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A new novel captures the anguish and emotional turmoil of a mother’s relationship with her Navy SEAL son. Matt Gallagher salutes Lea Carpenter’s 'Eleven Days' and says it joins the first rank of war fiction.
There’s a strange, persistent undercurrent of thought in military writing that’s unlike any other in literature. It suggests authors shouldn’t write about war unless they’ve participated in it as a combatant or otherwise survived its ravages. This prejudice can be as creatively destructive as it is mistaken—some of the finest works on the subject, from Shakespeare’s Henry V to Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage to Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier were penned by individuals not directly involved in fighting, but who still wrote about it with poignancy. Like writing of any type, good military literature benefits from research, care, and skill. It suffers when those things lack. Turns out, there are many ways to prove true Hemingway’s adage “Write what you know.”
John Scorza/U.S. Navy
The latest evidence of such is Lea Carpenter’s incisive, graceful novel Eleven Days, which is certain to vault to the top of any list of high quality literature about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. A military daughter who once worked for The Paris Review, Carpenter meticulously weaves together the story of a single mother and her son, and their deep love and respect for one another, with that of the molding of the son into a young, idealistic Navy SEAL. Though some readers will no doubt be attracted to the SEAL angle in all its tattooed, loud glory, it is the SEAL’s mother, Sara, who serves as the novel’s heroine and most dynamic force.
There’s a determined stoicism to Sara, coupled with a tender, inner anguish, which will ring true to anyone who ever sent a loved one off to war. She’s proud of her son Jason but terrified for him; disdainful of any man her age who didn’t serve but wary of those who did; and fascinated but skeptical of the SEAL ideology being absorbed by her son. Her relationship with the military and the wars aren’t black and white, but a messy, ambiguous swirl of gray, something that doesn’t exist in Internet commentary. This swirl of gray is at its most churning in the novel’s opening pages, as Sara awaits word regarding the fate of her son, who’s gone missing in action during a mission overseas. From there, Carpenter alternates between the past and the present, showing us Jason’s idyllic childhood in rural Pennsylvania, Sara’s own private battles as her son goes on deployment after deployment, and then overseas with Sara herself trying to find her missing son.
This is an earnest book, a rare thing for a post-Catch-22 war novel of the literary ilk. The characters in Eleven Days are privileged in pedigree and possess access to power, but still find purpose in wearing the uniform, a refreshing break from the “Poor boy goes to battle, finds only destruction” narrative that’s been mimicked repeatedly since Tim O’Brien’s masterful works on the Vietnam War. While 99.9% of military mothers wouldn’t be allowed the access and information Sara is, that’s beside the point. Good fiction like this bears emotional authority that transcends the question of whether something “could” occur. Even as we journey with Sara from Pennsylvania to Washington, D.C. and beyond, the specter of the family members who have served their country on the home front in such isolated silence since 9/11 goes with us. Sara lives out a dark, twisted fantasy so many of them must’ve begged the heavens for on sleepless nights or long days without an email or phone call. Like many before her, Sara is called to fulfill a duty she never signed up for, but does so with resolve, because she understands that’s what must be done.
As the issue heats up, it’s time to cool off the conversation and focus on the facts, writes Kayla Williams.
Sexual assault in the military is nothing new, but it recently exploded into the public sphere with unsettling new survey results showing a sharp rise in reports by service members of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact, a senior Air Force official in charge of its Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office arrested and charged with sexual battery, and a general overturning the rape conviction of a subordinate. Those stories, coming after the Department of Defense announced earlier this year that it was ending its ban on women in combat positions, have led to a wave of reportage and opinion writing that too often has been misguided or misinformed, further confusing the issues.
Here are seven of the biggest myths and misconceptions about sexual assault and women in the military:
1. This Is Why Women Shouldn’t Be in Combat
It’s disturbing how many commentators dismiss women in the military as a “social experiment” and sexual assault as an inevitable outcome of it. If women must serve, this argument continues, they should be barred from combat deployments or remain in separate units.
I’ve yet to see anyone making this argument call for gender-segregated universities or other institutions, so presumably they believe these issues are unique to a military setting. Are they arguing that military men are more likely to be rapists than civilian men or that our troops are completely incapable of controlling their behavior? That seems an astonishing proposition, and one that I think the vast majority of law-abiding, responsible military men would find profoundly insulting.
Some, including Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have argued that the military policy banning women from combat jobs and units contributed to a climate that tacitly tolerated sexual harassment and assault of women—and that increasing women’s access to combat roles will drive down rates in the long run. I agree: studies show that when women gain greater equality, sexual assaults decline (although there may be a short-term “backlash effect” as men react to women’s shifting status).
How do you return from war? That was the question that Roxana Robinson set out to answer in her new novel, ‘Sparta.’ She spoke to Jane Ciabattari about how she researched the experiences of veterans—and why she used that title.
