title>Lady Liberty Defended
Col. Lewis L. Millett, an Army veteran of three wars who received the Medal of Honor for leading a rare bayonet charge up a hill in Korea, died Saturday in Loma Linda, Calif. He was 88.May God take you to his bosom and thank you.
Boston Globe September 6, 2009
He Could Not Leave A Comrade Behind
- Sgt. Jared C. Monti of Raynham, who braved fatal fire in Afghanistan, will receive the nation’s highest honor By Bryan Bender, Globe Staff
The sound of feet shuffling in the woods, high on a ridge in remote Afghanistan, was the only warning that Sergeant Jared C. Monti and the 15 men under his command were about to be attacked. Before they could even react, they were bombarded with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire.
The ambush by mountain tribesmen allied with the Taliban came so suddenly and with such ferocity that some members of Monti’s unit “had their weapons literally shot out of their hands,’’ according to an Army report.
CORONADO — A Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan will be awarded the Medal of Honor, the first such award for troops serving in Afghanistan and the first for a SEAL since the Vietnam War, the White House announced Thursday.We would like to once again give our humble thanks for all those that serve. We would also like to express our heartfelt condolences to LT Murphy's family.
Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, who had SEAL training here and was assigned to a SEAL team in Hawaii, was killed in June 2005 during a mission in the Hindu Kush mountains to find a key Taliban leader.
Ambushed by insurgents, Murphy's four-man SEAL team engaged in a fierce firefight and was in danger of being overrun.
Although he was wounded, Murphy risked his life to save fellow SEALs and then maneuvered into an open position to send out an emergency call and to continue firing at the enemy. While making the call, he was hit again.
Only one of the SEALs on the team survived. Eight other SEALs and eight soldiers aboard a MH-47 Chinook helicopter sent to rescue Murphy's team also were killed when the craft was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade.
The incident was the worst single-day loss of life for Navy Special Warfare personnel since World War II.
We're here to mark that day in history when the Allied armies joined in battle to reclaim this continent to liberty. For four long years, much of Europe had been under a terrible shadow. Free nations had fallen, Jews cried out in the camps, millions cried out for liberation. Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.
We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance.
The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers--the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After two days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms.
Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.
These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.
Gentlemen, I look at you and I think of the words of Stephen Spender's poem. You are men who in your "lives fought for life . . . and left the vivid air signed with your honor.''
I think I know what you may be thinking right now--thinking, "We were just part of a bigger effort; everyone was brave that day.'' Well, everyone was. Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren't. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him.
Lord Lovat was with him--Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, "Sorry I'm a few minutes late,'' as if he'd been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he'd just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken.
There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.
All of these men were part of a rollcall of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland's 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England's armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard's "Matchbox Fleet'' and you, the American Rangers.
Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love.
The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge--and pray God we have not lost it--that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny, and you knew the people of your countries were behind you.
The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home. They thought--or felt in their hearts, though they couldn't know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.
Something else helped the men of D-Day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause. And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer he told them: Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we're about to do. Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies.
When the war was over, there were lives to be rebuilt and governments to be returned to the people. There were nations to be reborn. Above all, there was a new peace to be assured. These were huge and daunting tasks. But the Allies summoned strength from the faith, belief, loyalty, and love of those who fell here. They rebuilt a new Europe together.
There was first a great reconciliation among those who had been enemies, all of whom had suffered so greatly. The United States did its part, creating the Marshall Plan to help rebuild our allies and our former enemies. The Marshall Plan led to the Atlantic alliance--a great alliance that serves to this day as our shield for freedom, for prosperity, and for peace.
In spite of our great efforts and successes, not all that followed the end of the war was happy or planned. Some liberated countries were lost. The great sadness of this loss echoes down to our own time in the streets of Warsaw, Prague, and East Berlin. Soviet troops that came to the center of this continent did not leave when peace came. They're still there, uninvited, unwanted, unyielding, almost 40 years after the war. Because of this, Allied forces still stand on this continent. Today, as 40 years ago, our armies are here for only one purpose--to protect and defend democracy. The only territories we hold are memorials like this one and graveyards where our heroes rest.
