"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rick Atkinson, The Guns at Last Light, and Memorial Day

I'm reading Rick Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light, the final volume of his trilogy about the American Army in the European Theater.   The first two volumes took us through North Africa and then into Sicily and Italy.   Now we are to the great conflict in France and Germany, beginning, of course, with D-Day.   Atkinson is terrific, both as a writer and as a historian, and I heartily recommend the books, but it's perhaps particularly appropriate to be reading them on Memorial Day.   Here's the kind of thing that our grandfathers did for us fighting their way off Omaha Beach:

Up the bluff they climbed, single file, marking mines with white engineer tape, cigarettes, and scraps from a ration box.   Smoke hid them from German marksmen but made them weep until they strapped on gas masks.   Mortar rounds killed a trio of soldiers next to [Brigadier General Norman "Dutch"] Cota and wounded his radioman; knocked flat but unscathed, the general regained his feet and followed the snaking column toward the hillcrest, past captured Germans spread-eagled on the ground.   Then over the lip of the ridge they ran, past stunted pines and through uncut wheat as Cota yelled, "Now let's see what your made of!"   GIs hauling a captured MG-42 machine gun with ammunition belts draped around their necks poured fire into enemy trenches and at the broken ranks pelting inland.

Lest we forget.   

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