I was watching the news this weekend and there was a segment where a baker was demonstrating how to decorate cakes. At the end of her demonstration, she showed off cupcakes that she had decorated especially for Memorial Day. They were bright red, white and aqua blue. Then, with chipper voice she joyously explained that the cupcake icing design resembled fireworks.
Memorial Day is not a day to hold celebrations, in truth, it is a yearly national funeral for our military dead. It is a day of remembrance….of loss…not victory, freedom or national pride. It is the day to think about all of those young men and women whose lives were cut short and whose beautiful bodies were torn, mutilated and so grievousness wounded that they could not survive their injuries. Their trauma and deaths were horrific.
I have been reading the book, “Unbroken”. This book is about World War II soldier Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, who spent much of World War II as a Japanese Prisoner of War after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. The brutality of his war experiences are so vividly described as to, at times, seem to be frankly unbelievable.
I do believe them, because I have had the privilege of knowing many veterans both personally and professionally and their stories were oftentimes very similar to Mr. Zamperini’s.
For instance, take my friend El. Now in his nineties, he is the last man left on this side of the turf from his army unit. I first met El on a World War II Honorflight. I was his caregiver and he was one of my folks.
That day as we chatted together, he mentioned that he had once been a Japanese prisoner of war for four hours. I chuckled and said that nobody was a Japanese prisoner of war for a couple of hours, how did he manage that?
He then told me how this happened. His platoon had been ambushed, all of them were killed outright or wounded. For the next several hours Japanese soldiers walked among those American boys, stabbing them with their bayonets to see if anyone was left alive. Any groan that was heard, was quickly followed by a gun shot. El always says the same thing, “Thank, God, I fell on my stomach and that my eyelids never fluttered.”
Then, there was Sid Schmuckler. What a great name! Sid was quite a guy, at over 90 years of age, he still worked every day and drove himself to his office on Minnesota’s freeways in his station wagon. Sid was a navy man and fought in the Pacific. He was a beach commander.
The night before an invasion was launched, he would go ashore to scout the position and help radio our soldiers ashore. He was a beach commander on Iwo Jima and was in a few other very notable battles.
Sid could tell me about boys, who were just his age, that he had seen blown to bits just as matter of fact as if he was describing restaurant menu. He did have this sad chuckle about the ironies of war that he had witnessed.
He once told me about this chaplain that was walking right down the beach on Iwo Jima as it was being heavily shelled and under constant fire by the enemy. From behind their fortified breastworks, he and the soldiers with him screamed at the chaplain to get down! The chaplain, as calm as if he was taking a Sunday stroll, just kept walking down that bomb pocked beach, stopping to check on each wounded, dying or dead soldier in his path.
As they were yelling at the chaplain, the boy next to Sid took a bullet to the head. Still alive, it was immediately determined that his wound was mortal. When the chaplain was much closer to Sid, he was grabbed and thrown behind the breastworks. Sid pointed at the young dying soldier and asked the chaplain, to give the Catholic boy last rites.
The chaplain quickly went about his business. Just as he concluded, the young soldier breathed his last. As he closed the boy’s eyes the chaplain said, “I hope his Catholic mama never learns that a Ra bi administered her son’s last rites.” Before anyone could detain him, the chaplain quickly leaped from relative safety of the breastworks and continued his mission of mercy on that beach.
However, there was one war story that brought instant tears to Sid’s eyes. He was back on his ship, the war nearly over, and they were smack dab in the middle of the entire Pacific armada with vast air power protecting the fleet. American air superiority was so complete that even Kamikaze’s were no longer considered much of a threat. He finally felt safe from the enemy.
The ship next to his was a hospital ship. That evening, the deck of the hospital ship was brightly lit as the nurses and doctors operated feverishly to save the lives of wounded soldiers.
Sid was on the deck watching the hospital ship when one lone blip showed up on his ship’s radar. It was determined that it had to be an American plane….it wasn’t. The Kamikaze pilot targeted the hospital ship. His plane crashed onto the ship’s deck and burst into flames as it skidded across the top of the entire ship. I can still hear the despair in Sid’s voice as he described the horrific scene, “He killed all of the nurses, those girls, those girls, they all died!”
