Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Politics and war
Even in times of war, and even by military men, political (or maybe marketing) decisions are often made instead of military decisions. The above photograph is from a wonderful Life Magazine collection of immediately before and then after D-Day. This picture was taken on the Champs-Elysees in August of 1944. The day after Paris was Liberated. I looked for my father, but not surprisingly did not see him. The reason I looked for my father was because that was the first day he went into Paris. He and his company had done a lot of dirty work from D-Day on and had been diverted by the brass to go down and help clear the remaining Germans out so the French Capital could be liberated. And so they did. They had a few nasty scrapes with what turned out to be the rear guard whose job it was to give the German brass that had been in charge of the occupation enough time to bug out. The only thing was that when my father and his pals got just into the City limits, after chasing off the last of the Krauts, they were ordered to stand down right where they were. So those lucky German troops were allowed to disengage and high tail it out of town to catch up with their buddies. Why, you may ask, were GIs including my Dad ordered to stop? Simple. They looked exactly like you would expect troops that landed on an open beach with artillery and automatic weapons firing down on them from cliffs above, then fought their way in through hedgerows, villages and farms against the best troops a desperate enemy had to offer, and then were pulled down to clear out the passage into the ancient capital of a liberated Ally against the best CYA German troops left around. In other words, they looked like s%&t warmed over. And the brass wanted pretty newsreel pics for the people watching on the home front. So my father and his company was told to bivouac off the road and out of the way while the fresh troops with spotless uniforms marched in precise columns as they liberated the City of Lights for posterity. In fact, the guys who did the real work weren't given passes or even a hot meal (though it is my understanding that the boys decided on their own to liberate some fresh Parisian libations for a couple of days). Immediately thereafter, the fresh meat was left to "guard" the City and the experienced troops were sent back to the real front. But don't worry, he was eventually told he could pull back. That was sometime in December of 1944. Right before the Battle of the Bulge.