From the Mountain

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From The Mountain

Mark J. Tidwell

I pulled up in front of Jellico’s U.S. Post Office the other day and quickly noticed Old Glory waving briskly at half-mast.  I couldn’t for the life of me think of why it was so.  I inquired inside and was told it was in memory of America’s last doughboy of World War I.  James Webb, former Jellico Postmaster, had given me the clipping of Frank Woodruff Buckles’ passing quite a few days before, so I was surprised that so long after the fact the vet was being recognized.

So now, here we are in March 2011 and not one single, solitary, living American soldier is left from the “War to End All Wars.”  A true epic event in history is now forever relegated to the books on the shelves.  No one is left alive to tell us firsthand about the muddy trenches, the assaults across no-man’s land into the face of withering machinegun fire, or in the case of Buckles, hauling ambulance-full after ambulance-full of wounded men to the aid stations.

So, let us bid a thankful farewell to the World War I American Doughboy. You sallied forth from a nation that had sought isolation to go out and to change the world forever.  Your generation served their country well from Belleau Wood to the Muese-Argonne.  From the most decorated soldier of the Great War, Alvin York of Pall Mall, TN, to the last living man of the American Expeditionary Force, F. W. Buckles, we bid you farewell and will now only know you in printed word, documentary film, or the inscription on a headstone in a lonely cemetery. 

I also thought of World War II after the recent earthquake and follow-on tsunami decimated parts of Japan.   Elements of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were off the coast to aid a former mortal enemy of six decades past.  In my opinion, that’s why WW II is the most successful war ever fought by the United States.  From the bloodiest conflict in history arose post war change and alliances that have stood the test of time. 

I pulled out my late father’s well worn little journal he carried with him across the Pacific. In his 21 December 1946 entry, during the occupation of Japan, he recorded that his destroyer squadron was at anchor when all manner of sirens and radio traffic erupted.  The ships immediately got under way and headed out at flank speed, roaring up Tokyo Bay.

There had been an earthquake and a tsunami was inbound.  The ships rode over a seventeen foot wave.  It sounded pretty scary to me just reading it.  He went on to record that a one-hundred by sixty mile area was very heavily damaged by the tsunami.  I looked it up on the Internet and found that the earthquake hit at 4:20 a.m. and was of magnitude 8.5.  Two thousand ships were capsized and 40,000 homes were destroyed.  Honshu, Kyusu, and Shikoku were left in shambles.  Of course, CNN wasn’t around back then to cover such a disaster.  The more the news breaks the more it seems to stay the same.