Memorial Day is set aside for us to think about human cost of war and to solemnly remember and honor our nation’s military dead and their families.
It is not about ……cupcakes
I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is this week.
When I was young we would always have a great big dinner, then head out to doors to walk off the calories by doing some hunting…mostly for ducks and pheasants. Your grandpa and great grandpa are very good shots. They used to shoot their fair share of meat for our dinner table.
It is important to remember that guns are never toys…not even toys that look like real guns. When you are around guns it is important to remember to be very careful and to never forget for even a second that a gun is a deadly weapon. Always assume a gun is loaded unless it is open and you can see that it is unloaded and that a gun is NEVER EVER pointed at a human. Either it is pointed straight up or towards the ground.
When I was your age, I just loved to go hunting. I think the only animal I ever shot was a small red squirrel that was eating the wood shingles off of one of the farm’s old buildings. I did not like how shooting something made me feel, so I used to go hunting, carry a gun, shoot the gun and miss everything I aimed at except tree branches. I used to get made fun of because I was such a bad shot, but that was OK by me. I just loved being with on the hunt and being out in the woods. It was always a lot of fun. Well, except for the time I sat in the poison ivy. Great Grandpa always had the rule that we had to eat whatever we shot, unless it was a varmint. Duck and pheasant are very tasty when cooked properly.
Of course our farm cats just loved it when it was hunting season and would fight over which cat could get the insides of whatever animal we were cleaning. When it was cold you could see white steam rising from the still warm guts as a row of fat cats gorged themselves. Which reminds me of a guy that would fit in with our Cat Warfare theme. This guy was the ultimate fat cat. The envy of all of the other kings of Europe…the Sun King….Louis XIV (14th).
Louis the XIV at about age 4.
Louis XIV became king when he was only four years old and reigned over France for 72 years and 110 days. He was born on September 5, 1638 and was the first child born to the king and queen after 23 years of marriage. His birth was considered a miracle. To thank God for the miracle of the royal heir, Louis was baptized with the name “Louis-Dieudonne” which means “Gift of God.”
As the lives of royal children go, Louis had an exceptionally close and loving relationship with his mother, Anne. She was determined to see that her son would not only rule France, but would rule as the absolute and only ruler of France. To make sure this happened she passed laws that reduced the power of other wealthy aristocrats, nobles and members of the government. Of course, this made them all mad and they reacted to their loss of prestige and privilege and the expanded power of the King by starting a civil war known as “The Fronde.”
Louis XIV at about age 10.
This all happened while Louis was still a child. When he was just 10 years old an angry mob of Parisians, people from the city of Paris, who were upset about high taxes and the expansion of royal power initiated by his mother, burst into the royal child’s bedroom. There was no doubt that his life was endangered by the violent crowd demanding to see their king. The rioters were led into his royal bedroom where the young king pretended to be asleep. Seeing the peaceful, innocent sleeping child the crowd became calm and quietly left. Can you imagine being that calm at only ten years old? He was one brave little boy.
However, this incident did affect the rest of Louis’s life and reign. He never again wanted to live in Paris or share in the ruling of France. He achieved both.
The Palace of Versailles.
To escape Paris, Louis the XIV expanded his father’s hunting lodge at Versailles into the most extravagant palace in the world. Your Aunt Rory has been there and said it really is huge and fancy. Real gold is on everything. The one room in the palace that is probably the most famous is the “Hall of Mirrors”. It was in this room that the “Treaty of Versailles” was signed on June 28, 1919, ending World War I. The treaty punished the loser of the war, Germany, so harshly that the signing of the peace treaty is often said to have been the beginning of World War II…that is another story.
At age 15 the young king was officially crowned. He was considered an adult at age 16, but did not begin to rule on his own until he was 22 years old. At that same age he married and eventually fathered six children. Only one child survived until adulthood. Several of his family members died from a very dreaded and deadly disease during that time period called small pox. Small pox used to kill millions of people every year and now has been almost completely wiped out by vaccinations. Good news for us!!