We in America have learned bitter lessons from two World Wars: It is better to be here ready to protect the peace than to take blind shelter across the sea, rushing to respond only after freedom is lost. We've learned that isolationism never was and never will be an acceptable response to tyrannical governments with an expansionist intent.
But we try always to be prepared for peace; prepared to deter aggression; prepared to negotiate the reduction of arms; and, yes, prepared to reach out again in the spirit of reconciliation. In truth, there is no reconciliation we would welcome more than a reconciliation with the Soviet Union, so, together, we can lessen the risks of war, now and forever.
It's fitting to remember here the great losses also suffered by the Russian people during World War II: 20 million perished, a terrible price that testifies to all the world the necessity of ending war. I tell you from my heart that we in the United States do not want war. We want to wipe from the face of the Earth the terrible weapons that man now has in his hands. And I tell you, we are ready to seize that beachhead. We look for some sign from the Soviet Union that they are willing to move forward, that they share our desire and love for peace, and that they will give up the ways of conquest. There must be a changing there that will allow us to turn our hope into action.
We will pray forever that some day that changing will come. But for now, particularly today, it is good and fitting to renew our commitment to each other, to our freedom, and to the alliance that protects it.
We are bound today by what bound us 40 years ago, the same loyalties, traditions, and beliefs. We're bound by reality. The strength of America's allies is vital to the United States, and the American security guarantee is essential to the continued freedom of Europe's democracies. We were with you then; we are with you now. Your hopes are our hopes, and your destiny is our destiny.
Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: "I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.''
Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their value [valor], and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.
Thank you very much, and God bless you all.
My Fellow Americans:
Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:
Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest -- until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.
For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.
And for us at home -- fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas, whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them -- help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.
Give us strength, too -- strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.
And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keeness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.
With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace -- a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.
Thy will be done, Almighty God.
"Private Beharry carried out two individual acts of great heroism by which he saved the lives of his comrades. Both were in direct face of the enemy, under intense fire, at great personal risk to himself (one leading to him sustaining very serious injuries). His valour is worthy of the highest recognition.
"In the early hours of the 1st May 2004 Beharry’s company was ordered to replenish an isolated Coalition Forces outpost located in the centre of the troubled city of Al Amarah. He was the driver of a platoon commander’s Warrior armoured fighting vehicle. His platoon was the company’s reserve force and was placed on immediate notice to move. As the main elements of his company were moving into the city to carry out the replenishment, they were re-tasked to fight through a series of enemy ambushes in order to extract a foot patrol that had become pinned down under sustained small arms and heavy machine gun fire and improvised explosive device and rocket-propelled grenade attack.
"Beharry’s platoon was tasked over the radio to come to the assistance of the remainder of the company, who were attempting to extract the isolated foot patrol. As his platoon passed a roundabout, en route to the pinned-down patrol, they became aware that the road to the front was empty of all civilians and traffic – an indicator of a potential ambush ahead. The platoon commander ordered the vehicle to halt, so that he could assess the situation. The vehicle was then immediately hit by multiple rocket-propelled grenades. Eyewitnesses report that the vehicle was engulfed in a number of violent explosions, which physically rocked the 30-tonne Warrior.
"As a result of this ferocious initial volley of fire, both the platoon commander and the vehicle’s gunner were incapacitated by concussion and other wounds, and a number of the soldiers in the rear of the vehicle were also wounded. Due to damage sustained in the blast to the vehicle’s radio systems, Beharry had no means of communication with either his turret crew or any of the other Warrior vehicles deployed around him. He did not know if his commander or crewmen were still alive, or how serious their injuries may be. In this confusing and dangerous situation, on his own initiative, he closed his driver’s hatch and moved forward through the ambush position to try to establish some form of communications, halting just short of a barricade placed across the road.
