David Bruce: War Anecdotes

• “Father John,” aka Chaplain Rev. Father John De Valles died a hero of World War I. He worked hard in No Man’s Land, bringing back many wounded soldiers so that medics could take care of them. Once, after Father John had carried a wounded soldier out of No Man’s Land, someone said, “That is a good joke on you. He is a Protestant.” Father John replied, “There is no distinction of creed or race; we are all Americans here.” (Other Chaplains felt the same way, and they respected the religion of all. During World War I, one Chaplain, a Jewish Rabbi, held a cross before a dying Christian soldier’s eyes in No Man’s Land.) Father John was free in giving away his possessions to soldiers; in fact, he was so free that soldiers sometimes took what they wanted when he was not around. After a soldier took his last pair of underwear, Father John smiled, then said ruefully, “That was rubbing it in.” As you would expect, Father John won many medals and awards; they included the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Croix de Guerre, with gilt star. Major-General Clarence R. Edwards said about Father John, “He was the bravest man I ever knew.”

• On September 1, 1983, during the Cold War, the USSR shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, killing all onboard, including US Congressman Lawrence Patton McDonald, from Georgia’s 7thdistrict. This led to heightened tension between the USSR and the United States. Shortly afterward, on September 26, Soviet army software engineer Stanislav Petrov was working at a surveillance center near Moscow. He remembers, “Suddenly the screen in front of me turned bright red. An alarm went off. It was piercing, loud enough to raise a dead man from his grave.” What did the excitement mean? Mr. Petrov says, “The computer showed that the Americans had launched a nuclear strike against us.” This first alarm was followed by a second alarm and then by a third alarm. He remembers that “for 15 seconds, we were in a state of shock. We needed to understand, what’s next?” It was up to Mr. Petrov to make a decision: Was the United States really launching a nuclear attack against the Soviet Union, or was this a computer malfunction? He decided that it was a computer malfunction because the computer was saying that only five missiles had been launched against the USSR. He thought, When people start a war, they don’t start it with only five missiles. You can do little damage with just five missiles. If Mr. Petrov had not made the right decision on September 26, 1983, the Soviet Union could have launched nuclear missiles against the US, starting a nuclear war and perhaps ending the existence of civilization. 
• Action star Chuck Norris is a favorite of many American soldiers. In 2006 and 2007 he went to the Middle East, and he says that he shook hands with nearly 40,000 soldiers. One soldier was up for reenlistment, and he said that wanted Chuck to be there when he re-upped. Chuck was willing, and he also was willing when the soldier asked him to twist his arm as he signed the reenlistment papers so it looked as if Chuck—a tough guy—was forcing him to sign. Many of the Chuck Norris Facts going around the Internet refer to Chuck’s image as a tough guy. For example: “Why were no weapons of mass destruction found in the Middle East? Because Chuck Norris lives in Texas.” By the way, in real life the front door of Chuck’s home displays a picture of a gun and these words: “We don’t dial 9-1-1 here.” Also by the way, when Chuck showed up at American bases in the Middle East some soldiers held up a sign that said this: “Chuck Norris is here! We can go home now!” Chuck says, “I wish that were true.”

• Funny and tragic and stupid incidents occurred during the Korean War. Captain Evelyn Decker, a U.S. Army nurse during the Korean War, remembers a funny incident involving one of two gay corpsmen she worked with who “were the best corpsmen we had.” One of the corpsmen wanted to leave Korea and go back home, so he wrote the Pentagon to announce that he was gay. Captain Decker says, “The reply he received said he was doing such a great job that he had to stay.” Tragically, Army nurses work on injured and dying soldiers. Captain Decker remembers that many of the newly injured soldiers who came into the medical facility where she worked were concerned about the condition of what they called their “family jewels.” She remembers, “Not all were lucky enough to have their ‘jewels’ intact.” Back in that racist time, some people, unfortunately, were stupid. Captain Decker remembers, “As some of the soldiers lay dying, they refused to let a black nurse [Captain Decker is African-American] care for them. They’d rather die than be treated by a black nurse—and some of them did.”

• Chips, a German shepherd/collie/huskie mix in the Army K-9 Corps, won both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart while fighting in Sicily, Italy, for General George Patton during World War II. Chips and the soldiers were pinned down on the beach when suddenly Chips ran toward and attacked the enemy soldiers in an Italian bunker. Enemy soldiers ran screaming out of the bunker, and the Allied soldiers saw Chips grabbing one enemy soldier by the throat. The remaining enemy soldiers surrendered. No problems occurred when Chips received the Silver Star and the Purple Heart, but when Chips met Supreme Allied Commander Dwight David Eisenhower, Chips bit his hand.

• Controversial film director John Waters got out of being drafted during the Vietnam War by checking a number of boxes (including “gay”) on a form and by weighing 129 pounds at a time when the minimum weight for a draftee was 130 pounds. He was classified 1Y, along with singer Iggy Pop, who had a very heavy illegal drug habit. When the Gulf War broke out, Iggy asked John, “Do you think they’ll call us?” John answered that they would be called only after all the hairdressers had been called.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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