This was going to be a post-election piece about yet another important moment in our history when too many Americans cared too little to vote. Then, it was going to be a Veterans Days piece about perhaps the most notable group who viewed such things oppositely, the World War II-era Americans beautifully named “our greatest generation” by Tom Brokaw. Then, and quickly, it became what it really is and must be, a Thanksgiving prayer that the Good Lord bless those who have given so much, and instruct by their example the too many who know and have learned too little about service and sacrifice.
Even as I write this, merely thinking of how I pray it ends up, a not unfamiliar lump in my throat marks the effort. How – how? – do we thank those who so dramatically serve America? What can there possibly be left to say or write about service to country that extended to fighting and dying in that or another battle or war? Can there be a remaining chance to reach one or two or ten more who are too personally removed by years and tears to get this before World War II survivors are no longer among us to personalize the real cost of a free America?
There is no argument that such service and sacrifice for duty and country is a long, long walk through a deep, deep hell for too many. In the subject conflagration of seven decades ago, all related American deaths tallied more than 400,000 – deaths necessary to preserve what we say we believe America to be. Survivors, many of who are relatives, are living among us as if to veritably shout the obvious question of our day: how is it so easy for so many to now give back so little, if anything? How do we compare what these survivors were willing to give to America – to us – with what so many Americans are no longer willing to give?
It’s always best in such matters to make the argument personal, I think.
My father and his family were from Haynesville, Louisiana, in Claiborne Parish. In 1940, Haynesville was the earthly residence of 2,418 souls. Today, Louisiana towns New Llano, Pearl River, Lockport, Kinder, Jonesville and Busly are that size, as is, still, Haynesville. Maybe Haynesville in 1940 simply had an unusual number of young men in its population, cotton farming center that it was, but for whatever reason, a lot of them went to war.
A record of this fact is a wonderful and large volume identifying Louisianans who served in World War II, published in 1946 in Shreveport, The Fighting Men of Louisiana. Though they were omitted from the title, it includes the women who served, too. I cannot say how many copies were printed, much less how many are still among us, but copy Number 346 was signed and presented to my grandparents, not a surprise since my father and four of his brothers served. (Scanned from the volume, these soldiers’ pictures and short biographies are attached to this email.) The eldest brother, Reilly, serving in the 1st Armored Division’s 81st Armored Recon Battalion, was one of the 3,500 American soldiers who did not survive the Battle of Anzio. My father, R. L., serving in the Navy near Bougainville, was changed forever by this brother’s death, though he never shared with us the details of that fact, or their close relationship.
This salute, though, is certainly not only to my father and those of my uncles. Almost incredibly, Haynesville had yet another family which sent five men to the War, the sons of Mr. and Mrs. John Coleman Tynes: Lambert R., John, Jr., Dennis H., Lewis Dale and William Herchell. Thankfully, all came home.
There were other Louisiana families, too, who sent five sons or daughters or daughters-in-law into service:
— The sons of Ruston’s Lydia Dove Bennett: William L., Joseph Elton, Robert Monroe, Lester O. and Coy S., all of whom, too, returned home;
— The sons of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Harrison Flynn of Alexandria: Benjamin Harrison, Jr., Albert Nelson, Dennis Michael, James Edward and Patrick Henry. James Edward Flynn was killed in action at Leyte, the Philippine Islands, in October 1944.
— The sons and daughter-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Leach of Urania: son Fred Raymond Leach and wife Pearl Sigman Leach, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. N. A. Sigman, and sons Louis E., Bobby Earl and William N. Leach. Bobby Earl Leach will killed in the epic fight at Bastogne.
Now, imagine a single family sending six – 6 – sons and daughters into World War II. Actually, imagine three families doing so, because that is what the record shows:
— Mr. and Mrs. Walter Henry Bond of Bossier City were parents of James Cox, Richard Walter, Raymond Lewis, Alfred D., Harold Jack, and Robert Donald Bond, four of whom enlisted to serve in1942, and two near the end of the war in 1945. Alfred D. Bond, a pilot in the Army Air Forces flew thirteen combat missions in Europe, and was killed in action in 1942. He received both the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal, and the Purple Heart presented to his parents posthumously.
— Six sons of Mr. and Mrs. William Byargeon of Oak Grove served during the War: Raymond I., William S., Frederick E., Herbert D., Joseph Graham and Gerald A. All six returned home after the War.
— Mr. and Mrs. William L. Oakes of Leesville were also parents of six who served: Harvey, Carman W., James L., Shelby, Ramsey L. and Jared Y. The six men safely returned home.
Then, as incredible as it seems, there is the Scott family of Haughton in Bossier Parish. Mr. and Mrs. Dade Scott were parents of seven – yes, 7 – children who entered service during the War: Wilbur N., J. D., Elroy, Clifford A., Floyd, Rufus and Jessie A., each of whom returned.
I did not serve in the military. With the Vietnam War raging as I finished high school and my undergraduate years, the draft lottery ruled. The number matching my birthday in that year’s lottery was very high, and my chances of serving correspondingly low. That I well know and understand my willingness to “serve if called,” I was not called, and did not leave school to enlist. The other fact is that I live with a profound awareness of the awe with which I contemplate those, in all American wars, who went, and served, and the too many who died. Though I work to serve in other ways, such bears faint resemblance to the service of my father and uncles, and hundreds of thousands like them.
My father and his nine siblings have passed away. My uncle on the other side of the family, Clyde Reinsch, lives and keeps me “in touch” with his generation who saved for my son and me an America which provides our freedom.
It is mine, now, to reconcile in closing the heroism of men and women in towns I know like Haynesville, Ruston, Alexandria, Urania, Bossier City, Oak Grove, Leesville and Haughton, and this time in our history with abounding evidence of flagging public service, precious little commitment to America – even as little as registering and voting.
I can offer no such reconciliation. What I can and will do is offer up the Thanksgiving prayer with which I opened.
Elliott Stonecipher’s reports, essays and commentaries are written strictly in the public interest. No compensation of any kind has been solicited or accepted for this work. This work is protected, and no other use of it is permitted without the written consent of Mr. Stonecipher.