Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mississippi MASH Hero

"When the sun goes down, the tide goes out,
The people gather 'round and they all begin to shout,
'Hey! Hey! Uncle Dud,
It's a treat to beat your feet on the Mississippi Mud.'"

During his formative years, the Colonel was a fan of the movie M*A*S*H and the television series of the same name.  Both were adaptations of a book written by H. Richard Hornberger and published under the nom de plume, Richard Hooker.  Hornberger's book was based on his own Korean War experience as a surgeon in a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital -- the 8055th.

Ironically, as wildly successful as the movie and television series were, Hornberger profited little from their popularity, having sold the film rights to the story for a pittance.  And, as the left-leaning writers of the TV show increasingly used their medium as a thinly-veiled message against the Vietnam War, Hornsberger is reported to have refused to watch the show. 

The Colonel takes pride in the fact that there is a strong Mississippi connection to the M*A*S*H story -- beyond the above-quoted lyrics to the song sung by the crazy general in the first episode of Season 3, "The General Flipped at Dawn."

The commanding officer of the real MASH unit that was the inspiration for Hornberger's book, was a Mississippian by the name of Dr. Jeremiah Henry Holleman. 

Born in Hattiesburg in 1916, Dr. Holleman recieved his undergraduate degree from Millsaps College in 1939 and his medical degree from the Universities of Mississippi and Tennessee in 1943.  After surgical training at Carraway Methodist in Birmingham and The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Dr. Holleman joined the U.S. Army's 89th Infantry Division in time to participate in their assault across the Rhine in the early Spring of 1945 and the first liberation of a concentration camp.

After serving as a battlefield surgeon and witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, Dr. Holleman would have been entirely justified to have decided to sit out the next war in the civilian surgical practice he had opened in Columbus, Mississippi.  

Only he didn't.

In 1951, as the war on the Korean peninsula settled into a meat grinding impasse, Dr. Holleman rejoined the U.S. Army and was assigned as the commanding officer of the 8055th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.  Pioneering the mass casualty concept of triage, and developing new vascular surgery techniques, the 8055th was credited with saving the lives and limbs of over 5000 soldiers, with an amazing 97% survival rate. 

With the signing of the Korean Armistice in 1953, Dr. Holleman returned home to his surgical practice in Columbus, Mississippi where he served as a leading citizen and benefactor for the next half century.

Dr. Holleman, a real American Hero, died earlier this month.  He was 94.  Dr. Holleman was buried on Veterans Day in Columbus' Friendship Cemetery -- the site of the first Decoration Day (later Memorial Day) ceremony.

Entirely fitting.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The "Great Task Remaining"

Tomorrow marks the 148th anniversary of President Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address."  He spoke for only a few minutes.  Others preceded him at the podium with loud, lengthy speeches; and, when Lincoln spoke, many in the crowd struggled to make out his words.  Not until much later, after they were published in the newspapers, did these words strike a chord that resounds even today: 

"...The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

A little over four months had passed since the titanic battle at the quiet pastoral crossroad college town in Pennsylvania.  A few men in the final grey-clad assault against the Union Army's defenses actually reached the rock wall behind which their brothers in blue had poured hot lead into, and decimated, their ranks.  Historians have since marked that spot as the "High water mark of the Confederacy."

Only it wasn't.

At least it wasn't the northernmost invasion of the North by Southern forces.

That distinction actually belongs to the Battle of Salineville, fought in Northeastern Ohio three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg.  A Confederate cavalry force under Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan struck deep into enemy territory and was eventually cut off and defeated by Union forces under the command of one Brigadier General James M. Shackelford, to whom the Colonel is distantly related on his mother's side.   

The Colonel digresses.

The point of this post, for which the thousands of you who regularly display enormous erudition and enhanced cultural consciousness by imbibing liberally of the literary libations poured out hereon have waited patiently for the Colonel to make, is that the "great task remaining before us" to which Lincoln referred in his remarks honoring the sacrifice of those "who gave the last full measure of devotion" was not accomplished with the end of the American Civil War. 

