Memorial Day and Heroes

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Annie, May 28, 2004.

  1. Annie

    Annie Diamond Member

    Nov 22, 2003
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    I liked this, it speaks to those that do brave things. There are pics of the man den Beste is speaking of, but I've never figured out how to include those:

    Stardate 20040527.1703

    (On Screen): My grocery store sells a lot more than just food. It used to have a small section where it sold computer supplies. And occasionally there are DVDs offered. On Monday while I was restocking the larder, I ended up buying a couple of DVDs.

    One of them was "The Battle of Britain", one of the better war movies ever made. It was released in 1969, which was far enough from the war so that they didn't feel the need to make all the German characters seem like evil, sadistic animals, but still early enough so that the film makers were not infected with post-modernist multiculturalist mindset and didn't need to try to portray Hitler and the other top Nazis semi-sympathetically. (Or to try to figure out some reason why it was actually America's fault.)

    Actually, the film isn't really about political leaders, or the larger events of the war. Churchill shows up in the film but only briefly; Hitler only appears once, making a speech. Göring probably has more screen time than any other top political leader, and he is not portrayed very sympathetically. What the film is actually about is the people who really fought the battle on both sides, and the utter horror they went through. It shows the terrible destruction caused by the bombing of London, but shows it through the eyes of an RAF fighter pilot on leave.

    The British are the good guys, of course, and in particular it is the pilots of Fighter Command who are the heroes of the film. But the pilots and crewmen who flew for the Luftwaffe are treated sympathetically; they're men, not monsters. When a squadron of German bombers is jumped by RAF fighters, with no German fighters around, quite naturally the Germans got butchered. There's a scene of a German bomber pilot whose plane has already been shot up, surrounded by the corpses of his crewmates. His oxygen mask covers all of his face except his eyes, but his eyes are full of naked fear as he sees a Spitfire swing in directly in front of him and begin shooting, moments before he, too, dies.

    No matter who starts a war, and no matter why it is being fought, death is the same for every man. And though the film doesn't emphasize this, it's important to remember that the majority of the Germans who fought in WWII were not party members or zealots for the Nazi cause.

    This film was made near enough to WWII so that a lot of the locations they needed were still available and could be used after cleaning the weeds away and using a bit of paint. There were still quite a large number of WWII warplanes available in flying condition which could be borrowed for the film.

    Some of the special effects used in it were quite well done. A lot of the images of planes being destroyed in the air or crashing into the ground or the sea were done with miniatures, but they used large enough miniatures so that it wasn't terribly noticeable.

    Some of the special effects were pretty cheesy. This was before Industrial Light and Magic, and some of the mid-air "explosions" were animated, rather badly.

    But the most important special effect in the film, the one I think sticks most in the memory, wasn't actually a special effect. It wasn't created by makeup artists. It was real.

    There's a minor character in the film named Squadron Leader Tom Evans. He only appears in the film twice that I noticed. The first time he was part of a group shot of RAF officers being briefed on the British system for controlling their fighters, that permitted them intercept the Germans instead of missing them in the air.

    Later, he is introduced to Section Leader Maggie Harvey, played by Susannah York. She is a bit shocked by his appearance but controls it and greets him warmly.

    And then they gave him a closeup.

    They even let him speak a couple of lines. He has a very pleasant voice. He mentions that he knew her husband, because they served together in a fighter squadron before his "little escapade with a burning Hurricane" fighter. Shortly after this scene, her husband's Spitfire is shot down and he, too, is terribly burned.

    This man's real name is William Foxley, and that is really his face. During his closeups, he blinks his eyes a couple of times. Or rather, he blinks his eye. Only the left eye blinks.

    This is the only movie he's ever appeared in. The film makers wanted to include him or someone like him, in part to preserve for us the price some men paid in order to protect their country.

    Bill Foxley wasn't a fighter pilot, but he did serve in the RAF during WWII. He may still be alive; he was alive and active in 2001.

    His story, and that of many others like him, was told better in this from 1999 than anything else I could find online.

    Ties that burn
    By Richard Horn, SUN Staff

    The Guinea Pigs are bound together by the pain of horrible injuries and the inspiration of a medical pioneer.

    It's an exclusive club with an immense admission price.

    You can spot its members by their facial scars, or their missing eyes, fingers or limbs, and maybe their red ties adorned with little flying guinea pigs. Or, most likely, by their laughter, kidding and passion for life.

    They are the Guinea Pigs, and three of them - Bill Foxley, Sam Gallop and George Holloway, all of England - are in Kitsap County this week following a reunion of about 100 other surviving members in Victoria, British Columbia.

    Their host, author Pauline Furey of Port Orchard, has a cousin who is a Guinea Pig. Now she is writing a book about the inspiring group.

