Tag Archives: World War II

POWs helped build this N. Texas community

Note: I wrote this item for KETR-FM based at Texas A&M-Commerce. I want to share it on High Plains Blogger.

Who knew that German soldiers who fought against our guys during World War II would play a part in building a North Texas community?

Not me, certainly. At least until recently.

I followed some signs the other day in Princeton pointing me toward a World War II POW camp. About three left turns later, I found myself pulling into a city park that is still under development, with an estimated completion date of July 2019.

All I found was a Texas Historical Commission marker noting the existence of the POW camp that actually functioned as such from February 1945 until the end of World War II in August 1945.

Prior to taking prisoners of war from European battlefields, the site is described as a “migrant” camp established in 1941 with the help of the great Sam Rayburn, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who hailed from nearby Bonham in Fannin County.

It fascinates me to realize that German prisoners of war – men who had been captured trying to kill Americans – actually were put to work on North Texas farms and in Princeton itself. According to the historical marker inscription: “While here, the German soldiers worked on Princeton area farms, providing valuable labor assistance. For many years following the prisoners’ release in 1946, the site again served as a camp for migrant workers.”

There’s a certain poetic irony in the work the Nazi soldiers did on our area farms. Why? The North Texas agriculture community’s ranks of able-bodied men had been depleted because those sons of farming and ranching families answered the call to fight in defense of their way of life against, oh, Germans, Italians and Japanese.

That’s not where the poet aspect of this historic episode ends, however.

Again, according to the Historical Commission plaque: “Not only did the prisoners work in the field, but they also did stonemasonry work in downtown Princeton. Others helped construct a park in Princeton built in memory of the men who served in the armed forces during WWII and a shrine to perpetuate the memory of those who lost their lives in the war.”

Ponder that for a moment. I do not know whether the German POWs knew in the moment that they were would build a park memorializing Americans who were sent to Europe to save the world from the tyrants who sent them to war against us.

I am going to presume that they had to know something was afoot when they went to work in Princeton.

Can it possibly get any more poetic than that?

Mo Brooks cites ‘Mein Kampf’? What the . . . ?

Of all the works that a member of the U.S. House of Representatives wanted to use to illustrate a point, he chooses to stand on the floor of the People’s House and invoke the words of the 20th century’s most despicable tyrant.

Wow! How do you process that one?

Mo Brooks, an Alabama Republican, sought to defend Donald Trump against Democrats’ attacks on him over the course of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into The Russia Thing. By now you know how that turned out: Mueller found no credible evidence of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian goons who attacked our electoral system.

Why in the name of ethnic genocide does Brooks choose to reference passages to “Mein Kampf,” written in 1925 by the future chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler? Brooks cited a passage that Hitler used to talk about “the big lie,” which was a screed that sought to foment his upcoming campaign to launch the Holocaust against Jews. Brooks sought to label Hitler and the Nazis as “socialists.” They were not. The National Socialist Party of Germany was a fascist organization bent on world conquest.

And think for a moment about the juxtaposition of where he did and who he was quoting.

It was in that very chamber where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked Congress to declare a “state of war” between the United States and Japan after the “dastardly attack” that had occurred the prior day, Dec. 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.”

The next day, Germany declared war on the United States. The fight was on and the rest, as they say, was history.

And so Rep. Brooks chose to defend the current president of the United States with rhetoric penned by the monster who sought to eradicate Jews from Europe? He sought to conquer the world. He said the Third Reich would last a thousand years; he missed his goal by 988 years.

That a member of Congress would quote from such a monster on the floor of the nation’s Congress is a shameful act.

Reparations for slave descendants? No

Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro — a candidate for president of the United States — has opened up a wide-ranging debate topic that needs a full airing.

However, the Democratic candidate, has to go a huge distance to persuade me of the need to pay reparations for the descendants of slaves.

I oppose such reparations understanding how it might look to those who favor them. I want to be crystal clear on a couple of key points.