"The vehicle was hit again by sustained rocket-propelled grenade attack from insurgent fighters in the alleyways and on rooftops around his vehicle. Further damage to the Warrior from these explosions caused it to catch fire and fill rapidly with thick, noxious smoke. Beharry opened up his armoured hatch cover to clear his view and orientate himself to the situation. He still had no radio communications and was now acting on his own initiative, as the lead vehicle of a six Warrior convoy in an enemy-controlled area of the city at night. He assessed that his best course of action to save the lives of his crew was to push through, out of the ambush. He drove his Warrior directly through the barricade, not knowing if there were mines or improvised explosive devices placed there to destroy his vehicle. By doing this he was able to lead the remaining five Warriors behind him towards safety.
"As the smoke in his driver’s tunnel cleared, he was just able to make out the shape of another rocket- propelled grenade in flight heading directly towards him. He pulled the heavy armoured hatch down with one hand, whilst still controlling his vehicle with the other. However, the overpressure from the explosion of the rocket wrenched the hatch out of his grip, and the flames and force of the blast passed directly over him, down the driver’s tunnel, further wounding the semi-conscious gunner in the turret. The impact of this rocket destroyed Beharry’s armoured periscope, so he was forced to drive the vehicle through the remainder of the ambushed route, some 1500 metres long, with his hatch opened up and his head exposed to enemy fire, all the time with no communications with any other vehicle. During this long surge through the ambushes the vehicle was again struck by rocket-propelled grenades and small arms fire. While his head remained out of the hatch, to enable him to see the route ahead, he was directly exposed to much of this fire, and was himself hit by a 7.62mm bullet, which penetrated his helmet and remained lodged on its inner surface.
"Despite this harrowing weight of incoming fire Beharry continued to push through the extended ambush, still leading his platoon until he broke clean. He then visually identified another Warrior from his company and followed it through the streets of Al Amarah to the outside of the Cimic House outpost, which was receiving small arms fire from the surrounding area. Once he had brought his vehicle to a halt outside, without thought for his own personal safety, he climbed onto the turret of the still-burning vehicle and, seemingly oblivious to the incoming enemy small arms fire, manhandled his wounded platoon commander out of the turret, off the vehicle and to the safety of a nearby Warrior. He then returned once again to his vehicle and again mounted the exposed turret to lift out the vehicle’s gunner and move him to a position of safety. Exposing himself yet again to enemy fire he returned to the rear of the burning vehicle to lead the disorientated and shocked dismounts and casualties to safety. Remounting his burning vehicle for the third time, he drove it through a complex chicane and into the security of the defended perimeter of the outpost, thus denying it to the enemy. Only at this stage did Beharry pull the fire extinguisher handles, immobilising the engine of the vehicle, dismounted and then moved himself into the relative safety of the back of another Warrior. Once inside Beharry collapsed from the sheer physical and mental exhaustion of his efforts and was subsequently himself evacuated.
"Having returned to duty following medical treatment, on the 11th June 2004 Beharry’s Warrior was part of a quick reaction force tasked to attempt to cut off a mortar team that had attacked a Coalition Force base in Al Amarah. As the lead vehicle of the platoon he was moving rapidly through the dark city streets towards the suspected firing point, when his vehicle was ambushed by the enemy from a series of rooftop positions. During this initial heavy weight of enemy fire, a rocket-propelled grenade detonated on the vehicle’s frontal armour, just six inches from Beharry’s head, resulting in a serious head injury. Other rockets struck the turret and sides of the vehicle, incapacitating his commander and injuring several of the crew.
"With the blood from his head injury obscuring his vision, Beharry managed to continue to control his vehicle, and forcefully reversed the Warrior out of the ambush area. The vehicle continued to move until it struck the wall of a nearby building and came to rest. Beharry then lost consciousness as a result of his wounds. By moving the vehicle out of the enemy’s chosen killing area he enabled other Warrior crews to be able to extract his crew from his vehicle, with a greatly reduced risk from incoming fire. Despite receiving a serious head injury, which later saw him being listed as very seriously injured and in a coma for some time, his level-headed actions in the face of heavy and accurate enemy fire at short range again almost certainly saved the lives of his crew and provided the conditions for their safe evacuation to medical treatment.
"Beharry displayed repeated extreme gallantry and unquestioned valour, despite intense direct attacks, personal injury and damage to his vehicle in the face of relentless enemy action."