Lincoln's "Great Task" remains ever before us.  Like God's perfection, it is an unachievable goal toward the achievement of which we must never cease to strive.  

"Government of the people, by the people," and, "for the people" is not an easy thing to achieve.

It is, in the history of man, nearly an impossibility.

Therein lies, the Colonel believes, the true measure of the greatness of our republic.  The American people are world-renown for achieving the impossible.  Need an example?  Just look at the impossible leap made, in less than a citizen's lifetime, from the sandy dunes of Kitty Hawk to the dusty plains of the Sea of Tranquility.  

The Constitution, with which, and on which, the American Republic was founded, is not so much a blueprint of a form of government as it is an aspirational torch lighting the way for Jefferson's inalienable right to pursue freedom.  

It is claimed that the Constitution contains guarantees of our rights and freedoms.

It does no such thing.

In our republic, the people, as Lincoln so clearly understood, guarantee their own rights.

In our republic, the people guarantee their own freedom.

And when a government oversteps the constitutional authority given to it, not by the Constitution, but by the people, the people must guarantee their own rights and freedoms with a box of ballots; and failing that, when due to clearly unconstitutional governmental trampling and usurpation, with a box of bullets.

The Colonel has his hopes on the former and his money in the latter.              

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Catch #2

The Colonel made the grave error the other day of asking the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda for her unvarnished critique of the lucidity, efficacy, and interest of his regularly irregular posts hereon. 

The Colonel's Lady not only laid off the varnish, but the sandpaper as well.

How rough was it?  Well, it was so uncomfortable that the only reason he didn't immediately vacate her immediate presence was because the Colonel was driving. 

He briefly considered exiting the vehicle while on the bridge over the Tallahatchie, but that song's already been written.

The criticism from the Colonel's favorite person in all the world wasn't so much like a sharp stick in the eye...; it was more like multiple thrusts of a rapier under his ribs.  The Colonel was faced with the choice to either face it like a man, or respond like a little girl. 

"...tedious, infantile, sophomoric, redundant," the comely and suddenly, shockingly not-so-kind-hearted Miss Brenda paused twenty minutes into her caustically cruel critique, "Hey, are you crying?!?  Oh, for goodness sake; Man-Up!"

"Ye, ye, ye, yes, dear," the Colonel stammered between sobs.

"And, another thing," the Colonel's Lady continued, "this bit about 'the three dozen who waste rod and cone time reading your posts...'"

"You mean," the Colonel sniffed and corrected, "'the three dozen or so of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon...'?"  

"Yeah, yeah, yeah; whatever.  Hate it."

"But that's one of the Colonel's signature catch phrases," the Colonel whined.

"And, quit referring to yourself in the third person around me.  Hate that, too!"

The comely and suddenly, shockingly, not-so-kind-hearted Miss Brenda was not only repeatedly ramming her rapier under his ribs, but was violently twisting said repeatedly-rammed-rapier at the hilt-deep conclusion of each thrust. 

"But, but, dear," the Colonel defended, "self-deprecation is one of the Colonel's most cherished literary devices."

"Well," the Colonel's Lady retorted, "I don't like anyone deprecating on my hubby; not even my own hubby."

The Colonel thought she might be confusing deprecation with defecation and briefly considered delivering a short lecture regarding the fine art of differentiating the two.

But, then again, she probably already knows the difference -- she's (new Colonel's Lady-approved signature catch phrase to follow) one of the thousands of erudite, discriminating, and culturally conscious readers who closely follow and appreciatively drink up the literary libations provided here at the Colonel's Corner. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Armistice Day Salute

The Colonel never really knew his maternal grandfather.    Eubanks McCrary was not much more than a name, a few faded photographs, and a handful of anecdotes -- the Colonel was a mere toddler when the man died.

The one thing about the man that had always been intriguing was the fact that he had served in the First World War.  Shame on the Colonel, but only of late has he begun to research the history of his grandfather's service. 