First, slavery is the greatest sin this government has ever committed against Americans. I totally understand the pain it caused those who lived under human bondage. They were treated as property. They were considered to be three-fifths of a human being. They were bought and sold the way people buy and sell, oh, livestock.

They were “emancipated” in 1863, during the height of the Civil War, which was being fought over the issue of slavery. Slaves were set free more than 150 years ago.

Generations of African-Americans have come along since then. Yes, many of them have endured hatred, indignity, violence, outright discrimination on the basis of their race. However, this country has legislated equality for all Americans. I understand full well that those laws haven’t erased bigotry from all Americans’ hearts.

My concern over the issue of reparations deals with the time that has passed and the many generations that have come and gone since those terrible days when we enslaved fellow human beings.

Are there “direct descendants” of slaves? Sure. Have those descendants suffered directly from the enslavement of their great-great-great grandparents? Well, that is a highly debatable point.

It’s the timing of this proposal that Julian Castro has pitched.

Yes, our government has paid reparations to Japanese-Americans over their internment during World War II. But that atrocity occurred not quite 80 years ago. There are former internees still living to this day. Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren have been given some remuneration over what President Roosevelt decreed after the United States entered World War II; FDR feared Japanese-Americans would be more loyal to their ancestors than to the country of their birth, so he rounded ’em up along the Pacific Coast and sent them packing to concentration camps inland.

This idea of paying reparations for those descended from long-deceased slaves, though, gives me serious pause.

Do we stop working toward a “more perfect Union”? Of course not! Such a task involves eradicating bigotry and race-based hatred whenever and wherever we see it.

Reparations? That’s a bridge too far.

Sailor in iconic ‘kiss’ photo passes from scene

George Mendonsa likely would never have gotten away today with what he did nearly 74 years ago.

He was a sailor who was strolling down a busy New York City street when Japan surrendered to end World War II. He grabbed a nurse and kissed her hard. On the lips. It was a moment captured for all time.

Mendonsa died the other day at age 95; he would have turned 96 in two more days. He had fallen in a Rhode Island nursing home where he lived with his wife of 70 years.

He did not know the nurse he grabbed that day in Times Square. She was Greta Zimmer Friedman. He saw her in her white nursing uniform, grabbed her and planted a wet one on her. Friedman died in 2016 at age 92.

Mendonsa was on leave when the war ended. He had served on a destroyer in the Pacific Theater, fighting the very forces that surrendered in August 1945.

The act that Mendonsa pulled off has gotten criticism in recent years as women have spoken out against sexual abuse, harassment and assault. Their concerns about what has happened to them are real, legitimate and worth hearing.

However, I just cannot equate Seaman Mendonsa’s spontaneous bit of joy at the news of the end of World War II with what we’re discussing today, in the next century.

The picture likely will remain as one of the more iconic images of the 20th century. As it should.

So long, Chief . . . and well done

I used to call him Chief. Jack Barnes was a retired Navy chief petty officer. I made his acquaintance while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.

Barnes hailed originally from Perryton, then spent a couple of decades defending the nation.

I was saddened recently to learn of Barnes’ death in December at the age of 68. I heard he suffered from an aggressive form of cancer. I am not going to comment on the end of this patriot’s life, but rather on what he did to enrich the lives of other patriots.

Barnes was the driving force behind a project called “Honor Flights.” He declared it his mission to shepherd World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorial erected in these veterans’ honor. And to show them as many other sights as they could squeeze into a brief visit to the nation’s capital.

He worked tirelessly with Southwest Airlines to arrange to transport these veterans from Amarillo to Washington. Over time, he expanded his mission to include Korean War and then Vietnam War veterans. Given that the Korean War began only five years after the end of World War II, it became imperative, as Barnes saw it, to bring veterans of that war to D.C. to show them the Korean War memorial that honors the sacrifice of those who fought on the Korean Peninsula.