Navy SEAL from Colorado dies in Afghanistan
LITTLETON, Colo. — One of two commandos found dead in Afghanistan after disappearing last month grew up in Littleton and probably would not have wanted to die in any other way than trying to protect his country, his wife said.
The body of Petty Officer 2nd Class Danny P. Dietz, a SEAL who joined the Navy three months after graduating from Heritage High School in 1999, was recovered Monday, the military said Wednesday.
The body of Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., also was recovered Monday in Kunar province, where the men were conducting counterterrorism operations, the Navy said.
Dietz, 25, was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two, based at Virginia Beach, Va. Murphy was assigned to SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team One, based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
They were part of a four-member team that disappeared on June 28. A transport helicopter sent to rescue the four was shot down the day the team disappeared, killing all 16 U.S. servicemen aboard. It was the deadliest attack against the U.S. in Afghanistan and the largest loss of life ever for the elite force.
One member of the team was rescued but the fourth was still missing Thursday.
Dietz’s wife, Maria L. Dietz, said in a statement that he “was not just my husband, but he was my other half, my friend, my role model and my hero.”
Recalling when her husband deployed in April, she wrote, “The same day he left for Afghanistan, as tears rolled down my cheeks, he told me with sparkles in his eyes, ‘All the training I have (undergone) for years is going to pay off with this trip, and I am going to do something special for this country and for my team.”’
Heritage teachers remembered Dietz visiting in full uniform after becoming a SEAL, said Diane Leiker, a school spokeswoman. He played football his senior year and spent time lifting weights and swimming because he realized strength and swimming would be important in realizing his goal of joining the Navy and becoming a SEAL, she said.
Outside Dietz’s parents’ home in Littleton - where a yellow ribbon was wrapped around a tree — neighbors signed a card of condolence.
“God bless you and help you in this difficult time,” one person wrote on the white card. “We are sorry. Words can’t express,” read another.
Fallen SEALs receive Navy Cross
Navy Secretary Donald Winter presented the widows of Sonar Technician 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew G. Axelson and Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class (SEAL) Matthew Danny Dietz with their husbands’ Navy Crosses on Wednesday evening at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The ceremony, held next to the “Lone Sailor” statue, honored the sacrifice Axelson and Dietz made June 28, 2005, when they died in the mountains of Afghanistan during a mission to “capture or kill” a high-level militia leader. Despite being mortally wounded during a firefight after the group of four SEALs was spotted, the two continued to fight, killing numerous enemy fighters and allowing one of the their teammates on the ground to escape the swarming, numerically superior force.
During his speech, Winter invoked the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and the importance of special operations troops like Dietz and Axelson in the current war.
“They were precision weapons that are defeating a ruthless enemy,” Winter said.
The outdoor ceremony was attended by the SEALs’ families, friends and fellow sailors, including a contingent from Dietz’s SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team 2, and Rear Adm. Joseph Maguire, Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command.
Chief of Naval Operations Mike Mullen and members of Congress also attended.
Former teammates of each SEAL spoke of their lives and stressed their character.
Gunner’s Mate 1st Dave Albritton emotionally remembered Axelson, a member of SEAL Vehicle Delivery Team 1, as a quiet man who led by example, loved to play golf and showed quickly at SEAL training that he was a cut above.
“No matter how hard I worked at something, he was better,” Albritton said, adding that Axelson was a person who could handle adversity with a typical coolness. “Very rarely would you see him upset.”
Lt. Brad Geary gave Dietz’s tribute, describing the petty officer as a doting husband to wife Patsy and a man as selfless in life as he was in death. After qualifying for a coveted spot in sniper school, Dietz chose instead to go to the less glamorous communications school because of a greater need.
“Danny was a man of integrity. He was a loyal guy,” Geary said. “He treated all as equals. He was humble; he did not have an ego.”
Dietz and Axelson are the fourth and fifth SEALs to be awarded the Navy Cross since 2001. The SEAL saved by their actions, who is still on active duty and has not been identified by the Navy, received the award in July in a private ceremony, according to the Navy.
