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, November 11, 2008

The following column appeared in the Muncie Evening Press on Veterans Day, 1981. It still seems timely.

Dick Stodghill, whose "in the Press of Things" column appears regularly on Page 2, is a combat veteran of World War II.
Veterans Day, what does it mean? A great deal to some people, very little to most.
A veteran, regardless of the war in which he or she served, is one of those who is left. That’s not the definition found in Webster’s, it appeared in a small volume titled "Beach Red" published 35 years ago – "War doesn’t prove who is right, only who is left."
While this is a day to honor American veterans, it’s hard to tell one from another when the shooting stops. Those who do the fighting, regardless of the uniform they wear or the language they speak, are pretty much alike, just average guys who have to kill the wrong people. Not all American veterans saw the enemy at close range, of course, and those who did saw the wrong faces, not those of the Kaiser, Hitler, Tojo, or the top men of North Korea or the Viet Cong.
* * *
He lay on his side, curly blond hair matted by the afternoon rain, face pressed to the wet blacktop of a narrow country road. Fingers of one hand gripped a half-open first aid packet, water collected in an upturned helmet a foot away.
He was too young to buy beer in Indiana. Too young to walk a college campus except as a visitor. Too young to die on a spring day when the air was warm and wild flowers bloomed nearby.
But he did. And those who crouched beside the road took no pleasure in the fact. Some might say they should have because his uniform was a different shade and his helmet a different shape. A bullet fired by one of them had found him as its mark. No one boasted of the kill, no one claimed the trophy.
* * *
He was too old and too slow to keep up. The others cleared the wall and kept going. He was still trying to climb over, clawing at the top with fingers that suddenly relaxed as bullets tore his body.
He turned and faced his pursuers, smiled a sickly smile as he sagged against the wall and to the ground. The overcoat that was too big came open and letters scattered in the wind.
Someone picked one up, handed it to the squad leader. He opened the envelope and a photo inside was passed from man to man. Each in turn looked at the body slouched against the wall, and saw the face of the man holding a young girl on his knee. Behind them stood two older children and a woman.
The squad leader knew the language, read the letter aloud. A commonplace letter, news of home, nothing special. At the bottom a postscript in a childish scrawl: "I love you, Papa. Hurry home."
The squad leader reached for another letter. Joe, a hardened killer at 19, shook his head and said. "Don’t read any more, Eddie." No one raised a protest.
* * *
The tank 20 feet away fired again and again at the stone farmhouse in a narrow valley. Only between bursts could the clatter of rifles and machine guns be heard. A squad of riflemen, out in front of the rest of the company, crouched behind a thick dirt hedgerow, waiting to be ordered forward.
A mile to the rear had been a training school for boys 12 and 13. They had joined the thin rank of defenders, been told to try to hold the line. They fought fiercely until cornered, then were little boys again.
One of them squeezed through the narrow space between the tank and hedgerow, stopped and looked around uncertainly. His right hand held a rifle, tears streamed down his face.
Someone cried, "Put your hands on your head." The words were lost in the incessant racket.
Still, the boy grasped their meaning. He began to raise his hands, and with them the rifle. It was a threatening gesture. Only later, when there was time to think, came the realization that it was unintended. With it came the memory that would never go away – the look of disbelief, the shock, the pain. The ranks of the enemy were one fewer, but who was there to rejoice?
* * *
They served by the millions in the 20th century. And died by the millions. Young, old, black, white, red, yellow. From all walks of life, from every section of the globe, in uniforms of various hues. The differences seem small once they’ve died.. You look and wonder who he was, where he came from, who will cry for him.
Those who are left gain weight, go bald, grow old while the medals tarnish in a drawer. The years pass but certain memories never fade. And those who didn’t squeeze a trigger never quite understand.
Who can truly say whether it was worth it? No one, but any person of common sense knows there had to be a better way.
Today is set aside to honor American veterans. Many countries have similar days. Until the time when they are unnecessary, any claims that men are civilized will ring hollowly over the countless graves of those who learned otherwise.


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