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History we can't forget, tummyaches and holiday parties

June 06, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

· On the anniversary of D-Day, it is appropriate to think of those Americans who participated in the great effort to liberate Europe. They include the men of Hagers-town's Company B, commanded by Capt. Leroy "Bud" Weddle, who nearly lost an arm to German fire.

In 1982, Weddle described the experience to a Herald-Mail reporter. He said he arrived on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France in command of 250 soldiers.

Ten months later, 169 of those men were dead. Instead of the six days the Army had anticipated it would take to reach the strategic city of St. Lo, it took six weeks.

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That was because planners hadn't anticipated the hedgerows, used for many years as natural fences for the fields there.

When Weddle reached St. Lo, he was shot. According to a 2000 column by John Schildt, a local historian, Weddle's arm was only saved because a sergeant used plaster lathe to patch up the wound.

Weddle was not evacuated as a wounded man would be today. He fought on until October, when he was sent back to the U.S. for skin and bone grafts.

"You wouldn't take a million dollars to do it again, but you wouldn't take a million dollars for the experience," Weddle said then.

"These boys - you either lived or died with them. And as long as you live, you'll never forget them," he said.

It was my privilege to interview Weddle and some of the survivors of Company B back in the 1980s. One of them told me that if Weddle asked them to go back into action, they would follow him again.

In 2005, The Herald-Mail interviewed Sgt. Kenny Jones, the last surviving member of Company B.

He described then how it felt to lose friends and fellow soldiers, with no time to grieve because of the need to keep a "clear mind" during combat.

Such stories shouldn't be forgotten, in part because they are an earlier version of what today's soldiers are going through in Iraq. Many who come home will bring back terrible memories of what happened when they were ordered to go to war.

· When I was in school, the history of World War II got short shrift, in part because the Revolutionary War and the Civil War took up so much class time.

Inspired by some of my father's letters, sent from the South Pacific while he was in the Navy, I have recently delved into some of it.

William Manchester, author of a book about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, also wrote "The Last Lion: WinstonSpencer Churchill: Alone 1932-1940."

The book describes Churchill's long, frustrating attempt to get the English government to take Nazi Germany as a serious threat. By the time he became prime minister and was in a position to lead the effort, he was 65, an age at which many people are considering retirement.

Last year I read "Truman" by David McCullough and learned that during the months immediately before World War II, then-Sen. Truman led a committee that investigated companies preparing materials for war.

By McCullough's account, millions were saved and soldiers were better equipped than they would have been otherwise.

Truman has passed away, and none of his political descendants appear to have inherited his zeal for seeing that those soldiers who put their boots on the ground - or their backsides in Humvees - have the best of everything.

· On a lighter note, on May 26, The Herald-Mail printed an editorial cartoon by Mike Lane that pictured Uncle Sam experiencing a stomachache as a result of uninspected food imported from China.

In his hand, he was holding a glass of Alka-Seltzer, which was labeled "Made in U.S.A."

Not necessarily, said R.B. Mentzer of Hagerstown, who sent me a packet of Alka-Seltzer, labeled "Made in Germany" and a packet of Akla-Seltzer Plus, labeled "Made in Mexico."

So it seems the only thing American about this bellyache was the drawing of Uncle Sam.

As this is being written on Tuesday afternoon, we have received no letters on the story about the Hagerstown mayor and council's $800 holiday party.

That surprises me, because while citizens often excuse errors on complex projects that cost millions, they tend to get upset about things on the scale of their own finances.

For example, in 1990, a Government Accounting Office audit found that the U.S. House Bank had been treating members' bad checks as salary advances instead of overdrafts.

The average Joe and Jane said to themselves, "Nobody would forgive me for writing a bad check." In the end, according to Roll Call magazine, 50 members retired or were defeated.

I wonder whether Joe and Jane Hagerstown are out there saying to themselves, "Hey, nobody paid for our holiday party but us."

Bob Maginnis editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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