A clarification and a century old story.

Builders,

In yesterday’s story, Testing my “Great Political Theory” I used the incendiary pejorative term “draft dodger” to describe both Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Today I would like to share a century old family story, one that will hopefully demonstrate to readers that I have a far more nuanced understanding of national loyalty than most people who use the term “draft dodger”.  If any of my previous writing left anyone with the impression that I come from a militaristic family and mindset, this should cause some reconsideration.

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img005Above, My Father as a 17 year old enlisted man in WWII. He stands between his beloved pony Bob, his constant companion since he was a little boy, and his own father. My grandfather served on the Passaic NJ police department from patrolman to Assistant Chief. Above, he is in plain clothes, as Chief of Detectives. Passaic was an industrial city with a serious organized crime problem. My Grandfather was a hard man who didn’t shrink from duty even when this brought shootouts with criminals and death threats against his children.

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In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson executed what may have been the largest flip-flop in executive branch history when he pushed the US to enter WWI, after campaigning on the pledge to never do so. He went so far to support the criminalization of even speaking out against the war, something he was doing only months before. With debate effectively outlawed, the US went to mobilizing a million  men and deploying them to Europe. Among them was a 23 year old sergeant in the 78th division named Michael Wynne. His diary indicates that when he deployed, he felt stopping the Kaiser was a valid goal.

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In a four year war, the US forces saw just 100 days of combat, but they were costly days, and each one of them took an astounding 1,000 American lives. My Grandfather kept very detailed notes on his three months in an eerie hell, fighting in places like St. Mihiel.  He survived a poison gas attack that killed most of his unit, shelling that left bits of steel in his body, days laying among unburied corpses and three separate trips “over the top.” There is no indication in his diaries, letters nor my fathers recollections, that my Grandfather had a single positive thing to say about warfare.  The closest he came were several long passages about French infantry, who’s courage to directly advance into withering fire stood out above all others.

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My grandfather came home and went back to work as a policeman. He was a devout Irish Catholic, but in 1922 he followed his heart and married a Jewish girl named Rita Smith. Most of both families disowned them. Perhaps because he had seen quite enough hatred, my Grandfather didn’t care, and went on with his life. Fortune brought his only son in 1925, my father. 1929 brought his only daughter, my aunt Eileen.

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When the world slowly slid into WWII, my Grandfather kept his most fervent wish private; all he wanted was that his own son would never see what he had seen in the trenches 22 years earlier. Keep in mind, he was no pacifist, nor was he afraid of conflict.

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Before their children were born, my grandparents had taken in a young teenager named Frank Ryan, who lived with them for a number of years before beginning long service in the Navy. A childhood filled with idealized stories of Pacific fleet cruises led my father to join the Navy as an enlisted man in 1943 after he turned 17.  He expected his father to be proud, but instead he was very angry with Frank Ryan, who was home recovering from the sinking of his ship, CA-44 the Vincennes.  My grandfather knew Frank had encouraged my father, and he was livid about it, perhaps because he thought Frank would understand better after his ship went down with 322 shipmates. Perhaps Frank could only see my father as a kid brother, he didn’t see him as another man’s son.

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In the spring of 1945, before the war in Europe was over, my father was accepted to the Naval Academy for the class of 1949. Retrospectively, my father later understood how much this relieved my grandfather. The war would certainly be over, his son would live, their lives would go on. My grandfathers prayers had been answered. For now.

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In 1950 the Korean war started, and my father, now an officer in amphibious warfare, felt it was his calling to fight in a conflict against totalitarians. He returned after a first deployment, and was actually sitting down to dinner with his parents in the family home. Without question, my grandfather was relieved to have him back. A telegram arrived, saying all leave cancelled, and my father must immediately return on the next flight.  He packed and rushed out of the house in a few minutes, saying goodbye to my mother and grandmother on the porch.

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Before getting in the taxi, he realized that he had not said goodbye to his father. He rushed into the house, but initially could not find him. A moment later, he found his father, a very hard man who was never emotional, standing in in the walk in closet, sobbing. He could not bear to see my father return to the war. He didn’t want his son to see him this way, he didn’t look at my father, he just said “Take care of yourself.” My father, then 26, knowing nothing else to do, followed his fathers words, and badly shaken, got into the taxi. It was the last real moment they would have together. Before my father returned, my grandfather had a terrible stroke, and was never the same again.

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My father has never been able to tell me the story about that day in words. He has never been able to speak about it, but he did write about it in a very detailed letter to me. He gave it to me when I turned 18, when I was going down to the post office to sign up for the selective service. It came with no moral instructions, just the understanding that you don’t know what lives in another man’s heart.

