How gratifying to hear from so many veterans in response to my Oct. 25 column on Mitchell Paige and Guadalcanal.
I heard from Clayton Fisher, 87, of Henderson, who served under Chesty Puller in the 1st of the 7th Marines, receiving his first purple heart at Guadalcanal (the night before the action I described in my column) and his second at Palau.
I heard from Gordon Williams, now 92, who served on the destroyer Porter (DD356) in the Battle of Santa Cruz, which was being fought over the same two days — Oct. 25 and 26, 1942 — as the Battle for Henderson Field that I described in my Oct. 25 column.
I also received some gratifying letters from Mrs. Aurea Jann of Meadview, Ariz., and from Nathan Chaikin of Las Vegas, a friend of Barney Ross, who manned that thin khaki line with Paige on Oct. 25. Maybe they won’t mind if I share some excerpts next week.
I even heard from my dad, a somewhat junior member of this fraternity at a spry 86, who reminded me that Oct. 25 was also the anniversary of a slightly later naval action, at Leyte Gulf in 1944, where his own little escort destroyer, the Raymond, was one of a very small force of tin cans sent in by Rear Adm. Clifton Sprague to attack the Japanese battlewagons and heavy cruisers emerging from the San Bernardino Strait, head-on.
Some of those little ships were shot in half. But Admiral Kurita turned tail and ran.
Of course, there was the usual smattering of complaints, last week, that by glorifying a warrior I thus glorify war, which is the sustenance of the state.
In fact, I consider most of our recent foreign military adventures pointless at best and counterproductive in the main. I believe — along with a number of military men that might surprise you — that the best reason to maintain a credible military capability is to reduce the chances you’ll ever need to use it.
The Second World War is a less clear case. Yes, once President Roosevelt embargoed oil shipments to Japan, we’re told Tojo had a limited time to “use his fleet or lose it.” We’re also told — by Pat Buchanan, most recently — that there need never have been a Second World War in Europe if Poland had only given back Gdansk to Hitler.
Given that der Fuhrer didn’t stop after being allowed to grab Austria and Czechoslovakia, I simply don’t believe it. Nor can I find it in myself to apologize for celebrating courage, prowess, willingness to risk all for the good of the nation, nor to join with the sneering, simpering clique who claim war is never necessary.
The world is full of people who would like to come here and steal our women and our stuff. Those who believe they only want to be treated as equals and allowed to gather round the campfire and sing “Kumbaya” are eventually going to find themselves on someone’s menu, labeled “breakfast.”
Should I apologize for celebrating those who risked all to liberate Asia from the Japanese “master race,” to liberate Europe from Hitler and — 46 years later — stood watch at the funeral pyre of Soviet communism?
I recently re-read “Mila 18,” Leon Uris’ novelization of the Warsaw ghetto revolt. It’s a based-on-fact account of men and women standing up to unimaginable oppression. I’d be proud to stand side by side with anyone who faced down the SS, even for an hour, let alone for weeks.
Then, within days, I happened to stumble on an extract from Solly Ganor’s reminiscences involving his small revolt, as a child, when he hid away a virtual library after the Nazis in 1942 declared it a crime for any Jew in occupied Kovno, Lithuania, to own a book — any book. (http://www.chgs.umn.edu/histories/documentary/sollyganor.pdf.)
He tells of the math teacher, Mr. Edelstein, who came from a small shtetl where his whole family, with the rest of the Jews, was burned alive in the synagogue. “Yet he taught us to believe that the good will triumph over the evil, and we shall all return to our beloved land of Israel,” Ganor recalls.
Mr. Edelstein asked Solly to smuggle him a mathematics book. The child did so.
“He was so delighted that he gave me a big hug. ‘Do you know what a treasure this is? Look! It is in Hebrew and was printed in Tel Aviv. Where on earth did you get it?’ He then put (it) in a bag full of clothing he was carrying to trade with the guard at the gate.
“That afternoon when we left school, I passed him at the gate, where he stopped to trade with the guard. Suddenly I heard the guard shout. He sounded drunk. ‘You want more food for the junk? What(‘s) that you got hidden there, Jew boy. A book? I can shoot you for that! How would you like that for extra food?’
“I was about ten yards away and turned to see what was happening. A German military car stopped at the gate and an SS officer stepped out and wanted to know what was going on. I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. Mr. Edelstein stood ashen faced while the guard showed the book to the SS officer.
“The German turned the pages slowly, then demanded to know where Mr. Edelstein had gotten that book. I couldn’t hear Mr. Edelstein’s answer, but the German slapped him a few times and shouted: ‘Don’t lie to me, you filthy Jew! And (it’s) in some kind of a code! Who is your contact? Where did you get this book? Tell me or I will kill you!’
“I stood frozen in horror as he and the Lithuanian began beating my teacher. Any minute, I expected Mr. Edelstein to point a finger at me; but instead of that, he made a barely perceptible gesture for me to go. With that I found my feet and started running. I was turning into a side street when I heard a shot. I looked back to see Mr. Edelstein fall to his knees. The German put his pistol to his head and fired again, and Mr. Edelstein fell over and lay still. …
“To this day, I remember his feeble gesture waving me away from there. All he had to do is point in my direction to save himself, but he wouldn’t do it. … There was no funeral, as all religious practices were forbidden by the Germans.”
Secretly, the children said a forbidden Kadish for their teacher at his unmarked grave.
Mitchell Paige — and all those proud veterans who contacted me this week, wanting only for their service and their sacrifice to be remembered — didn’t fight for medals or booty. Most of them left the service with little more than a bus ticket and the clothes on their backs.
They fought for people whose names they didn’t even know, they fought so that people like Solly Ganor and his math teacher, Mr. Edelstein, would no longer be shot in the head for the crime of owning a book.
To those courageous countrymen of mine, I say thank you and God bless.
To those who say it’s wrong to celebrate their courage and their sacrifice because we thus glorify war and the state, I say: Who shall stand ahead of me in opposing a state grown despicable in its arrogance and its greed for power?
Sometimes war and violent resistance are good and necessary. There are some things worth fighting and dying to protect. And if you can’t see that, then crawl back and lick the hands of the tyrants who feed you, may your chains weigh lightly upon you, but call yourselves no countrymen of mine.
Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the Review-Journal and author of the books “Send in the Waco Killers” and “The Black Arrow.” See www.vinsuprynowicz.com/ and www.lvrj.com/blogs/vin/.