Louis was born during the Thirty-Year War with Spain. He grew up during the Fronde. By the time that civil war was over, the people of France were so sick of war that they embraced the absolute unquestioned rule of Louis. The revolution that began to limit the power of the young king, when concluded, gave him total power or what is called an absolute monarchy.
A much older Louis XIV in all his royal splendor.
Warfare defined the reign of Louis XIV. He fought for treasure, economy, revenge and sometimes just to out fox a foe. This king understood that for him war was a great way to enhance his glory and reputation. Which was far more important to him than the hardships his warring brought to the people of France. When not at war, he would spend his time planning his next one. The wars of France during Louis’s reign were the: War of Devolution, Franco-Dutch War, War of the Reunions, Nine Years War, and War of the Spanish Succession.
Louis XIV shown riding off to lead the troops to war.
Soldiers of that time period fought with swords, pikes, cross bows, muskets, cannon and of course there was still a use for knives. Yes, his troops did have gun powder for their guns. Battle tactics used massed troops firing directly into each other’s ranks. The range and precision of the guns was so limited that I once heard a professor say that to get hit you just had be unlucky.
Louis also fought other types of wars. Times never change much and this King, too, fought a war against religion. During his grandfather and father reigns as king, they had been tolerant of religion. Louis felt very strongly that the King’s choice of religion should be the religion for the whole country. He was Catholic so he basically outlawed being Protestant. Hundreds of thousands of Protestants were forced to convert to Catholicism. Hundreds of thousands more were driven out of France and emigrated to other European countries and America.
The chapel ceiling at Versailles. Where the King would have worshiped God.
It was during the reign of Louis XIV that our first French relatives arrived in America. They were Catholic. Your very many greats grandpa Charles Turgeon landed in Quebec, Canada, in 1662. He got arrested once for pouring urine out a house window onto the head of a police officer. He worked as a sailor and was arrested more than once. Tease your dad and grandpa about that.
Yes, Louis fought against many foes to reign supreme, but in his private life he was a lover not a fighter. He had many, many girlfriends and had many children outside of marriage. He also very much enjoyed theater, art and music. He would put on grand exhibitions, concerts, parties and hunts at his great palace. In the man-made grand canal at Versailles, he would stage fake sea battles using full-sized battle ships and real cannons.
Grand Canal at Versailles.
Louis was king! He could do what he wanted, when he wanted, with whom he wanted. The Sun King was a genius at politics and devised a set of very specific rules and a busy party schedule at his court to control the nobles and aristocrats. His court etiquette was so complex that all those princes, dukes and counts did not have any time to think of revolt when they were busy trying to keep up with the latest fashions, gossip and be the one chosen to sit next to the king’s bed or stand next to the king while he was on the toilet.
King Louis XIV bedroom at Versailles. Notice the chairs right next to his bed for attendents.
The cloth is made out of thread of real gold.
That’s right powerful, rich, intelligent, full-grown men would compete for the honor of helping the king go to the bathroom. Wiping his royal butt really made you someone in that crowd. I wonder if that is where the term “Butt Kisser” originated.
Sadly, it was his butt that finally killed the all-powerful king. He got a sore on his anus…the doctors at the time did surgery without any anesthesia to try and fix it. The procedure was horribly painful. The king broke out into a sweat during the operation, but did not cry out in pain. The king survived the surgery. However, he developed an infection. There were not any antibiotics in those days and if you got a infection, most of the time you died. Louis XIV officially died of gangrene. He basically died of an infected butt.
So, I guess the moral of this letter is either a sore butt is no laughing matter or whether you are an all-powerful king or poor pauper…in the end…we are all the same.
Lots of love and Hugs,
My Uncle Wendall Laverne Larson at age 23 died serving his country during the Korean War. Wendall’s toe tag His military records state that, “Cpl. Larson was KIA at approx 1900 hours, …