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My father didn’t teach me the phrase “draft dodger”, in fact I am pretty sure I have never heard him use it. In the 1970s he didn’t have much to say about the 125,000 people who went to Canada, and around our home we were taught to be sparing on judgments. As years have past, I have become less hardened in my opinions not more. I have drawn great personal solace from Tim O’Brien’s book, The things they carried, and central to the narrative is the fact that O’Brien considered going to Canada, but didn’t, (for what he feels were social pressures on his family in a small town) ended up in Vietnam, and morally regrets killing an enemy soldier with a grenade. I have also read many times, the Zumwalt book, My Father , My Son, a memoir of how the son, Elmo jr, took the most dangerous job in Vietnam, because his father was head of the Navy there, and he felt morally obligated to go if his father had to send anyone. The book was written as he was dying of Lymphoma, likely caused by agent orange, which his father ordered the use of. Admiral Zumwalt was a personal friend of my fathers, and dad could not bear to read it.  While a part of my father deeply wanted one of his sons to attend the Naval Academy, neither of us did. (My brother passed the entrance exam easily, but turned out to be color blind, I was not qualified by high school rank to take the test.) What ever disappointment he may have felt was probably exceeded by a relief his own father breifly knew.

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I have no issue with war protesters, for Charles Lindbergh, was once one. Neither do I have any problem with pacifists, as my understaning of ethics is heavily influenced by the Dali Lama.  My own personal distaste on the issue of national service is strictly limited to today’s professional politicians , who manipulated the system, often many times, but today want to be seen as only playing by the rules, when they were clearly willing to send another man’s son in their place, they were just not willing to admit this, then or now.

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If you would like a different example of privilged sons and ethics, The first few pages of my manual contain a picture of Quentin Roosevelt, who felt that his family’s advocacy of entering WWI required him taking the most dangerous job, flying a Neiuport 28. He paid for this with his life on 7/14/18.

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His father, T.R., a man tough enough to have been shot in the chest with a .38/44 at point blank range, and then give a 90 minute speech while campaigning just 6 years earlier, found that his type of toughness was no defense against matters of guilt and heartache. He personally held Kaiser Wilhelm II, a man he had met in person in 1910, responsible for his son’s death. When a reporter asked what the Kaiser could do for forgiveness, Roosevelt said The Kaiser could take his six healthy sons, untouched by WWI, and he could find a well defended allied position, and then could storm it, and all be shot dead while doing so. Roosevelt thought the proper atonement for starting a war that took millions of other peoples sons would start with the deaths of the Kaiser’s own sons.   The venom in the comment speaks of how he was tormented by the loss of a son who was really living up to his father’s ideals.

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In the end, the Kaiser lived 22 more years in exile, but Teddy died of a broken heart a few months after his son. He was just 60 years old.

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-ww.

 

 

 

About William Wynne
I have been continuously building, testing and flying Corvair engines since 1989. Information, parts and components that we developed and tested are now flying on several hundred Corvair powered aircraft. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Professional Aeronautics and an A&P license from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and have a proven 20 year track record of effectively teaching homebuilders how to create and fly their own Corvair powered planes. Much of this is chronicled at www.FlyCorvair.com and in more than 50 magazine articles.

5 Responses to A clarification and a century old story.

  1. Pete Jacobsen says:

    With a degree in political science wondering if you applied to be a Nasal Radiator before going to Embry Riddle, I myself was a 27 yo enlistee with a AA in journalism but the Navy canceled the NAVCAD program so I volunteered to be a helicopter aircrewman.

    • Pete,
      I didn’t graduate from St. Leo until I was 24, Didn’t get to Embry -Riddle until I was 26, Graduated when I was 31. They had the largest NROTC program in the country, second only to the Academy in generating Naval Aviators, but it was very competitive, and they didn’t need ‘old’ guys like me. I was only at Riddle for a few months before deciding that my place in aviation was in homebuilding. Most of the people I knew thought that was nuts, and my department chair said “I suppose that someone also quit the Apollo program to fly Cubs”, but almost all days I still feel I picked the right path.

  2. Michael W. McKosky says:

    William, are you an engine expert who is also a philosopher, or a philosopher who simply likes engines?
    That question is just a small portion of the tip of the iceberg of the thoughts that swirl around in my mind. I am just trying to figure out these things for myself, of course. So, my response is bound to be a bit more raw that politeness would dictate.
    From the last message I made, I read your reply and the replies of all the other people. I am very impressed, and comforted by, how shall I say, my tribe. I see this in the people in the local EAA and in the members of CCSC (caesar creek soaring club) and amongst other pilots and home builders. Even though we have disagreements about politics, and when to pop our spoilers, etc, still we maintain our friendships, brotherhood, and citizenship. In a time when it seems that things are being trashed by opportunistic rotters it is great to be amongst such good people!
    Well, your article today hit the mark for me, I thank you.
    I still have a rough time separating the philosophy from the technical stuff. I just want to build the damn engine! But, I do enjoy the philosophical material as well. Maybe even more than the engine stuff….hmmmm.
    Mike

  3. dan glaze says:

    I still get cold chills thinking back 26 years ago laying in the belly of a flying fuel truck carrying a load of jp-4 ( 205,000 lbs. at takeoff) 35,000 feet above who knows where, watching below from the boomer windows for that streak of white light that might have your name on it. I don’t recall any atheists’ on board. I am not afraid to tell you how scared I was. War is horrible. dan-o

  4. Bruce Culver says:

    I just ran across this in an email, thought you might like it……

    Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all the others…
    Sir Winston Churchill
    (Son of an American Mother and an English Father)

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