The Colonel's mother recently granted him custody of a small clutch of her father's documents.  When she handed them to him in a legal envelope, it felt to the Colonel like being entrusted with a most fragile fragment of our family history.  Of no inherent value in and of itself, but, to this increasingly sentimental soul, a treasure trove of not-so-trivial trivia about a man with whom the Colonel wishes for all the world to have spent acknowlegeable time.    

On the Colonel's desk this morning rests the contents of that envelope: a photograph of Grandmother and Grandfather McCrary taken several years before his death; a copy of their marriage license (married on Christmas Day, 1923); and a non-descript, paper-thin leather envelope with the faint embossing of an eagle and the words "Honorable Discharge from the U.S. Service.

Protected within that folded leather is a two-sided document.  On the front above the seal of the United States (appropriate to this day that the eagle's talons grasp both the arrows of war and the olive branch of peace -- our nation's enemies still have a choice) are the words, "Honorable Discharge from the United States Army."   On the reverse, a summary of Private McCrary's service under the words, "Enlistment Record."
There are terse, handwritten blank-fillers to the right of line headings such as Name:..., Grade:...; Date and Place of Enlistment:...; etc..., but from them a quick snapshot of the man can be gleaned.
Eubanks McCrary, from Columbus, Mississippi, was inducted into the United States Army on May the 27th, 1918.  He was 22, single, and by vocation, a farmer.  Upon his discharge a year later he was described as in "Good" physical condition and of "Excellent" character.

Near the bottom of his Enlistment Record are four tight lines available for "Remarks." Into that small space the practiced hand of a military professional entered a shorthand account of Private McCrary's service to his nation in the Great War:

No A.W.O.L.  No absence under G.O. 45 WD 1914
Co. D. 4th Tr. Reg Camp Pike, Ark5/27/18 to 7/10/18.  Co L C.P. July ARD 7/10/18 to 9/22/18.
Co. B. 161st Inf. 9/22/18 to 10/7/18. Co. B. 137th INf 10/7/18 to 5/6/19. Cas Det 4th Rc Bn 162nd DB
5/6/19 to date of discharge.  Served in France.  Sailed for France 7/18/18. Arrived U.S. 4/28/19 Entitled to travel pay to Columbus, Miss.  

Immediately following his induction into the Army, Private McCrary reported to Camp Pike, outside of Little Rock, Arkansas and was assigned to Company D, 4th Training Regiment until his completion of basic training on July 10, 1918.  Within the next week he traveled by troop train for the East Coast, from which he sailed aboard a troop ship to France on the 18th of July, 1918. 

From what was known about the casualty rates of the horrific meat-grinder that had gone on in France since 1914, he likely never expected to see home again. 

Upon arrival in France, Private McCrary was assigned to Company B of the 161st Infantry Regiment.  That regiment, in the 81st Infantry Brigade of the 41st Division, had been one of the first units to go to France with the American Expeditionary Force in the fall of 1917.  Upon arrival in France, the 41st Division was designated a "Replacement Division" and its men were subsequently distributed as replacements to other divisions when their ranks were depleted during fighting.  The 41st Division then assumed the role of training new arrivals to France prior to their assignment to the front.
The Colonel's grandfather arrived in France just as the great Allied Meuse-Argonne Offensive of the war against Germany was kicking off.  One of the divisions at the forefront of that offensive -- the 35th Division -- had been in the attack for four days when, short of food and ammunition and its fighting strength sapped by heavy casualties, it was counterattacked by the better part of four of the best-trained divisions in the German army.  The 35th Division ceased to exist, for all practical purposes, as a fighting force and its remnants were withdrawn from the line.

Private McCrary was among the soldiers, newly arrived in France, who replenished the ranks of one of the 35th's four infantry regiments, the 137th Infantry.  The 35th Division was sent to the relatively quiet Somme Dieu sector on the southeastern end of the Allied front.  There, it went into defensive trenchworks and so remained until the Armistice went into effect and the guns fell silent...

