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Sergeant York

Today (October 8, 2018) is the 100th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary feats of battlefield courage, that being the actions of Corporal Alvin C. York of Tennessee. On this date in 1918, York was part of a group from the 328th Infantry Regiment sent around a hill in the Meuse-Argonne area of France, in an attempt to silence German heavy fire. A legitimate, but extremely dangerous, tactic during the latter part of the Great War, the Americans were ready to do their duty.

Alvin C. York by Frank Schoonover

During their flanking maneuver, the Americans surprised a group of Germans who were not expecting Yanks at that location. But as they accepted the surrender, the Doughboys, themselves, were suddenly devastated by German gunfire from a nearby hill. York's commanding officer and best friend were hit and out of action, and he found himself in command. More importantly, he found himself in a position where he might be able to fight back.

Sergeant Alvin C. York
There was no better marksman in those French woods, and Alvin York soon began shooting back - almost always hitting his target. He shouted for the enemy to surrender, but the German soldiers could barely stomach the thought. At one point, a group of six German soldiers charged down the hill toward York, but he drew his Colt pistol and "touched them off." He shot them from rear to front, worried that if they realized what was happening that they would stop to shoot, and kill him. (In a bit of irony, as they filmed Sergeant York, the production crew was unable to make their Colt fire blanks properly, so they used a German Luger for the scene. It's said that Gary Cooper wanted to re-shoot the scene with the correct gun, but that was never done. Cooper won an Academy Award for his portrayal of York, so the fact that he filmed that scene with an enemy pistol was forgiven.)

That day York and his unit captured 132 German prisoners and marched them back to the American lines. I tell York's story about this day in my book The Battlefield Guide to Life, and the lesson to be taken from it is one of redemption. Alvin York had been a drinking man and a bit of a hellion, then he found God and became a devout Christian. He had a bit of hesitation as he was drafted, but soon reconciled himself that war was not an enemy to his faith, and he marched off to the Western Front with the understanding that God was with him - no matter what happened to him personally.

In the hills where I come from he's the most famous soldier we'll likely ever see. Later promoted to sergeant, Alvin York was award the United States Medal of Honor, the French Croix de Guerre, as well as honors from Italy and Montenegro. Sergeant York is buried near his home in Pall Mall, Tennessee, which is now part of a state historic park. It's a great place to reflect and learn about one of the greatest American heroes, a man we should never forget.

James K. Turner - www.jamesturnerauthor.com

Thanks Enterprise and Chase

I want to take a moment to thank Enterprise car rental and Chase Visa USA for their help with a recent problem. A couple months ago my Enterprise rental car was hit by a small object, possibly a stone kicked up off the freeway, as I drove into California. I realized that it must have hit the "perfect" spot, because a crack soon found its way across the windshield. I was sure that I was going to have a headache trying to work through the problem, especially with several days left on my trip.
My first call was to Enterprise, and the representative assured me that my safety and comfort were their main priority. He gave me suggestions as to how I might trade out cars along the way if I needed to, and how best to approach insurance. As I hung up he said, "Don't worry about it, enjoy your trip."
After that I called Chase Visa (always great for Southwest airline miles) and their representative told me I was covered, that he would email to me a list of the information they needed after I got home, and to enjoy my vacation. Just that simple.

The crack never was so bad that I needed to trade cars, and I was able to enjoy the trip with the same Ford Fusion Hybrid. The Enterprise rep at the Reno Airport got me what I needed to file for insurance purposes, when I returned the car, and over the next week I got Chase the rest of the paperwork they needed. The process was simple, and when I needed help both companies had outstanding reps to assist. This week I got notice that the credit card and rental card companies had everything worked out, and the windshield was replaced at no expense to me.

I have to admit that I was concerned how this would play out, because I've always wondered what would happen if I ever needed to rely on the credit card insurance coverage that's included with a car rental. Plainly, it worked better than I would have imagined, and I applaud Enterprise and Chase Visa USA for doing what they said they would, with some of the greatest customer service folks when I needed an assist. They assured themselves a customer for a while, and I thank them both.
#enterprise #visa #chasevisa #battlegroundtravel

Retreat, Hell!

