Saturday, July 4, 2009

Veteran Recalls Death “By Friendly Fire”

On one level Pat Tillman was just another soldier. To quote my father-in-law who served in World War II, “The short lives of those killed were hardly a flicker here on earth. Though most of their names will never appear in history books, they were all heroes. Every battle left heroes, the survivors and the dead. I can only have nothing but sad respect for the men who had so few joys and so many miseries, and who gave their lives so others could go on living.”

For me, Tillman was more than just another soldier because he was more than just another person even before he entered the war. What I mean is that Tillman demonstrated his values by his choices. During his football career he turned down a 9 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Rams to play at one-third this price for the Arizona Cardinals. Later, Tillman gave up the money altogether to enlist in the armed forces to participate in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was later sent to Afghanistan.

I remember in April 2004 when the news carried the story of his untimely death while in the service of his country. Tragically, two months later, another Pat Tillman story crossed the newswire. “FormerNFL player¹s death caused by ‘friendly fire'.” Friendly fire is a euphemism for “Oh no, we shot our own man.”

Mistakes happen in life, but when I overtighten a lug nut and it breaks, it is only a hassle. No one has been killed by this foolishness. Mistakes like the death of Pat Tillman are on another scale. Sometimes it takes a lifetime to process the confusion and grief. I know this because my father-in-law Bud Wagner has recently been telling a few stories that did not make the pages of his published war memoir, And There Shall Be Wars.

Today as we celebrate our own Independence as a nation, I wanted to share one of these untold stories which reveal the true costs of our freedom.

There are many, many things not written down in the book as they actually happened. One that comes to mind right away is on page 359 when four American bombers came over a bunch of us. I was out of range but some of the 125 F.A. weren't, and four were killed. Ken Kramer was one of those killed. Read it again. American bombers dropped four 500 lb. bombs to lose weight and get back to England. The Second Corps came out with the report that unidentified bombers dropped bombs.

Kramer was a friend of mine starting in Ireland. Truth is truth, as well as error is error, war or not. Articles like this one were ones that would grip me and others. You could compare it with a person not familiar with the Bible. After he read it you could say, "Well, what did it say?" He would probably say some little thing about it and would have to say, "Well read it again." Probably omitting the statement that those bombers were unidentified. We knew which were enemies and which were friendly bombers. Well, so did the corps.

Many accidents occur because of carelessness. When they permanently take away something that might have been, how does one process this?

While talking with Bud the incident came up yet again. It is also powerfully revealing of why returning soldiers are often so mute about their experiences. Heart breaking. They want to share, but others who were not there can be brutally insensitive or dismissive, or worse.

Once more let’s turn to page 359. Read it again and then try to imagine just what happened. I can't recall much of the details anymore but have to pounce on the fake statements that those bombers were unidentified. First of all by the time they dropped the bombs many on the ground, including myself, knew they were American. Then when they got back to their base they would have known about where they were dropped. This of course was far from the Air Force policy and what about Ken, my old friend who was on radio duty who had to be the one who was killed. The confusion is unbelievable in a situation like this. Medics were close by and all help was used.

The other statement that came to me years later and long after my diary was written was from the original 2nd Corps account of Feb. 7, 1944. I quote, “unidentified aircraft dropped three bombs in the division sector, one of which destroyed the radio relay station slightly infuriating Sgt. Paul Staken, Pvt. Robert Staples and Corporal Bernard Reno. Sgt Kenneth Kramer who was operating the radio received more serious (wounds) and died the next day.” The rest of us knew better. It was a cause of one of the bombers crews missing the target and wanted to get back faster, probably to England or south Italy, and get rid of the bombs. What a morale builder. Try telling this to some civilians fifty or sixty years later and the response is sickening.

I can't go on without telling of the night I came home after four and a half years. Remember I had just got home that day...all my uncles and some others were there to welcome (me) and of course wanted to know all about the war. The youngest uncle asked me afterwards about the Germans killing unnecessarily and I told him a little and his response was "they all do that in war." I kept my mouth shut but much later was able to tell him to try and prove to me where any American soldiers lined Italians up alongside a building and shot them down... men, women and children. Then they covered them up with hay; others weren't always (covered). He would just shrug his shoulders and we soon found out when someone wanted to talk about the war you would get further to just keep your mouth shut. They would mostly think that it was probably true for some but not you as you came back and saw a lot of the country.

And so there was nothing more about the unidentified bomber except what we already knew and my old friend Ken had to do without the years that most of us survived.

As we remember the Fourth, let's make a special spot in our hearts for our veterans.

1 comment:

LEWagner said...

US bombers returning to Thailand from bombing missions in Vietnam routinely jettisoned any remaining bombs over Laos. Countless numbers of civilians -- men, women, and children -- were killed. People (mostly children) are still being killed and maimed by the unexploded bombs left behind.
I guess this could be termed as "friendly fire" too, because the US was fighting for Lao freedom.