On the five-year anniversary of 9/11, we mourn the victims of Islamic terrorism. But, we must not forget to thank the people who risk their lives every day to defeat the enemy and keep us safe. The men and women fighting on the front line in the new World War deserve our thanks, our respect, and our admiration. It's time to thank the American soldier. The American soldier fights for those who can't fight for themselves. The American soldier fights for what is right and decent.
In Chapter 6 of my new book, Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame, my twelve-year-old son, Anthony, travels back in time to witness one of mankind's greatest conflicts: World War II. Anthony is with American soldiers on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. He witnesses the fighting on Iwo Jima. He is with soldiers who liberate the Death Camps in Europe.
At the close of World War II, Anthony has a conversation with a young American soldier, who is on his way home from the war. That soldier is Audie Murphy. What Audie Murphy says about war and the American soldier is just as compelling today - in our post-9/11 world - as it was when he originally said it.
Here is Anthony's account of the conversation he had with Audie Murphy:
The Picture Frame transported me back to the beach in France, where I had witnessed the Allied invasion a year before. The beach was quiet, except for the rhythm of the waves crashing on the empty shore. There was no thunder in the sky, and there were no explosions in the sand. The water was blue, not red. The pillboxes on the bluff were silent and empty. Bullets did not rain down from above. There was nothing disturbing the small birds that hopped along the shore, looking for food.
In the warm late afternoon sun, I walked up a dusty trail from the beach to the top of the bluff - a path that Allied soldiers had walked on D-Day. It was hard to believe that what I had seen on the beach just a year before had actually happened. The fields of tall grass above the beach carried the evidence that it had, though: Row after row of wooden crosses lined the countryside as far as I could see. Like the beads on a giant abacus that had been laid down on its side, the crosses were the final tally of the high price of freedom and the cost of fighting evil.
I knelt in the tall grass and prayed for the souls that the crosses represented. I could hear their voices in the gentle ocean breeze: "When you go home, tell them of us, and say: For your tomorrow, we gave our today."
Standing among some crosses farther down the shoreline, I saw a young American soldier. I walked over to him. His uniform was covered with medals. He wore the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the French Croix de Guerre, the Medal of Liberated France, and more than a dozen others. He told me that his name was Audie Murphy, that he was a 2nd Lieutenant, and that he was returning soon to his home in Texas. He was twenty-one years old, he said, but a tired look in his eyes made him seem older to me.
I told Lieutenant Murphy what the Picture Frame had shown me - what I had seen of the war. I told him how different real war was from "playing army" with my friends back home. Lieutenant Murphy said that war was not at all the way he had imagined it, either, when he was a boy.
He said: "I was on a faraway battlefield, where bugles blew, banners streamed, and men charged gallantly across flaming hills; where the temperature always stood at eighty and our side was always victorious; where the dying were but impersonal shadows and the wounded never cried; where enemy bullets always miraculously missed me, and my trusty rifle forever hit home."
Lieutenant Murphy turned away and looked out over the channel. The late afternoon sun looked like a bright orange disc burning just above the water at the horizon. It sent streaks of light across the darkening sky.
"I have seen war as it actually is," Lieutenant Murphy said, "and I do not like it."
Lieutenant Murphy and I walked together on the bluff, following the contours of the rugged coastline. We stopped every now and then to look out at the point where the sun was disappearing from the sky. We didn't talk very much. I broke one of the long silences between us when I asked Lieutenant Murphy if the war had changed him. I asked him whether fighting monsters had made him into a monster himself.
He replied: "When I was a child, I was told that men were branded by war. Has the brand been put on me? Have years of blood and ruin stripped me of all decency? Of all belief? ... Not of all belief. I believe in the force of a hand grenade, the power of artillery, the accuracy of a Garand. I believe in hitting before you get hit, and that dead men do not look noble. ... But I also believe in ... all the men who stood up against the enemy, taking their beatings without whimper and their triumphs without boasting. The men who went and would go again to hell and back to preserve what our country thinks right and decent."
I thought that Lieutenant Murphy's words were remarkable because, in his time, it was never obvious that the forces of good would triumph over the forces of evil. Satan had arranged a nearly even match. In my time, things are different: The forces of good clearly have the power to prevail over the forces of evil - it's only the will to do what is necessary to win that is in doubt. People demand endless negotiation with the Hitlers of my time, limited responses to brutal attacks, and quick exits from the fi elds of battle. They whimper that the smallest sacrifices are too much to bear, too expensive, and too inconvenient. They seem to be angry that their daily routine has been disrupted, not that the foes of freedom are on the march. In my time, the men and women who risk the supreme sacrifice to fight for what is right seem fewer and farther between. Their character seems more rare, less appreciated, and even mocked.
As the last bit of the sun dipped below the horizon, and the final streaks of red light faded from the sky, I wondered what Lieutenant Murphy would do with the rest of his life, now that the war was over. I wondered what the future held for him.
"What will you do now?" I asked.
"I will go back. I will find the kind of girl of whom I once dreamed. I will learn to look at life through uncynical eyes, to have faith, to know love. I will learn to work in peace as in war. And finally - finally, like countless others, I will learn to live again."
Excerpt from ANTHONY AND THE MAGIC PICTURE FRAME, by Michael S. Class. The quotes of Audie Murphy are from TO HELL AND BACK, by Audie Murphy, and are reprinted by permission of the Audie Murphy Research Foundation and the Estate of Audie Murphy.
WHO WAS AUDIE MURPHY?
Audie Murphy was the most decorated American soldier of World War II, having received twenty-one medals, including the Nation's highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. Audie Murphy received every decoration for valor that the United States offered, some of them more than once, plus five decorations by France and Belgium. Murphy fought in campaigns in Sicily, Italy, France, and Germany.
In 1955, Audie Murphy's autobiography, To Hell and Back, was made into a movie of the same name, starring Audie Murphy as himself. In the film, Murphy reenacted the event for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Later, when American soldiers were returning from Korea and Vietnam with "battle fatigue," Audie Murphy spoke out publicly about his own bouts of depression caused by the psychological after-effects of war. Murphy asked the U.S. Veterans Administration to study the syndrome that is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Audie Murphy married twice, and had two children by his second wife, Pamela Archer.
Audie Murphy died in a plane crash on May 28, 1971, while on a business trip. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, and his gravesite is one of the most visited.
Audie Murphy was an American hero.
ANTHONY RECOMMENDS THE FOLLOWING MOVIES STARRING AUDIE MURPHY:
The Red Badge of Courage (1951)
To Hell and Back (1955)
(All of the information above can be found in the new book: Anthony and the Magic Picture Frame, by Michael S. Class. Read the book. Remember the truth. Share it with your children.)
Michael S. Class
Web Site: www.MagicPictureFrame.com