I've long been fascinated by military quotes, feeling that there's usually a life lesson in there somewhere. Could there be anything better than a good maxim from George Patton or Chesty Puller? One of my favorites is from Napoleon: "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake." Another classic comes from General Anthony McAuliffe, as he declined the German offer to surrender at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge: "Nuts."

Several books have been written on military quotes and someday I may add another. But today marks the 100th anniversary of one of my favorites, one of the most famous of all time. This quote was by a man who was soon killed after his utterance, and never achieved the success that I believe he would otherwise have accomplished.

The German army had launched their spring offensive on the Western Front in March of 1918, in an attempt to break the stalemate of the Great War. This aggressive movement utilized seasoned German soldiers which had previously been fighting against Russia (just surrendered) on the Eastern Front, and was an attempt to settle the war before the Americans could become fully engaged.

Courtesy USMC archives
U.S. Marines were sent to assist the French at the Battle of Belleau Wood, and among those was Captain Lloyd Williams commanding the 51st Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines. As the Marines began plugging holes and establishing positions, they met French troops falling back. The French, conditioned over the past four years to the bitter fight, were more accepting of the general rules of warfare. In this environment, a French officer - unsure of his English -  wrote a note that was passed to Captain Williams. Williams read the note, which advised immediate retreat. In typical American fashion, especially in those first days of the U.S. intervention, Williams stood bravely and incredulously stated, "Retreat, Hell! We just got here."
To this day the United States Marines hold the Battle of Belleau Wood as a testament to their fortitude. The exclamation of Captain Williams fell into legend, and "Retreat, Hell!" became the motto of the 2nd Battalion, Fifth Marine Regiment. I admire the audacity of Captain Williams; it was pure and genuine, and it cost him his life.

Nine days later, Captain Williams was killed in battle. Realizing that he was dying, he asked the medics and orderlies, "Don't bother with me. Take care of my brave men."

Five months later the war would be over. Captain Williams was posthumously promoted to Major and is generally recognized as the first Virginian to be killed during WWI. Make no mistake, plenty more would die before the armistice. Later in the war the attitudes of the Doughboys had changed, but I will never cease to admire that quote, that audacity, that courage. Retreat, Hell! We just got here.

All that is gold does not glitter - J.R.R. Tolkien

A friend called me a couple weeks ago. Her best friend’s dad had passed away, and that friend was considering selling some things her father had saved, many of them family relics. She asked if I would take a look, to see if there was anything of value. I was glad to do that. There were a few badges and ribbons from the United Confederate Veterans, things I once collected, as well as an 1830s sword that my friend Kirk helped with, and an 1875 Smith and Wesson pistol that my brother-in-law told me a little about.

As to value, I was intrigued to see a Forrest Cavalry Corps badge in near perfect condition, a 1901 UCV celluloid, and a Southern Cross of Honor. Those three pieces, alone, had to be worth at least a thousand bucks, probably more. But among all those things there was something intriguing, something that I knew had little monetary value.

There was a German 20 pfennig stamp from the WWII era with an image of Hitler. It had not been canceled, but even in pristine condition wasn’t worth more than a couple dollars. The envelope it came in was the story. Noted in the veteran’s handwriting was, “Given to me by a German Prisoner of War.” And in that moment I envisioned a scared prisoner, captive but alive, completely defeated. I knew that the American had done something - an act of kindness that will never be known. The stamp was given. It was not traded, it was not taken - it was given. Even on that day, as the German's war ended, the slight bit of paper was worthless, but it held a value to him as perhaps his last true possession. He hoped the American would understand. The GI kept the stamp until his death, proof that he did.

Today we trekked to the Tennessee Military Collectors Association exhibition to sell the UCV badges, and we got a lot of information on how to refurbish the old S&W 32 caliber pistol, from a man who sometimes works with Antiques Roadshow. But the one thing I didn’t want sold, well, that stayed in the family. Remaining with his daughter as part of the old soldier’s personal mementos is that stamp, brought to life only by his death. It is the story of defeat, kindness, redemption, and a memory that stays. It is the lasting relic of a moment that could only truly be understood by the victor and the vanquished on that day 70+ years ago. It is worthless. It is priceless.

