Stodghill Says So

An opinionated posting on a variety of subjects by a former newspaper reporter and columnist whose daily column was named best in Indiana by UPI. The Blog title is that used in his high school sports predictions for the Muncie Evening Press.

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Location: Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, United States

At the age of 18 I was a 4th Infantry Division rifleman in the invasion of Normandy, then later was called back for the Korean War. Put in a couple of years as a Pinkerton detective. Much of my life was spent as a newspaper reporter, sports writer and daily columnist. Published three books on high school sports in Ohio and Indiana. I write mystery fiction for Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and others. Three books, Normandy 1944 - A Young Rifleman's War, The Hoosier Hot Shots, and From Devout Catholic to Communist Agitator are now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other booksellers. So are four collections of short mysteries: Jack Eddy Stories Volumes 1 and 2, Midland Murders, and The Rough Old Stuff From Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine.

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Memories of another Fourth of July


It began hours before first light on the Fourth of July, the relentless artillery barrage that turned the sky ahead from inky black to golden yellow. Navy vessels offshore, battleships and cruisers, joined the firing and their shells passed overhead with the rustling sound of snakes slithering through dry leaves. The noise, the rumble and roar of explosions, continued hour after hour through the night and didn’t cease even when dawn broke over the green fields of Normandy.
July Fourth, but this was not a fireworks display intended to entertain appreciative onlookers. Instead this was the sound and sight of death descending on men huddled deep in holes dug in the ground. How could anyone survive such a pounding from above, from the shrapnel whirling through the air in search of a body to tear apart, from the onslaught against the mind and the nervous system? Some didn’t, of course, those that suffered a direct hit, and yet when it ended or when they became aware that enemy soldiers were beginning to advance on their position the majority were ready to rise up and fight.
It’s always that way. You can kill men with bombs and shells, but only some of them. The rest may be shaken, yet still ready to do battle. Then other men on the ground must finish the job, if it is even possible for it to be finished. That’s the role of the infantry: close with the enemy and then kill or be killed. In the end it always depends upon them, the foot soldiers.
That’s what we were, those of us looking on. Riflemen, machine gunners, mortar men. And this, we knew, was the start of the Big Push. We also knew that soon we would march down from the high ground where we watched, march down into the cauldron, into the valley of death.
We did not know that within the space of a dozen days 40,000 Americans would fall on a short stretch of land that in a mere half-hour could be traveled by the driver of a car. It was fortunate that we did not know. Infantrymen are always aware that what lies ahead will be bad. It is better not to know just how bad.
And so we watched and listened as those memorable Fourth of July fireworks continued on through much of the day. Late in the afternoon we heard from panicky rear-echelon men of the division ahead that the Germans were giving them an unmerciful beating. The same Germans who had been at ground zero during that unrelenting barrage. We should flee for our lives, they told us, but we didn’t. Instead we just waited quietly, knowing there was little to be said, until the order to start moving forward arrived. It came, as we knew it would, and then, as we always did, we followed the familiar words from the platoon sergeants and squad leaders, “Follow me.” The battle cry of the infantry, follow me. Follow me and die. Many did, some of us didn’t. Those who didn’t could never forget.
What we were doing, or so we thought, would end war forever. That never happened. The killing, the suffering, the inhumanity of it all may pause for a time, then begin again. It always has, it seems it always will. The world never runs short of old men ready to send young men out to kill, out to die. Then, as time moves on, old enemies become new allies – the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Japanese. Peter Bowman may have said it best in Beach Red, perhaps the greatest book on war ever written: “Battle doesn’t determine who is right. Only who is left.” And this about those who survive: “There’s a corner of your mind that’ll never sleep again.”
Enjoy Independence Day. It came with a price.
www.dickstodghill.com

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