The awards are the first publicized from the deadly incident in the mountains, in which a helicopter carrying eight SEALs and eight Army special operations troops shot down while attempting to come to the aid of the group on the ground. It was the deadliest day in the history of the SEALs, and the worst loss of life in one day for Navy special operations fighters since World War II.
Lt. Michael Murphy of Delivery Vehicle Team 1, the fourth member of the ill-fated team, was also killed in action.
“These were my men,” said Maguire. “These were our men.”
The two other unnamed SEALs have been awarded the Navy Cross for actions earlier in the conflict in Afghanistan.
Hospitalman Luis Fonseca Jr. is the only other sailor to receive a Navy Cross since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began, earning the honor during the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003.
By Philip Creed, Times Staff Writer
The Two Gene TakahashisSadly, Mr. Takahashi died May 15, 2007. Our condolences to his family and friends.
Forbes, by David Halberstam 03.22.07, 6:00 AM ET
Some two years ago I went out to Westport, Conn., to interview Gene Takahashi for a book I was writing about the Korean War. There were, it soon struck me, two Gene Takahashis, the first the former IBM executive, quiet and exceptionally modest, the model citizen of a prosperous Connecticut suburb; and then another Gene Takahashi, someone whom almost none of his neighbors knew anything about, who on the night of Nov. 25, 1950, was the commander of a platoon of American troops in Love Company of the Ninth Infantry Regiment of the Second Infantry Division.
Love Company had the dubious distinction of being one of the units on the furthest eastern flank of the Eighth Army, almost uniquely vulnerable as the United Nations troops raced for the Yalu River in freezing temperatures in North Korea, their commander confident that the Chinese troops would not enter the war.
As such, the second Gene Takahashi happened to be there the night when some 200,000 Chinese soldiers struck the Eighth Army. If the first Gene Takahashi seems in many ways a very ordinary man, the prototype of the good American citizen, and core of the community, then the second one, the Gene Takahashi who is a genuine war hero, is among his Westport neighbors a kind of invisible man, whose existence few of them know about. I happened to know about him because of my book, but he is a man who rarely, unbidden, tells his story to others, because it is an extremely painful story to tell, and not many people were interested in hearing it when he was younger.
The Gene Takahashi that I know joined the Army in 1945 at the age of 17. His parents were Nisei Japanese, and they had spent a considerable amount of time interred in the World War ll camps. At the end of the war, greatly admiring the courage and patriotism of the famed Nisei 442 Regimental (Go for Broke) Combat Team--famously brave, and famously decorated--Takahashi had asked his parents for permission to join the American Army. Permission had been granted, but with only one two provisos, one explicit, one implicit. The explicit one was that he was to do nothing to disgrace the Takahashi name; the implicit one was that nothing in the long run was to interfere with his college education
From the start of my book, I had been intrigued by Takahashi's story because it is so American, at once good American and bad American. Tak, as his men called him, had not had an easy time in the Army. As a young lieutenant, he had served under a racist superior, a captain who was a West Point graduate and who seemed to think that the final victory of World War ll would be his ability to drive Gene Takahashi out of the United States Army.
The captain gave Takahashi and his platoon every miserable assignment the company had. But if anything, Tak later decided, there was nothing like the uses of adversity to strengthen you, and the abuse--or hazing, whichever you wanted to call it--had only served to make him a much better, much tougher officer. It was as if he came to enjoy the challenge and see it as a kind of mano-a-mano struggle with a darker force in America.
In addition, even though orders had come down earlier from President Truman to integrate the Army, Takahashi commanded a unit that was a relic of the past, an all-black platoon in an all-black company. That too, he decided, had made him a better officer--he had to be more subtle in the way he issued orders, because there was often an innate wariness in the minds of his men. Too many of them had been ordered around for too long, and in this new Army life they wanted to understand why they were being asked to do certain things. He became good not merely at giving orders but at explaining them as well.