High Flight

As the New Year of 2018 rolls in, I'm working late with the television on, reminding me of childhood days when it was a challenge to stay up late—to watch the sign off. Inevitably, if I could make it, and my parents gave permission, I would be watching one of the video versions of High Flight.

High Flight was a poem written by an American, John Gillespie Magee, Jr. Magee had earned a scholarship at Yale in 1941, but instead chose the opportunity to fly with the Royal Canadian Air Force—the United States not yet having entered World War II. Technically illegal, the United States was seemingly indifferent to those who wanted to cross into Canada to help in the Battle of Britain.

Sadly, during training in England, Gillespie suffered a mid-air collision and was killed, just months after having written what would become one of the most famous poems in history. High Flight was composed as he flew in a Spitfire, and today is the official poem of both the Canadian Royal Air Force and the British Royal Air Force. President Ronald Reagan quoted from the poem after the space shuttle Challenger disaster, United States Air Force cadets are required to memorize it, and it is inscribed on countless gravestones from Arlington National Cemetery, to Canada, to England and beyond.

John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

It is as fine a poem as has been written, and reflects the pure understanding of the 19-year-old pilot, John Magee. RIP

Janice Keck Literary Award

I felt extremely honored tonight as the winner of the Janice Keck Literary award for non-fiction. This has been an exciting process, first writing and editing, then working through design and publication. I'm hopeful the book—"The Battlefield Guide to Life: War Stories and Life Lessons from Julius Caesar to Sergeant York"—will be in print sometime in February.

U.S. Marine - 1917

This is Robert Cecil Williamson of Granville, Tennessee, probably 1917, as he joined the United States Marine Corps. While he hoped to be sent overseas to fight, most of his time was spent in the states, with a short tour of duty in the Dominican Republic. The U.S. was concerned with the Germans using the Dominican Republic as a staging ground for an invasion, and basically took over that island country for quite some time. The U.S. also had other interests in the area, not all of them altruistic. It's a little-told story, but the Dominicans - rightfully tired of American intervention in their government—wanted us out of there. I'm betting this man—my great-uncle—was glad to oblige them. Uncle Cecil came home after the war, a fine man who lived into old age, and one of my favorite relatives.

Battle of Franklin Memorial

(The following is a repost from our Facebook page regarding the memorial observance that took place at the Carter House, Franklin, Tennessee, ten days ago. We had been asked to get the pictures on our blog website, as well, and glad to do so. James)

Hundreds visited the Carter House this evening to memorialize those who fell at the Battle of Franklin, November 30, 1864. The 10,000 luminaries represent the casualties from that day. Especially poignant was the light shining from inside the newly restored Farm Office, the most bullet-riddled building still remaining from the American Civil War. Lest we forget.

I bet you've never heard this story!

The best way to experience a museum is to listen to the stories that the objects are telling, to look beyond the "stuff", to hear the tales the curators want you to know. I've been to a lot of museums, but the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson, Arizona beats any of them as to sheer size. Covering 80 acres with over 300 aircraft stationed in hangars and on the environs of the desert, you'll find yourself wandering, looking, and loving the aircraft. More importantly, enjoying the stories.

F-105 Thunderchief
Recently, as I wandered through the hangars, suffering through the heat of July in a desert, I stumbled across one of the most bizarre moments from history. Here was a P-51D Mustang designed to replicate one of a WWII pilot, Lt. Colonel Louis Curdes. At the end of 1942 Curdes graduated from flight school, gained the rank of 2nd Lieutenant, and was sent to fly and fight over Italy and North Africa. Within a month he had shot down an Italian fighter and seven German Messerschmitts, making himself an Ace. He was a master piloting his P-38 Lightning, but his luck would not hold; he was shot down by a German pilot and imprisoned in Italy. Escaping, he was able to work himself back to Allied lines, and soon volunteered for the Pacific Theater.

In the Pacific he found himself behind the stick of a P-51D Mustang, and soon found his mark against a Japanese Zero. Curdes was in an elite club: he was one of only three Americans to shoot down Italian, German, and Japanese fighters. The markings on his Mustang sported the flags of those three countries, but he was soon to add another.