    Once they numbered 649 worldwide, members of Allied air crews who crashed and burned in World War II, then underwent experimental plastic surgery under the leadership of England's Sir Dr. Archie McIndoe.

    They count the ordeal one of the greatest experiences of their lives, and they still treasure the friendships.

    "We were all young men, 19, 20, 21, and it was quite a difficult thing to come to terms with," said Foxley, a navigator in a bomber that crashed in 1944. "But by and large, because you had the others around you, it made it easy."

    Foxley, now 75, lost an eye, his fingers and suffered severe facial burns. He has undergone some 40 surgeries. He doesn't mention it, but his friends point out that he wasn't burned in the crash itself - he returned to the flaming craft to save a comrade.

    Together, they shared in their English hospital and throughout their lives a kind of group therapy, but an extremely natural one, said Gallop, 76.

    Counseling and psychotherapy weren't known or needed back then, Gallop said, and he doesn't think much of the culture that's grown up around those words today.

    "If anyone was sorry for himself, that was just hard luck," Gallop said.

    "We were blessed with wonderful leadership, wonderful surgery and a very straightforward philosophy, that you either get on with it or you go under," he said. "At the end of the day it's down to you, it's your personal responsibility."

    That doesn't mean Gallop, who was a Spitfire pilot, isn't grateful for the many people who've helped him along the way, not the least of whom were the men, including American GIs, who pulled him out of his burning plane.

    "I had brain damage, I broke my upper and lower jaw, knocked out all my front teeth, lost the ring finger of my left hand, both my arms were broken, my hands were burned, I've got a fracture of the spine and my feet were burned away so both my legs were amputated," he says, then looks to his chums: "Have I remembered everything?"

    He recalls waking up in the hospital, not knowing where he was, and looking over to see someone whose face and body were wrapped entirely in bandages. It was Foxley.

    "I thought, Christ, I'm in a room with the Invisible Man," he said. "And this sort of vision turns to me and he says through the bandages, 'You get eggs here.' That was my introduction to the Guinea Pig Club."

    His right eye, the one that doesn't blink, is the one he lost. It's part of the reconstruction which was done in those 40 different surgical operations. And I must say that it appears the surgeon did an amazing job in reconstructing his face. But it does not look normal; plastic surgery is even now nowhere near that good.

    Was Bill Foxley a hero? The problem here is the word. In some ways he was, and in some ways he was not. We think of "heroes" as being extraordinarily brave, and of taking extraordinary risks or making extraordinary sacrifices for others, and in that way, I think he was a hero. But we also think of "heroes" as being rare. Foxley wasn't particularly unusual. In fact, he was not "extraordinarily" brave; he didn't take "extraordinary" risks. But perhaps he did make an extraordinary sacrifice.

    Morale, in war, refers to the likelihood that a given military unit will successfully carry out the missions assigned to it. It is a measure of the unit's discipline, and its willingness to make sacrifices. But not all morale is the same.

    In some military forces, morale is based on fear. Men in such armies fight against the enemy because they fear what would be done to them if they did not. Morale in such armies tends to be somewhat fragile and to shatter under severe challenge.

    Other military forces rely on esprit de corps, and that generally is more successful.

    Why do soldiers fight? Why do they take chances no sane man in peacetime would ever consider taking? That is not a question with any easy answer. It is different for every army, and for every war, and for every man, and it changes from day to day and circumstance to circumstance. Sometimes the men themselves don't know why.

    Some men fight for a higher cause. They fight in a far place to keep the horrors of war from coming to their homes; they fight to protect their nations, and to protect their families and friends.

    But real combat is totally unlike anything most of us ever experience. And men who serve in combat for long periods of time lose touch with home; it starts to seem unreal, like a fairy story, or something in a book. It is hard to maintain that link to normalcy, though they desperately want to.

    The best way to help a man in combat to hold onto that link, that mental lifeline, is to send him mail. Mail that describes the mundane, the banal, the everyday unimportant details of what you've been doing; to a soldier in combat, reading such letters helps him to hold onto his vision of what his life was like before he went away into a state of violent insanity, and what his life will be like after he returns from it.

    But even with that, it's hard for men in war to keep that vision. As it fades, what do men fight for?

    They fight for each other. When the abstract reasons for the war seem strange and irrelevant, and when their memory of home has become tenuous and abstract, the one concrete reality left to them is the other men in their unit.

    They fight for their teammates, for the other men in their unit. They're there for each other, and they share their ordeal. They understand one another in ways no one outside ever could, who did not share their experiences.

    Approval by their teammates is the key, and they'll do almost anything to avoid disgrace in the eyes of their teammates.

    And their teammates will not judge them capriciously, unfairly. In another scene in that movie, the pilots of one RAF fighter squadron sit and wait for the phone to ring ordering them to take off to once again engage the Germans. They are survivors of weeks of fighting, tired and used up but still there because no one was available to replace them.