Roxana Robinson’s haunting new novel, Sparta, is a harrowing account of an Iraq War veteran’s homecoming. Robinson is author of four previous novels, a critically acclaimed biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, and three distinguished short-story collections. Over lunch in midtown New York, she told me that she read extensively while working on the book and spent four years interviewing Iraq War veterans. Getting to know the soldiers, she said, was a “like moving to a new country: I found myself in the middle of it, and then I wanted to learn the language and the culture and everything there was to know about the people.” Here’s more from our conversation.
“Sparta.” By Roxana Robinson. $27; Sarah Crichton Books; 400 pages. (Wesley Bocxe/Getty; Sarah Crichton Books)
Why did you choose to write your new novel from the perspective of Conrad, a 26-year-old Marine returning from tours of duty in Ramadi and Haditha?
Six or seven years ago I read an article about our troops in Iraq—how they were being sent out in unarmored vehicles, and being blown up by IEDs, and receiving traumatic brain injuries as a result. These were often undiagnosed, partly because the military was reluctant to remove troops from combat and partly because treatment was expensive. I just couldn’t get those three things out of my mind: the unarmored vehicles, the injuries, and the reluctance to treat. It was clear that we weren’t really protecting our troops. This made me wonder about the consequences of this war. So that article was the beginning. It was a new world for me—I’m a Quaker. I hardly even knew anyone who was in the military.
Conrad is a Marine officer who joined up in 2001, while he was a classics major in college. “The classical writers love war, that’s their main subject,” he tells his parents. “Being a soldier was the whole deal, the central experience. Sparta, the Peloponnesian War, the Iliad. Thucydides, Homer, Tacitus.” What was the meaning of ancient Sparta to you as you worked on this book?
My first encounter with the connection between the Marines and the ancient world was in a memoir called One Bullet Away, by Nathaniel Fick. Fick was a classics major at Dartmouth, and he became a Marine lieutenant in Iraq, and the combination fascinated me. As I learned more about Marine culture, I was intrigued to learn that Fick was not alone. References to the classics are rife among Marines, and their culture is full of intellectual threads: Marines are very conscious of their ancient forebears. They read the classics. One of Fick’s enlisted men was reading The Iliad during their trek across the desert toward Baghdad. The Spartans (who are the attackers in The Iliad) are commonly used by Marines as references to a heroic-warrior culture—they name their units the Spartans and their combat outposts Sparta. And the word “Sparta” is sometimes used as an adjective to mean “awesome.” Sparta itself is a very present and powerful idea among Marines.
What was World War I really like? Richard Rubin set out to interview the last surviving American veterans of World War I. Michael Korda salutes the result.
Richard Rubin’s The Last of the Doughboys is a brilliant and unexpected delight. Interviewing the last surviving American veterans of World War I, all of them of course well beyond a hundred years old, is the kind of idea which would make any nonfiction writer clap his (or her) hand to the forehead and say: “Why didn’t I think of that?”
WWI Veteran Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of World War I, passed away in 2011. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post, via Getty)
His subtitle on the other hand is a little strange for a European to assimilate: “The Forgotten Generation and Their Forgotten World War,” is not only cumbersome, but also puzzling. In Britain and Europe, no event is less forgotten than World War I, or “The Great War,” as it was called until 1939. Speaking as somebody who is half English and half Hungarian, World War I still seems to me a familiar and seismic event, as if it had only just ended. My father fought on the side of the Central Powers, as a soldier in the Imperial and Royal Austro-Hungarian Army, my maternal grandfather fought in the British Army, on different sides, and both were so traumatized by the experience that they never talked about it.
The war left its mark on every part of British life, no town too small not to have a war memorial, with a long list of the dead carved in stone, no college, school or public building without a plaque inside the door bearing an endless list of names of those who were killed in Flanders, on the Somme or elsewhere, no poetry more often recited than that of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Graves. To this day, I, like many in Britain, still wear a poppy on Nov. 11.
The war left its mark on history too, erasing empires, replacing Austro-Hungary with a dangerous brood of Eastern European and Balkan mini-nations, carving up the Ottoman Empire into colonies, soon to become statelets, with artificial frontiers containing populations of different ethnic and religious backgrounds who hated each other, and bringing about the birth of Fascism, Communism, and Nazism—for the Second World War, awful as it was, was merely a reprise of the First with some minor switching of smaller powers, and the addition of a war in the Pacific to that in Europe. The years 1914-1918 were, and will perhaps always remain, our mental image of Armageddon: the mud, the trenches, the barbed wire, the squalor, the millions of dead for no good purpose.
Well, the passage of time has done its work, the fault line in the world is no longer the Rhine, but the Yellow Sea, what remains of the trenches is merely a grisly tourist attraction, the seemingly endless landscape of well-tended military cemeteries on the Western Front did not scare us away from fighting a second world war, and will doubtless not prevent us from fighting a third, despite Woodrow Wilson’s hope that it was “a war to end war.”
On Memorial Day, Staff Sgt. Natalie R. Jones remembers her deployment and the young men who didn’t come home.