Original WWII flight patches
While circling a downed pilot just off the coast of the Philippines, Curdes spotted an American C-47 transport plane, probably lost, headed toward a landing on the Japanese-held island of Batan. If the transport landed in enemy territory, Curdes realized, it would mean certain death for captain, crew, and passengers - he had to stop the plane from landing on Batan. First, he attempted to radio the pilot - no luck. He then crossed to the front in an attempt to wave it off. Still no luck. In an act of desperation, he took the only - the last - option remaining. He flew his Mustang - Bad Angel - to the rear of the C-47, took careful aim, and with a quick burst of his machine gun shot out its starboard engine. Crippled, the transport turned away from its approach, toward the sea. Curdes then took out its port engine, forcing it to ditch into the Pacific near the pilot he had previously been observing. The transport pilot made a controlled landing and Curdes saw that all aboard were able to evacuate to life rafts.

P-51D Mustang, painted as that of Lt. Colonel Curdes
The next morning Curdes guided rescuers to the site, where his fellow fighter pilot and a dozen people from the transport awaited help. Curdes was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, though historians disagree as to whether he earned it for shooting down his own plane or for prior service in the Mediterranean.

But no one would disagree that Curdes had a bizarre sense of humor. Elevating himself above the other men with markings of kills from three countries, Curdes added a fourth to his Mustang: the Stars and Stripes of the United States. Thanks to the Pima Air and Space Museum for telling this great story. One more thing: he later married one of the nurses on board the C-47 he shot down. What a story.

Stuck in a rut? Ask for help!

A few weeks ago I went home to the family farm to help my dad check on cattle. Spring calves had started to arrive and we needed to match cows and calves. Matching is a simple process, determined by seeing which newborn calves are sucking on which cows. It’s important to know, something that couldn’t be put off.

As we started to leave for the farm, we realized that Dad’s truck had a flat tire. We needed to get to the cattle while it was still early, so, contrary to the thoughts of my father who still likes to drive on the farm, we hopped into my Xterra. It’s a good 4WD machine, and since I’ve been four-wheeling for decades my only worry was its worn tires. The farm is a quick five-minute drive from his house, so we arrived quickly.

Dad opened the gate and we drove in, splashing through a water-filled mud hole. It had recently rained and water was standing in places, a slight concern with my old tires. We needed to “salt” the cattle, pouring mineral salt into troughs, but the road to the troughs was through a hayfield. That dirt road, in the same location as it has been for the past 40 years, rises and falls on the gently rolling hills of the farm.

About a hundred yards into the hayfield I found myself trapped in a rut of the road, with a significant amount of water in front of me. I needed to either go forward, try to drive out the sides, or back up. My dad laughed, said he’d noticed my tires, and jubilantly asked me, “What are you going to do now?!” I told him that I figured I’d just drive on through, that I knew what I was doing.

I locked my truck into four-wheel drive, backed up a little so that I could get speed, and started in. Daddy joked and said he’d walk with me to get the tractor if I got stuck. Deal. I laughed, fishtailed a little, and made it through with no problem. He told me I got lucky, with my response that I had learned from the best. That made him happy, no doubt.

We repeated that a couple more times, the worst place being right before we got to the troughs. Daddy opined that he thought the ruts in the road were like life, that it’s important to take them on. Have the guts to drive forward when you should be able to make it, but don’t be embarrassed to stop and back up when that’s the obvious choice. When you get stuck - and we all get stuck - don’t be afraid to ask for help from the fellow that will walk with you to get the proverbial tractor.

My dad has never been a philosopher, but now on the cusp of 80 years old he’s beginning to sound a lot more like the man who gave me advice when I was 16. Back then he wanted to get me on the right track, now he wants to affirm that I am. I think I am. I know when to accelerate, when to back up, and how to rock a truck when I get mired. But if I do get stuck - and I’m certain that I will again - I’m not afraid to ask for help. We all get stuck in the ruts of life, though we’re usually able to work ourselves free. But when the problem’s bigger than you alone can handle, reach out. Don’t be silent and stuck. Ask for help.