... ninety-three years ago, today.

For two decades, Americans celebrated the 11th of November as Armistice Day, in remembrance of the victory over Germany and the American fighting men who helped bring an end to "the war to end all wars."

Only, that war didn't do any such thing.

American men in uniform knew little peace during those next two decades.  Combat in defense of American interests in Latin America and even in Russia (grist for a future post) kept a sharp edge on the small cadre of American warriors who would form the backbone and animating spirit of the mighty force called on to defeat the Axis Powers during WWII.

So, after that war, and the one that followed, America began to focus it's remembrances on the 11th of November not so much on the end of what had become known by then as the First World War, but on the living men and women who had honorably served our nation in uniform. 

Armistice Day became Veterans Day.

Eubanks McCrary arrived back in the United States on the 23rd of April, 1919, less than eleven months after joining the United States Army and reporting for training at Camp Pike. Less than two weeks later he was honorably discharged and back on the farm.

He is buried in the small cemetery at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church on the eastern outskirts of Columbus, Mississippi.  Not far from his farm, now a subdivision.

A simple marker reads:

B. Eubanks McCrary
Pvt Co B 137 Inf
World War I
4 Mar 1896 – 9 Oct 1958

The Colonel knows that the three dozen of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may indeed be remembering that one of the Colonel's pet peeves is the aggravating and undisciplined habit of a majority of Americans to mix up the meanings and observances of Memorial Day (initially known as Decoration Day, and first celebrated by the fair ladies of Columbus, Mississippi at the conclusion of the War for Southern Independence), Veterans Day, and Armed Forces Day.

For the record: Memorial Day is reserved solely for the solemn remembrance of those who died in battle in our nation's wars, Veterans Day is reserved solely for the recognition of living veterans of the United States military, and Armed Forces Day is reserved solely for the recognition of those currently serving in the armed forces of these re-United States.  Period.  No room for discussion or latitude for mix-matching.

So, the three dozen of you who regularly waste rod and cone perusing posts hereon may mistakenly believe that you have caught the Colonel in a rare mistake  -- recognizing a deceased veteran on Veterans Day.

The operative word in the sentence above is "mistakenly."

The Colonel, sole arbiter of said (and unsaid) matters both in posts hereon and actions hereabout his vast holdings here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, is exercising the rights vested in him, by him, to declare today Armistice Day, here aboard Eegeebeegee, capital of the Tallahatchie Free State; and, therefore, takes this opportunity to come to the correct position of attention and execute a hand salute to the memory of his grand progenitor.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

10 November 1775

Prominent in the Colonel's pantheon of personal military heroes is Lieutenant General John Archer Lejeune, 13th Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.  Ninety years ago, this week, in his capacity as Commandant -- fresh from the fighting in France, during which he served as the Commanding General of the U. S. Army's 2d Infantry Division -- Lejeune ordered that "a reminder of the honorable service of the Corps be published by every command, to all Marines throughout the globe, on the Birthday of the Corps." 

On this Birthday of the Corps, therefore, in compliance with the will of the 13th Commandant, Article 38, United States Marine Corps Manual, Edition of 1921, is published as follows:

"(1) On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of the Continental Congress.   Since that date many thousands of men have borne the name 'Marine.'   In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the Birthday of our Corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

(2) The record of our Corps is one which bears comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world's history.   During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation's foes.   From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres, and in every corner of the seven seas, so that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

(3) In every battle and skirmish since the Birth of the Corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term 'Marine' has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

(4) This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the Corps.   With it we also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our Corps from generation and has long been the distinguishing mark of Marines in every age.   So long as that spirit continues to flourish, Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as 'Soldiers of the Sea' since the founding of the Corps."

To all of his brother and sister Marines, the Colonel hefts this morning his customary mug of joe and wishes each and all "Happy Birthday" on this the 236th anniversary of the founding of our beloved Corps.

Semper Fidelis, Marines!