Friday, June 6, 2014
American heroes of all stripes
America: Home of the free because of the brave. That sentiment is so true that it’s even on tee shirts and bumper stickers. On this day we stop and honor all those who have died serving our country. And so many of the brave have died to make us the home of the free—including four-footed critters.
Our country’s wars began with the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) and have just kept coming. They are: the First Barbary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Then came the Gulf War, Vietnam War, Iraq War and the Afghanistan War that continues on.
All of these wars and other skirmishes were unique except in one way—the unspeakable horror of loss of life and suffering on both sides of conflict. In our country alone, according to one source there have been approximately 1,343,812 deaths; 1,529,230 wounded and 38,159 missing in all U.S. conflict casualties.
These staggering numbers sadden my heart as I consider the battlefields all over the world. Then I received several email copies of concocted heroism that just plain made me mad. There are so many true stories about ordinary people. Why lie about actors?
Two WWII heroes were highly praised. Actors Lee Marvin and Bob Keeshan (aka Captain Kangaroo). Marvin is quoted inaccurately as saying that he was in the initial Iwo Jima landing, earned the Navy Cross and was severely wounded. According to snopes.com part of that is true but not accurate. So folks, don’t believe everything that you read.
Marvin did enlist in the U.S. Marines; saw action as Private First Class in the Pacific during WWII; and was wounded by fire in the buttocks which severed his sciatic nerve. However, his injury occurred during the battle for Saipan in 1944 and not Iwo Jima. That took place in 1945. He also received a Purple Heart and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. The man was a true hero just not the Internet version.
Another Internet legend has Marvin serving under Keeshan and calling him “the bravest man I ever knew.” Well, that’s not true either. Keeshan did enlist in the U.S. Marines shortly before his 18TH birthday but months after the fighting at Iwo Jima. He was too late to see any action during WWII. In 1977 he was quoted as saying he “saw no combat because I signed up just before we dropped the atom bomb.”
The legends get even worse when Fred Rogers gets thrown into the mix. His popular television program “Mister Roger’s Neighborhood” ran for 30 years, enchanting millions of children. A Presbyterian minister, his critics looked for ways to malign him. This popular, decent, clean-cut guy was rumored to have a violent, criminal and Vietnam military background. Again, it is not true! Rogers was a pacifist and he never served in the military.
I believe that all those who serve our country—particularly in times of war—are heroes. And some of those are of the four-legged variety. In the early days there were horses. Today, dogs coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq are awe-inspiring. Their contribution to the safekeeping of their two-legged counterparts is priceless and their stories are true.
Historical reports say that dogs were common during the Civil War as soldier’s companions. During the Spanish American War, “Old Jack Brutus” became the official mascot of Company K, First Connecticut Volunteer Infantry. But it was during WWII, Korea and Vietnam that dogs were formally used as guards and patrol scouts.
“Stubby,” a brave soldier dog of the 102nd Infantry (Connecticut), during WWI is widely regarded as the grandfather of the American War Dogs. Connecticut military legend has it that he wandered into the encampment and befriended the soldiers, especially Corporal J. Robert Conroy. In Oct. 1917, when the unit shipped out for France, it was part of the 26TH (Yankee) division of Massachusetts. Stubby (covered in an overcoat) was smuggled aboard the troop ship S.S. Minnesota and sailed into doggy legend.
Fighting in France was treacherous. Trench warfare combined with deadly gas took a steep toll on the men and their spirits. Stubby boosted morale with his early warnings about gas attacks and by waking a sleeping sentry to alert him of a German attack. He was gassed a few times, a grenade went off and his foreleg was wounded.
After the American troops recaptured Chateau Thierry, the women in the village made him a chamois blanket embroidered with the allied flags. The blanket also displayed his wound stripe, three service chevrons and numerous medals. They presented it to him in Neufchateau, the home of Joan of Arc.
Stubby and his wounded master Corporal Conroy ended up in a hospital but spent the remainder of the war with the 102ND unit. He was smuggled back home the same way he entered—and mustered out with his regiment, as officers looked the other way.
At home, he was hailed as a hero of 17 battles, became the mascot of the American Legion, was honored by three presidents and General Pershing presented him with a gold medal. While his master studied law, he became the mascot for the Georgetown football team. He had his portrait painted by Charles Ayer Whipple and in 1926 he passed on. His obituary in the New York Times was three columns wide and half a page long! He was a genuine hero.
America’s military personnel come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; male and female; two and four-legged, furry and clean-shaven. They demonstrate loyalty, courage, selflessness and dedication. They are always worthy of our respect and care. Take time to thank them as they work for the greater good of us all. They are priceless treasures.
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.