David Bruce: War Stories

• In September of 2001 married couple V.R. “Swede” and Martha Jacobsen Roskam were touring Ho Chi Mihn City in Vietnam. Martha visited a flea market and saw a vendor selling a basket of dog tags that had been worn by American soldiers. She told her husband about the dog tags. He was angry. She remembers, “He said those should not be sold on the streets as souvenirs and trivia.” The following day Martha bought all 37 of the dog tags for $20. With the help of their son, Peter, who was then an Illinois state senator, they found the last known address that the U.S. military had for each soldier. Peter called the National Archives’ National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. The director of the National Personnel Records Center said, “Senator, give me one of the names.” Quickly, the director said, “It’s a match. Give me another one.” The dog tags were genuine. The Roskams started trying to find the current addresses of the soldiers. Martha said, “The last address we had for many of these guys was 40 years old, so there were a lot of twists and turns along the way.” Whenever possible, Swede and Martha returned the dog tags personally. The first dog tag they returned were to a woman in Phoenix, Arizona, whose nephew, whom she had adopted, had been with a platoon in Vietnam. His platoon stopped to rest, and he sat on a land mine that killed him. Martha said, “Until then, it had been sort of an academic interest for me. My husband is the one who really made it all happen. But then I walked into this very modest home and saw this woman. She had the flag that had been given to her. The first time we saw one another, we embraced and we both wept as mothers. It wasn’t hard, but it was very poignant. From then on, it took a different dimension for me.” Four of the soldiers whose dog tags they had bought had been killed in combat. Others had died since returning home from Vietnam. One soldier remembered that he had lost his dog tags when his helmet was shot off while he was rappelling in a firefight. Martha said, “One fellow was out in the field a lot and said, ‘When all you lost was a dog tag, it wasn’t a bad day.’” Swede and Martha returned all 37 dog tags, an effort that took them seven years and ended in September of 2008. Martha said, “We have been so blessed by meeting these wonderful guys who gave so much of themselves at that time and suffered so much. It was something we were supposed to do — and we did it.”

• In 1957, actor Jamie Farr (who later played Klinger on TV’s M*A*S*H) was drafted into the United States Army. His job for a while was to make training films, but he had to get up early for reveille — the bugles blew at 5:30 a.m. to call the soldiers to line up in a parking lot for roll call. The soldiers were stationed in Queens, New York, and people living in the apartment buildings near the parking lot did not appreciate the bugles. One of those residents painted in big letters on a wall facing the parking lot “YANKEE, GO HOME.” By the way, in Fort Knox, Kentucky, Mr. Farr made a training film. A major parked his Jeep on the field where Mr. Farr and others were filming, and he walked over to them to ask what they were doing. They were making a training film demonstrating how a tank could run over anything in its path, and as the major was talking, a tank ran over the major’s Jeep. By the way, when Mr. Farr married Joy Ann Richards in 1963, they attended a show by comedian Danny Thomas, who introduced them and said that they had been married for one day. Mr. Farr shouted, “Yes, and they said it wouldn’t last!”

• In a speech in 2011, United States President Barack Obama told a story about an American private named Lloyd Corwin, who nearly died during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge. He was serving in a regiment in the 80th Division of George Patton’s Third Army, and he fell 40 feet into a ravine. Fortunately, a friend — a soldier named Andy Lee — scaled down the ravine and brought him to safer ground. President Obama said, “For the rest of his years, Lloyd credited this soldier, this friend, named Andy Lee, with saving his life, knowing he would never have made it out alone. It was a full four decades after the war, when the two friends reunited in their golden years, that Lloyd learned that the man who saved his life, his friend Andy, was gay. He had no idea. And he didn’t much care. Lloyd knew what mattered. He knew what had kept him alive; what made it possible for him to come home and start a family and live the rest of his life. It was his friend.”

• During World War II, the British sent bands overseas to entertain the troops. English classical music producer Walter Legg heard the bands auditioning at Drury Lane Theatre for overseas tours, and he marveled at the intonation of the bands, which was flawless although the theatre was unheated and very cold — Mr. Legge recalled “near-Arctic conditions.” He congratulated the conductors on the flawless intonations of their bands, and one conductor told him, “You would have no intonation problems if you had our authority to put any man who played out of tune on seven days latrine duty.”

• British anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski (1884-1942) once spoke with a cannibal who was aware of the vast number of casualties in World War I. The cannibal asked how the Europeans were able to consume so much human flesh. Told that Europeans did not eat human flesh, the cannibal was horrified and asked how Europeans were able to kill human beings for no reason.

• “Our bombs are smarter than the average high school student. At least they can find Afghanistan.” — A. Whitney Brown.

• “Truth is the first casualty of war.” — P.J. O’Rourke.

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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