctors pronounced her unfit to be a doctor. Nevertheless, she stayed to help civilians around and in Chattanooga. On April 10, 1864, as Dr. Walker was outside the army camp, a Confederate patrol arrested her and charged her with being a spy. She spent four months as a prisoner in Richmond, Virginia, before being exchanged for a Confederate prisoner. She continued to work as a doctor, first taking care of women in a prison, then working in an orphanage. For all of her work as a doctor during the war, she was awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in 1916, the United States Army reviewed the Medals of Honor it had given out, and it decided that Dr. Walker did not deserve her medal because she had been only a contract physician, not a member of the military. Dr. Walker declined to give up her medals (both the one she had been originally awarded, and the redesigned medal she had received in 1906), and she kept them until her death in 1917. However, the Army Board of Correction of Military Records reviewed her case in 1977. It determined that if she had been a man, she would have received a commission as an army officer. For this reason, the board restored her Medal of Honor on June 10, 1977.

Following World War I, Ernestine Schumann-Heink was leery of singing German classical music. (She had sang to support the American troops during the war.) Even while singing in Japan, she was very careful which songs she sang, so she left off the program all songs by German composers. However, the Empress of Japan looked over the program and was shocked by the lack of German composers, asking, “Why, what kind of a program is this?” Ms. Schumann-Heink started to mention the war, but the Empress of Japan said, very reasonably, “Music has nothing to do with war! Music should not be affected by war. So put in your classics, Brahms, Schubert, Beethoven, and make it an artistic, beautiful program—or there can be no concert.” Ms. Schumann-Heink very happily put the requested German classics into her program.

Comedian Al Franken goes into Veterans Administration hospitals to meet the wounded troops. He thought that it would be very difficult, but he was amazed by how cheerful many of them—including a woman helicopter pilot who lost most of her left leg and part of her right leg—are. He asked a man with one leg what had happened to him; the man replied, “I came in here for a vasectomy, and when I woke up my leg was gone.” By the way, Mr. Franken says not to thank these wounded veterans for their service to the country—they imitate all the politicians who tell them that. Therefore, Mr. Franken uses humor. When he has a photograph taken with one of these veterans, he writes on the photo, “Thank you for getting grievously wounded.”

When photographer Margaret Bourke-White received permission to cover the 1942 Allied invasion of Tunisia during World War II, she thought that she would fly there. However, General Jimmy Doolittle, who commanded the Eighth Air Force, told her that she would be safer if she sailed there in a convoy. Ironically, a German torpedo struck her ship, but fortunately, she escaped in a lifeboat—and came away from the wreckage with some astonishing photographs.

During World War I, many Americans opposed the playing of German music on patriotic grounds. However, many musicians, including Spanish cellist Pablo Casals regarded this attitude as nonsense, so Mr. Casals started the Beethoven Association in New York with other musicians who supported the playing of works by Ludwig van Beethoven and other great German composers.

Despite being born in Boston, George Copeland played Spanish music very well and even lived in Spain; however, he abandoned his Spanish villa just before a revolutionary war broke out. He had a good reason. One morning, he discovered one of his Loyalist servants on the patio. More specifically, he found the servant’s head—the rest of the servant was nowhere to be found.

General George Washington and 11,000 troops spent the winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Of his men, 3,000 died of hunger, cold, illness, and suffering that winter. In the spring, there was good news—the French had decided to join the war on the side of the Americans.

Alexander the Great could be ruthless. When he was opposed by the Thebans, he conquered Thebes, killed at least 6,000 men, sold the Theban women and children into slavery, and destroyed all the buildings of the city except for its temples and the house of Pindar, a poet he greatly respected.

When war correspondent and photographer Margaret Bourke-White received permission to fly on a bombing expedition during World War II, J. Hampton Atkinson piloted her himself, saying, “I’m going to fly you myself because if you die, I want to die, too.” (Fortunately, neither of them died.)

After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, people worried that the Japanese would attack the western coast of the United States—or even the White House. Therefore, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wheelchair was outfitted with a gas mask.

Babe Ruth was such an American sports hero that during World War II, Japanese soldiers used to shout at American soldiers, “To hell with Babe Ruth!”

“Renewable Energy is Homeland Security.”—bumper sticker.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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