And, of course, the Vietnam War veterans also were invited aboard these Honor Flights. We, too, are getting a bit long in the tooth these days and Barnes wanted to treat the men and women who served in Vietnam to the same honor he delivered to the World War II and Korean War veterans.

Jack occasionally would ask me if I wanted to take part in an Honor Flight, given my own meager experience in the Vietnam War. I never found the time to take him up on his generous offer.

I lost contact — more or less — with Barnes after I resigned from the Globe-News in August 2012; we would see each other on occasion, at the grocery store or at a public event. But I surely knew of the work he continued to do to honor our World War II veterans.

Of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII, only a diminishing fraction of them are still with us. They’re all in their 90s now. Time is not their friend.

Barnes, though, was dedicated to these men and women and sought to honor them the best way he knew how. He honored them greatly with his diligence in escorting them to Washington, to see the memorial that is dedicated to their service in the fight against tyranny.

Jack Barnes was a proud man who spread his pride generously. His work should live on forever.

Rest in peace and well done, Chief.

NATO pullout back on the top shelf

In 2018, when Donald J. Trump decided to scold the leaders of our most trustworthy military alliance, he sounded like someone who wanted to pull the United States out of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Those leaders need to pay more of their share of the defense of Europe, Trump said, or else face the consequences, which might involve a U.S. pullout.

Now, against that backdrop we have The New York Times report about an alleged investigation by the FBI into whether Trump was an “agent” of Russia.

The connection? Well, Russia wants NATO weakened badly. He would prefer that NATO be destroyed. Why is that? Because NATO came into being after World War II as a military alliance to defend Europe against the Soviet Union’s bloc of satellite nations. Russia, you’ll remember, was known as the Soviet Union from 1917 until 1991, when it collapsed under its own weight.

But NATO remains as a bulwark against Russian aggression. Therefore, Russia wants NATO to go away.

So, what connection is there between Donald Trump’s implied threat and Russia’s stated aim of ensuring that NATO withers away and dies? Is there a connection? Trump says “no!” I do not believe Trump’s declaration on its face. I want to know the truth.

If only I could find where the truth is hiding.

Our nation will survive — and flourish

Make no mistake about it: I am alarmed at the accelerating crisis in Washington, D.C.

Some Republican lawmakers, such as U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, might believe that “no one outside the D.C. Beltway cares” about Russia and Donald J. Trump’s alleged involvement with the nation’s pre-eminent adversary. I, though, do care about it. So do millions of other Americans, senator; you’re just not listening to us.

Does my alarm extend to my fear for the resilience of this system of government of ours? No. Not for an instant.

I remain an eternal optimist that we’ll get through all of this, no matter what the special counsel’s report reveals to us. Robert Mueller could exonerate the president of any wrongdoing. Or he could lay out a smorgasbord of questions that call into fact-based suspicion about the president’s fitness for the job.

Whatever happens, I feel compelled to remind us all that this country has survived equally serious — and more serious — crises throughout our history. We endured the Civil War; we engaged in two worldwide wars; we also endured a Great Depression; we have watched our political leaders gunned down by assassins; Americans have rioted in the streets to protest warfare; we witnessed a constitutional crisis bring down a president who resigned in disgrace; we have entered an interminable war against international terrorism.

Through it all we survived. The nation pulled itself together. It dusted itself off. It collected its breath. It analyzed what went wrong. The nation mobilized.

Our leaders have sought to unite us against common enemies. We responded.

Here we are. The special counsel is preparing — I hope — to conclude a lengthy investigation. There have been deeply troubling questions about the president’s conduct. One way or another I expect the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to answer those questions. They might not be to everyone’s satisfaction. Indeed, I can guarantee that the findings will split Americans between those who support the president and those (of us) who oppose him.

But we’re going to get through it. We might be bloodied and bruised. It might take some time to heal.

It’s going to happen.

The founders knew what they were doing when they crafted a government that they might have known — even then — would face the level of crisis it is facing today.

