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Dash of Pepper

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Homage to a dead veteran
The Gazette Staff
The existence of evil
The Gazette Staff
One of my husband's good friends was a man who was orphaned as an infant and adopted by a childless couple in Tennessee.
It was the early 1940s when he was drafted straight out of high school into the U.S. Army. He found himself at a tender age, in Europe, in Patton's army following D Day. He managed to survive the Battle of the Bulge and was among those troops fighting in the push to reach Berlin.
At the Remagen Bridge, combat was fierce. In a matter of days, he found himself with the combat rank of captain at age nineteen. The officers who had been his commanders were dead.
They slogged forward and the young man thought he had seen all the horrors war could conjure up.
One day, acting on some tips, they moved toward what was rumored to be a concentration camp location. As I recall, the camp was Daschau.
The air had a particular smell he said. He and his men entered the camp. The camp commanders had hurriedly tried to gas and burn many of the occupants, he thought.
He and his men were aghast at the condition of those remaining. He said when they lifted these people out onto stretchers, they were so emaciated, they were as light as air in the arms of the Americans. As he related it, a Red Cross worker told him to give the former prisoners only a small amount of water at a time and no solid food. Apparently, in their state of near starvation, solid food might kill them.
When I lived on the Upper West Side of New York, I was single and often dined out in my neighborhood, which had a large Jewish population. In a local coffee shop one morning, I got into a conversation with a woman sitting near me. She looked to be in her early 70s. She pointed to a number tattooed on the inside of her wrist. She was a camp survivor. She said when the Americans found her, they turned her over to the Red Cross. She ended up in a Paris hospital. She said she was unable to digest solid food for several months. Eventually, she was given a small amount of scrambled eggs and in a few months, she was well enough to leave and join some relatives who had immigrated to New York before the war.
My husband's friend, Bill, said the day he entered Daschau utterly changed his life. He said the full realization of the existence of evil was revealed to him. He realized that man's inhumanity to man, if left unchecked, could result in unspeakable acts on a massive scale. He understood combat. He understood young German men were drafted, just as he had been.
But the scene as he entered the camp was beyond comprehension. A Tennessee boy, raised by a kindly couple in a loving community, could not explain to the other young men under his command what they were seeing.
The grey walls, the putrid scents, the gas chambers themselves all spoke of evil incarnate. Then he said, he suddenly recalled the smell in the air as the men had approached the camp. It was not unlike the scent he recalled from his boyhood during Saturday afternoon barbeques in Tennessee.
A friend of mine who is a much decorated combat veteran said vets are reticent to speak of events they went through for two reasons. Firstly, it doesn't seem appropriate to them. Secondly, they realize that words can't fully convey the reality of war.
That is probably true, but I hope that Bill's story will, at least in some small measure offer a glimpse of why we honor our fighting men and women on this Memorial Day.
Last Updated on Friday, 12 June 2009 15:59  

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