The Christmas Carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day is based on an 1863 poem by American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He was the nation’s preeminent poet of his era. The song proclaims the narrator’s despair, as he heard Christmas bells in the distance.
He bows his head, “There is no peace on earth,” [he] said,
“for hate is strong and mocks the song
of peace on earth, good will to men.”
But then the carol inexplicably changes with the bells carrying renewed hope for peace among mankind.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
So why the change and how did the poem come to be?
Today Italy’s Celone airfield has returned to nature and agriculture. One couldn’t know the activities, the machines and the hero’s who once occupied this Italian countryside. Only from the air can be seen the faint scarring of the landscape. Hidden are the fading remnants of taxiways and the 6,000 foot runway that gave pathway to the heavy B-17 bombers, their crews and payloads of America’s 15th Air Force.
The faint runway (center), taxiways and other roads of what used to be Celone Airfield.
One of those crew members came from Salt Lake City, via Canada, then England. His name is Howard Thayne. He is my children’s first cousin, two generations removed. Their maternal grandfather and Howard are first cousins. Born on March 23, 1919 in the coal mining camp of Kenilworth, Utah Howard’s family would move to Salt Lake where he was the typical American boy, sociable and popular among his peers. He graduated from West High School and at the age of 19 served a two-year mission for the LDS Church in Canada. Soon after his return home, with the outbreak of World War II, Howard enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
It was the early days of World War I in the Second Battle near the town of Ypres. A 22-year old Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, from the explosion of a German artillery shell. He died 102 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1915.
Ypres a small, ancient Belgian town saw some of the most intense and sustained battles during the war. Helmer was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as his friend, doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.
The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.
While driving across the I-90 floating bridge into Seattle a few days ago I couldn’t help but notice a sticker on the rear window of a Prius. You’ve probably seen one yourself. “War is not the answer” it read.
Sorry, I beg to differ!
We live in times when barely a week goes by without reading, seeing or at least hearing of yet another terrorist attack somewhere in the world. The most recent was Thursday’s vicious assault by an Islamist terrorist group on innocent, unarmed university students in Kenya, Africa. The massacre took the lives of 148 students.
Our government and our naïve citizenry, just like the one in the Prius, need to wake up! What’s it going to take? Must we bear a similar attack, or even worse, here in the United States to wake these types up to the stark reality? This is war, like it or not! A war centered on the fanatical religious beliefs of the insane. These are tyrants whose desire is to advance the cause of Islam, no matter the cost or the method.
The length of time, as well as the price we’ll have to pay to defend ourselves against this enemy, will be long and costly. It already has been. It’s a struggle that could be without end and with no victors. Certainly nothing can be accomplished in ridding the world — if even possible — of these sick madmen without our united resolve.
We must be fierce, relentless and bold. We must take actions meant not for the faint-of-heart. And finally, we must take this war to the enemy. Our only defense against these sick, degenerate maniacs is offensive. We simply have to take the battle to them and engage them without restraint. It’s either them or us.
I choose us!
Many good people promote peace by opposing war. They advocate laws or treaties to abolish war, to require disarmament, or to reduce armed forces. Those methods may reduce the likelihood or the costs of war. But opposition to war cannot ensure peace, because peace is more than the absence of war. ~~ Dallin H. Oaks
Stories of young love are often remembered as the folly of our youth. They are the stuff that is part of growing up. A few sometimes strike our youthful, tender spirits with the sting of heartbreak, just as it can in adulthood. Such is puppy love and the price we pay for being teenagers. But few young romances are enveloped in the drama of war, surrounded by a devastated world. This is the story of Anne and Peter Schiff and of a missing image that took more than 60 years to be discovered. Continue reading
This is dedicated to the memory of all the heroes. Not just those from my school days, and those from my days in the military during the Vietnam era, all who died too soon, but especially in remembrance of the nameless, forgotten ones. From wars and battles long past.
But to the hero, when his sword
Has won the battle for the free,
Thy voice sounds like a prophet’s word;
And in its hollow tones are heard
The thanks of millions yet to be.
~~ Marco Bozzaris, verse by Fitz-Greene Halleck, American Poet
NOTE: This post was first published on June 6, 2013.
Today marks the 69th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Europe at the Normandy beaches of northern France. “To set free a suffering humanity” is how Franklin Roosevelt defined its purpose that evening. Earlier in the morning Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower broadcast to the troops this message:
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon a great crusade…. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies … you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one…. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle…. Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessings of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Among the young Americans who landed on Omaha Beach in the second assault wave was my uncle Eli Lines. Two days later, somewhere far from home in the French countryside, he would mark his 22nd birthday.
Eli & His Wife Mary circa 1945
But on June 6, 1944 as he fought his way ashore, fighting for his very survival — to reach dry, safer ground — left behind, he noted, were the bodies of hundreds of dead or dying Americans. The casualties at Omaha Beach alone would number in the thousands. He once told me, “the water was red with blood.” It was in fact the bloodiest battle in American history since the Civil War. The first 21-minutes of the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan vividly depicts the chaos, the suffering, the inhumanity, the bravery. In reality it was far worse, much more difficult than portrayed. No movie could ever do that fight justice.
In 1945 when Eli returned home he like many of his fellow combat soldiers was a changed man, but no doubt a better man forged by unmentionable horror, suffering and sacrifice. One thing is certain, he lived a good and honorable life. My uncle is gone now and around 1000 World War II veterans die each day. Too soon the time will come when they’ll all be gone. But what they did and what they accomplished at those beaches and across Europe and throughout the Pacific — those young men of the Greatest Generation — should never be forgotten.
The Allied landing on the beaches at Normandy marked the beginning of the end of World War II — a conflict of such vast suffering as to defy comprehension. Pulitzer Prize winning author Rick Atkinson wrote: “This is the greatest catastrophe in human history. There’s 60 million people who die in World War II. It’s a death every three seconds for six years.” In his new book about the liberation of Europe, The Guns at Last Light, Atkinson quotes a German general who called the battle for Normandy “a monstrous blood mill.”
Let us never forget June 6, 1944 …