Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 28, 2018

Memorial Day 2018

Filed under: WWII — louisproyect @ 7:39 pm

I usually don’t pay much attention to Memorial Day but when I came across a film in progress on the Turner Classic Movie channel titled “Battleground”, I took notice because it was about the Battle of the Bulge that my father served in. As part of its holiday programming, TCM was featuring war movies. That included John Wayne in “They Were Expendable” earlier in the day, a 1945 film about PT boats defending the Philippines from an invasion. Needless to say, the movie did not take into account that the country had been occupied by the USA since 1898.

Wayne appeared in 8 other WWII movies over the years, all of them prefiguring the super-hero films that featured Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris, ones in which they would charge headlong into machine gun fire and always ending up victorious. Despite the image, Wayne did not serve during WWII. With his four kids, he was eligible for a deferment. His frequent director John Ford, a WWI veteran, had big problems with that as PBS reported:

Throughout the war, Ford urged the young actor “to get in it,” and each time Wayne would beg off until he finished “just one more picture.” Ford was disappointed to say the least, and he let Wayne know it. Wayne was growing richer as other men died. As the war continued, Ford’s strong disappointment fueled a growing conflict between the men and fostered a sense of guilt within Wayne. Wayne’s decision to stay out of the service would haunt him for the rest of his life.

By contrast, the men in “Battleground” want nothing more than to go home in one piece and continuously plea with officers to be spared from the almost certain death that awaited them in Nazi Germany’s last offensive. Whether it is high fever or frost bite, they soldier on. (The film can be rented on Youtube or Amazon for $2.99)

While the film is not cliché-free, it is certainly a lot more realistic than any WWII movie I have ever seen. There is very little hand-to-hand combat of the sort you find in “Saving Private Ryan”. Rather men hunker down in foxholes firing away at Wehrmacht soldiers about a 100 feet away, whose presence is marked only by the flashes from their muzzles.

This no doubt is a function of having a screenplay written by Robert Pirosh who served in World War II as a Master Sergeant with the 320th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division. During the Battle of the Bulge, he led a patrol into Bastogne to support the surrounded American forces there. Like Pirosh, my father supported the 101st Airborne Division that was under siege in Bastogne.

Going through my father’s WWII memorabilia for the first time in 11 years when I wrote “Ruminations on WWII” triggered by the Ken Burns PBS documentary, I reread the commendation that went along with the Bronze Star he received:

It stated:

For Heroic Achievement

Bronze Star Medal

is awarded to

Staff Sergeant Jacob Proyect, 32 048 069

S/Sgt Jacob Proyect, 32 048 069, Hq Co 3d Tank Bn, U.S. Army. For heroic achievement against an enemy of the United States in Belgium on December 19th, 1944.

During the siege of Bastogne, Belgium S/Sgt Proyect, a mess sergeant, traveled several miles of infested enemy territory over a route being fired on by heavy artillery, mortar and automatic-weapons to deliver water to a unit that was surrounded. After distributing the water he volunteered to evacuate a wounded officer over the same route to Monte, Belgium. Both missions were successfully completed. The outstanding courage and personal concern for the comfort of his comrades in arms reflects great credit upon himself and the military forces of the United States.

My father was in the 10th Armored Division that was part of the Third Army led by General George Patton. Just 38 days after my father got his medal, I was born in Kansas City. I am not sure when he came back to the USA but he probably had difficulty bonding with me as was often the case when servicemen are not present at the birth of a child. My only connection with him is through the box of memorabilia that he painstakingly put together when he was in the army—perhaps a way of marking his trail in the same way that I blog.

One of the things I came across today that was new to me was a letter he wrote to my mother on November 5th from France, just 11 days before the Germans would launch their offensive. I am struck by both the beauty of his script—a dying art—as well as the tenderness he showed to my mother. After I reached the age of 10 or so, it became obvious to me that he didn’t like me very much and as such became a sticking point with my mother to whom nothing like the sentiments expressed in the letter would ever be offered again. (The missing snippet in the letter was no doubt the censors removing something that might have breached security. The image beneath it is some French mud my dad sent on the back of the letter.)

I am not into putting wreaths on a gravestone but this post is my way of memorializing a courageous and distant figure on Memorial Day.

Dearest wife,

I just got another V-mail tonite. It’s latest so far, written on the 17th. Only eighteen days late. Glad everything is fine with you. Hope you stay that way and that nothing ever happens to hurt you in any way. Honey, I keep worrying about you all the time. I know what a hard time you’re going thru and I feel a little guilty about not being there to help you to the end [ie., my birth]. Next time will be peace time and I’ll be there with you from start to finish.

I’ve seen Paris—its quite a town. And the people are quite a … [couldn’t quite this make out because of the censor a bit of a let-down in my dad’s script.]

Guess they were sick and tired of the Boschies [Nazis]. But not all Frenchmen are friendly. I’ve come across batches of them that I’d hate to trust as a friend of the Allies—They look hate and distrust at us.

Have you received that fifty I sent from France? Are you receiving all the allotments you’re supposed to? How is the money holding out? We got enough saved yet to send the baby through college?

I’m okay—never better—not a thing to worry about—bye.

I love you, Jack

4 Comments »

  1. I watched this c.1945 US Army film on treating battle fatigue (PTSD) in psychiatric hospitals. Most of the soldiers interviewed served in France.
    It is surprisingly intense for a government film and I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards.

    Comment by Brian Gallagher — May 28, 2018 @ 7:59 pm

  2. It’s V-mail (short for Victory Mail), not U-mail). See https://postalmuseum.si.edu/exhibits/past/the-art-of-cards-and-letters/mail-call/v-mail.html

    Comment by alan ginsberg — May 28, 2018 @ 8:07 pm

  3. Not an obscure film actually. Won a few Academy Awards and good director.

    Comment by Elliot Podwill — May 28, 2018 @ 8:50 pm

  4. George Marshall was running the war back in DC . George Patton led the third army in France and came up to relieve Bastogne. That was the first German winter invasion since Peter the Great and as the German armies last stand, entailed some vicious fighting. My uncle was in the 101st also at Bastogne. As an aside George Patton finished 5th in the 1912 Olympic pentathlon, the winner Jim Thorpe.

    Comment by Michael Tormey — May 28, 2018 @ 9:15 pm


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