When the Chinese struck that night, with perhaps a full regiment or about 3,000 men, Love Company had about 170 men, including Tak's platoon of 45. The Chinese quickly overran the company, but Takahashi had tried to hold together first his own platoon, and in time the entire company, if for no other reason than to buy time for other units just south of them. A young officer named Dick Raybould, a forward artillery observer assigned to Love Company, had met Tak that day and became a lifelong friend; he remembered his friend's bravery in those desperate minutes, this slim figure telling his men, as everything else collapsed around them, "Fall back on me! Fall back on me!"
Takahashi held out until he was completely surrounded by the Chinese and was finally captured. (That made him, he decided, one of the rare men who had been taken prisoner by two formidable nations, the United States and China.) But that night, in the chaos of the battle, he managed to escape. A few days later, he managed a second escape when much of the Second Division was mauled heading south from a place called Kunuri. When he was able to regroup with other members of Love Company near Seoul a few days later, there were about 10 of his men left there.
I sat with Takahashi that day in Westport, and it was easy to envision him as Dick Raybould had seen him that fateful night, brave and quietly fierce, absolutely certain of what his duty was, sure he was going to die that night but determined to do the right thing right up to his last breath, and do it as honorably as he could. There would be no disgracing of a family name. At the same time, in stark contrast to that image of Tak fighting the Chinese, I could see him as his neighbors saw him, a pillar of a pleasant genteel community, always to be depended on during local fund-raisers; an exceptional family man; and a successful executive at a major company. In short, all the good things you're supposed to be.
As we sat and talked, it struck me that Tak was as good an exemplar of the American Dream as anyone I know--he was in the best sense of this country a self-made man who had been able, often against often-difficult odds, to control his own destiny as he might not have in many other countries.
It was a long way from the Nisei internment camps of the '40s to his lovely home in Westport. He had during his journey triumphed over some of the crueler prejudices of our culture, harsh experiences that might have embittered other men, and he had survived the worst of a very tough war and a battlefield experience that might have broken other men. He had managed to educate himself well, first at Western Reserve and then later at the University of Illinois. His marriage to a fellow Nisei, Violet, has been strong and enduring, and their four children had all been educated well and done well professionally and personally.
Most important of all, he had, as his parents intended, succeeded well beyond their possibilities--and done it as so many other Americans have, in just one generation. His parents had been farmers in the Imperial Valley and then had run a small grocery store there; to them, a house in a wealthy suburb like Westport was more a dream than a possibility.
To me--we know something about this in my own family--that remains at the core of the American Dream, the social fluidity of this country and the ability to rise in one generation above the level and the possibilities of those who went before you. If there is anything that is important in America, it is that your life can be richer than that of those who went before you, and that you are not a prisoner of the past.
In the old country, it struck me when I was younger (and I'm sure it's changing to some degree now), it was very different, and there was dramatically less social fluidity. A young man tended to be what his father was: If your father had worked for the railroads, you worked for the railroads at roughly the same level. If he had been lucky enough to go to an engineering school, then you could go to the engineering school too. If he had been a tailor, you were supposed to be a tailor.
Not surprisingly, it was those who came to this country first--in my case, the generation of my grandparents, coming in the late 19th century--who did the real dreaming and matched their dreams with a willingness to take a chance on the unknown, and if need be, to fall momentarily in their own economic status, even as they bet on their children and grandchildren to surpass them.
The greatest generation, you might call them. They were willing to come here and if necessary sacrifice themselves in order to break a cycle in their native countries that seemed without possibility of change. They sensed that in the new world the generations that came after them would be able to break out and reinvent themselves--that they were giving the subsequent generations a world with no ceilings.
Like so many other immigrants, Tak's parents had understood the opportunities this country offered from the start. As such, the dream was as much--or more--theirs as it was his. As they had valued education, he had valued education. As they had been disciplined and purposeful--always purposeful, for nothing was to be wasted--he had been disciplined and purposeful and wasted nothing, least of all a chance for a better life. And in the end he had done well and not disgraced the Takahashi name.
David Halberstam is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian, the author of books including The Best and the Brightest , The Powers That Be , Summer of '49 , The Reckoning and The Fifties. His next book, The Coldest Winter (fall 2007), is an account of a key early battle in the Korean War.