The ‘best’ are great, the worst are, well, something else

Donald Trump has shown an ability to hire a wide-ranging array of key administration officials. They run from the brightest of lights to the dimmest of bulbs.

I consider Defense Secretary James Mattis to be among the stars of the Trump administration. He’s a retired four-star Marine Corps general; tested in combat. He’s dedicated to the defense of this country. Thoughtful, learned and a totally competent strategic thinker.

I hope he stays for the duration of the Trump administration, although Mattis’s tenure is beginning to show signs of wobbliness.

Then there’s the president’s latest selection to be our ambassador to the United Nations.

I am having difficulty wrapping my noggin around this one. Heather Nauert is nominated to be our nation’s top envoy on the world stage. Her credentials? None. She has nothing to offer.

Except for this: She once was a “news” personality on the Fox News News Channel, the president’s network of choice. She did a co-hosting gig on “Fox & Friends.” She dressed up in goofy costumes and acted totally, well, the way morning “news” talk show co-hosts often act.

Then she got a job as spokeswoman for the State Department. You might be recall how she sought to praise U.S.-Germany relations by citing, for instance, the upcoming D-Day commemoration. D’oh! Wait a second!

Our guys fought the Germans to the death on the beaches at Normandy, France. We were at war.

This is the kind of “experience” the president sought when he named this person to be our advocate on at the United Nations.

Weird, man.

Pearl Harbor, Mr. POTUS?

Oh, man. I just had to share this hilarious social media post . . . with a brief comment.

It reminds us that Donald J. Trump, no matter what he says about his love, affection and respect for the men and women who serve in our armed forces, just didn’t have time on Pearl Harbor Day to commemorate the sacrifice made by roughly 2,500 Americans on Dec. 7, 1941.

Oh, no. Instead, he chose to launch into a Twitter tirade about Robert Mueller’s probe into the Russia matter.

Mr. President, don’t ever proclaim your phony respect for those of us who have worn the uniform in defense of our country. Those proclamations are as phony as your commitment to making America great again.

USS Arizona artifact honors the fallen

Randall County Judge Ernie Houdashell’s mission is accomplished.

A piece of an iconic historical treasure is now in display at the Texas Panhandle War Memorial. It is a small section of the USS Arizona, the World War I-era battleship that was sunk 77 years ago today at the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, by Japanese fighter pilots.

The event thrust the United States into World War II.

More than 1,000 men died on the Arizona.

Houdashell made it his mission to bring a piece of the sunken ship to Amarillo, to display it at the War Memorial, which honors the men from the Texas Panhandle who fell in battle in conflicts dating back to the Spanish-American War.

The judge told KFDA NewsChannel 10: “Pearl Harbor, the Arizona, is a cemetery,” said Judge Houdashell. “There’s hundreds of men still buried on that. We have a piece of a national relic and it’s a sacred relic. Very few people have a piece that big. There’s a little bitty piece at the WWII Museum but we have a huge piece.

He meant to welcome the display on Pearl Harbor Day, when the nation remembers the event that mobilized the nation into a new era of industrial and military might in the fight to quell the tyrants in Europe and Asia who sought to conquer the world.

I am delighted that Ernie Houdashell accomplished his mission, just as he worked to bring the F-100 Super Sabre jet fighter and the UH-1 Huey helicopter — both Vietnam War relics — to the War Memorial grounds at the site of the former Randall County Courthouse Annex in south Amarillo.

These displays are important to Houdashell, who served two tours in the Vietnam War himself and who wears his love of country on his sleeve. Indeed, they are important to all Americans, all of us who understand the sacrifice made by those who fell in battle. The names of the Panhandle sons who fell are inscribed on the stone tablets that stand on the memorial grounds.

They now are accompanied by yet another historical artifact, a reminder of the horror of the bloodiest war the world has ever seen. May it stand as the worst the world will ever see.