    The phone rings, and they wait tensely; but it's just to tell them that morning tea will soon be delivered. A few moments later, one of the pilots goes outside and throws up. None of the others react; they do not feel or show any contempt for him. They ignore it, because they understand it. Any of them might have done the same, and they all know it.

    But men who serve together in combat can also form a deep bond, in some ways deeper than family. And they will risk almost anything to save their mates. They will take extraordinary risks without even thinking about it. Bill Foxley got out of his burning bomber unhurt, but he ran back into the wreckage because one of his crewmates was still inside, and that's how he got burned.

    Such bonds, formed of shared sacrifice and horror, can last a lifetime. But the price paid for such a bond is high. The price of heroism is steep indeed.

    How do you recognize a real hero? I think the most important characteristic they share is that they are generally very modest men. Heroes are not braggarts.

    They will readily talk about the heroism of others, but do not tend to talk about their own actions. If they do talk about themselves, they'll joke about what they did.

    The article above says that [Foxley] doesn't mention it, but his friends point out that he wasn't burned in the crash itself - he returned to the flaming craft to save a comrade. That is extremely typical.

    Real heroes don't seek to impress you. They seek to blend in. They don't constantly talk about what they did, and will usually be reluctant to talk about it even if directly asked.

    I knew a hero. He was a member of a club I belonged to, and I knew him for years and never suspected. He was a wonderful guy; smart and funny and friendly and gentle and absolutely impossible to anger; one of the most even tempered men I've ever known.

    He was a trooper for the Oregon State Police. After I'd known him for a couple of years, one of the other club members told me that he'd had to kill a man in the line of duty. There had been a violent bank robbery, and he had ended up alone on a bridge with the robber, his hands in the air as the robber pointed a gun at him. I think he probably did that because he was trying to get close to the robber to talk to him, hoping to convince him to surrender. But he finally realized it would not work and feared the robber, who was apparently pretty crazed, was about to shoot him. So he threw his hand down, quick-drew his gun, and shot the robber dead.

    I know he didn't want to do that, but he had no choice. He had never said anything to me, or given me any indication that he'd ever done anything like that. It wasn't in him to talk about such things. I am certain he did not think he was in any way special. (And after I learned of it, I never mentioned it to him. It was clear that's what he wanted.)

    I've probably known many heroes without realizing it. Some may have proved it, but I never learned of their heroic deeds because they never talked about them. Others may never have been challenged, but would have been heroes if they had been.

    Real heroes feel pride, but it is not pride in being an unusual man, better than those around him. Far more often it is pride in having been part of an unusual group. If you press them, you'll find that they will say that their fellows were better than they were. They will brag about the achievements of other men they served with, but will downplay their own. It was typical that Foxley did not talk about how he got burned, and it was typical that the others in the Guinea Pig Club did so readily.

    Real heroes don't think of themselves as being unusual; they just see themselves as having done what they had to do. And in fact, that kind of heroism in combat is far more common than most people realize.

    Admiral Nimitz said, "Among the men who fought on Iwo Jima, uncommon valor was a common virtue." And that's the point. It's the reason why the word "hero" isn't really adequate, why its meaning isn't correct. The implication that heroes are unusual, better than the rest of us, is wrong. Most real heroes are not extraordinary men; they are ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.

    And they know it, which is why they do not brag. They may have been heroes, but they saw many others be heroes. They know they are not extraordinary.

    Uncommon valor is a common virtue. That's why hundreds of firemen charged into the WTC towers on September 11, 2001, and died there. And after one tower collapsed, that's why the firemen in the other tower did not flee, and in their turn also died.

    Real heroes know that decorations are only given to those who were lucky enough to be heroic while someone important was watching. Real heroes will have seen many other heroic acts which were never acknowledged by anyone, except by the other members of the team. And ultimately that is the only acknowledgement they truly value, for only their teammates really understand what they went through.

    A man who brags about his heroism is no hero. And the men who served with him will know it.

    Update: Bill Maldin was a cartoonist for "Stars and Stripes" in Europe during WWII, and late in 1944, he wrote a book called "Up Front with Bill Maldin". I recommend it highly; it is a superb book, written by a 21 year old man, who tries to describe for people back home just what it's really like for the front-line riflemen who were so often the subjects of his cartoons.

    Maldin talks about "the Benevolent and Protective Order of Them what has Got Shot At", and how they were different from what later came to be known as "REMFs". He also talks about garritroopers ("too far forward to wear ties an' too far back to git shot").

    He mentions once that he himself had been decorated, but he doesn't make much of it and doesn't go into details. Maldin isn't the hero of his own book; the frontline riflemen are. They were the men he wanted his readers to respect and to care about.

    I had to read Ernie Pyle's "Brave Men" to learn that Maldin had the Purple Heart.

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