Monday, May 30, 2016

OT: Memorial Day

Last night I watched the National Memorial Day Concert held in Washington D.C. The show was extremely moving and for someone like me (now 60 years old) it brought back a lot of memories. You can watch it just below.

The first thing to say is that war is a horrible event. The destruction of human lives, human potential, and property is always enormous and very sad. Those of us who never had to face the prospect of being directly involved in war will never truly understand the horror of it.

As an American, all I can do is simply offer gratitude for the millions of fellow citizens who made the ultimate sacrifice trying to do what they could to serve their country. This concert this year featured a number of outstanding performances including the modern version of the Beach Boys. If you are my age you simply cannot listen to them without recalling the decade of the 1960's and all the turmoil related to the war in Viet Nam that badly divided the United States at that time.

But the most vivid memories that came back watching this concert were the stories my Dad would tell me about his friend Robert Lowell Hite and the stories my uncle would tell me about his service overseas in WWII (my uncle received a purple heart for being wounded in Germany near the end of war).

Dad has passed on now, but I still recall him telling me about his best friend (Robert Lowell Hite) that he grew up with back on the farm in West Texas in the 1930's. Below is some information on Lt. Col. Hite who was a part of the famous Doolittle raid from an article that ran in the Wasington Post when he passed away in 2015.

"Robert L. Hite, an Army Air Forces aviator who was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for 40 months after flying in the Doolittle raid of 1942, the now­celebrated mission that invigorated American morale early in World War II, died March  29 at a nursing facility in Nashville. He was 95."

. . . . . 

"Mr. Hite, who retired as an Air Force lieutenant colonel, was a 22-year-old second lieutenant when he departed for what would be one of the most dramatic early offensives of the second world war.
The date was April 18, 1942, not yet five months after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The United States had waged battle with the Japanese throughout the Pacific but had not yet launched a strike on the enemy’s home islands.
Tapped to lead that mission was then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, a gutsy test pilot who would receive the Medal of Honor for his valor in the raid now known by his name. He was joined by 79 volunteers. Among them was Mr. Hite."
. . . . .

"Mr. Hite was a co-pilot on the B-25 dubbed “Bat Out of Hell,” the last bomber to take off from the carrier. After completing their missions, the bombers were scheduled to land in a safe section of China — a plan that was upended when they encountered foul weather and darkness.

All 16 planes were lost in the course of the mission. Mr. Hite and other aviators were forced to bail out over enemy-occupied China. Eight men, including Mr. Hite, were captured by the Japanese. Three were executed; the other five received life sentences after what was described as a sham court-martial. For more than three years in POW camps in China, they endured interrogation, beatings, disease and starvation."

One prisoner died in captivity. Mr. Hite was reduced to 88 pounds, according to Scott’s book.
“We had just come out of a full American life with all kinds of goodies,” Mr. Hite said in the oral history, “good food, good life, and suddenly we were in a solitary cell and were being harassed, slapped and kicked. Our rations were meager, and we just wondered if the world was going to hold together.”  . . . . .
Whenever my Dad spoke of his friend he talked with deep respect. Both of them were just normal kids growing up on cotton farms in West Texas when they were called into service for WWII. Dad was fortunate in that he did not have to deploy overseas, but his best friend did and you can read above what a horror story the war turned into for him. I always thought about how it could just as easily have been my Dad who had to endure that and how difficult it would be to see your best friend go through all that. I cannot possibly even imagine how much we owe to those who made sacrifices like this for their country. 
The hope for the future is that somehow war will end and no one will have to endure things like this. Most of those who actually fight the wars are probably just trying to serve their country and don't really want to be faced with having to kill other human beings or likely be killed themselves. I can't even imagine having to make that choice.
On this Memorial Day, as we remember all those who sacrificed so much, I hope those who come behind my generation will do all they can to prevent war and uphold basic human rights for all people. 

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