A journey to war isn’t like the movies. You don’t swoop down in a blaze of glory, Goose and Maverick, taking on the bad guys. I boarded a commercial airline from the United States and hopscotched around the globe. I touched down in the back of a blacked-out airplane in the middle of the night, oblivious to my surroundings. I woke up my buddy drooling on my shoulder, scrambled to get my backpack, counted to make sure my Marines were all there, and listened as an over-caffeinated Marine belted out the camp rules. We had arrived in Afghanistan.
A memorial for the fallen soldiers of the Third Battalion, First Marines. (Natalie Jones)
I was serving with the Female Engagement Team (FET), an all-women unit of 47 Marines and sailors tasked with supporting the First Marine Division in Helmand province. It was September 2010, and the FET was still a relatively new concept: females specially assigned to engage with the local men and women to support counterinsurgency operations in one of the most remote and dangerous provinces in the Afghanistan. We didn’t know exactly what we were getting into, but I knew I needed to figure it out quickly and get going with the mission.
A few days later we were back on our way, preparing to leave the huge base at Camp Leatherneck and head downrange to the battalion and company positions where we would spend the majority of our deployment. My team of six women and I were headed to Third Battalion, First Marines, or “the Balls of the Corps,” as they called themselves, in Garmsir district. Arriving at the flight deck to catch our helicopter, we were greeted by Oliver North, of all people, and learned he was traveling with us to cover the progress in the area for a news program. Colonel North was excited to see women embracing a new mission and took the time to pose for photos with us. But he was soon reminded of how his beloved Corps sometimes operates: his luggage and gear were misplaced. He ended up waiting for the next flight, but that left an open seat in the helicopter’s cockpit for me.
I was excited to fly through the night on a Marine Corps “bird.” It was blacked out so we couldn’t be easily spotted, but as we approached Marjeh district—a highly “kinetic” area that Marines were still battling to pacify—the pilot swerved sharply as we took fire from the ground. I glanced at the crew chief behind me, clinging to his machine gun and firing into the night. In the cockpit, the pilots vigorously punched buttons and maneuvered the aircraft. I could only think about my girls sitting behind me.
When we finally landed, we disembarked in a field of gravel and were welcomed by a tired female Marine who was ready to go home and see her husband and kids. I could see and feel the excitement in her team members’ eyes that their replacements had arrived.
Though it’s all too easy to ignore, the conflict in Afghanistan continues to claim the lives of great Americans. Michael Daly on some of the soldiers we lost in May.
Earlier this month, the whole country was touched and cheered by the video of 9-year-old Alayna Adams throwing out the first pitch at a Tampa Bay baseball game only to discover that the man behind the catcher’s mask was her father, back from a long deployment in Afghanistan.
Among the kids who will never see their father again are the six daughters and three sons of 14 American servicemen who have died this month in a faraway war that we seem to have forgotten before it even ended. They include the two young sons of Army Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson.
Alpha Team Renegade from left Tom Murach, Brandon Prescott, Frankie Phillips and Kevin Cardoza. (Via Facebook)
Simpson was in Afghanistan on the day that two pressure cookers stuffed with fireworks and shrapnel detonated by the finish line at the Boston Marathon, and jolted the whole homeland. His wife’s stepfather had been a spectator close enough to the bombs to be shaken and Simpson emailed him, a message from a warrior who had dedicated his life to keeping us safe.
“I wish there was something I could have done better in my job to keep this evil from happening,” Simpson wrote.
Twelve days later, Simpson himself encountered a bomb, an IED. The 30-year-old was still alive when he reached an army hospital in Germany, thanks to experience that medics, trauma teams, and surgeons have acquired from thousands of such catastrophic causalities over a decade of war—the same hard-earned expertise that was credited with saving so many victims of the Boston bombing. He was joined in Landstuhl Regional Medical Center by his wife, Krista, the mother of their sons, 3-year-old Michael and 16-month-old Gabriel.
For Memorial Day, a Marine’s family shares some of his final letters home before his death in Iraq. By Matt Pottinger.
In late 2006, days before I completed my training as a Marine Corps human-intelligence officer, our commander delivered some terrible news. First Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff, one of the very best from our small community of intelligence Marines, had just been killed in action in Iraq.
Marine Corps First Lieutenant Nathan Krissoff. (Courtesy of the Krissoff family)
I hadn’t met Nate, but I knew who he was. We all did. He was the model officer our instructors had talked about. Brilliant, funny and confident, Nate was a natural leader that someone like me—a former journalist who knew next to nothing about leadership before learning the hard way through Marine Corps training and three combat deployments—could only wish to emulate.
Well before the Marine Corps knew him, Nate was already a scholar-athlete and a leader, student president of his elite prep school in Pebble Beach, California, captain of the water polo and swim teams at Williams College in Massachusetts, and an accomplished classical pianist and a poet. “He had plenty of career options,” his younger brother, Austin, said to me this weekend.
But Nate chose the Marine Corps in response to 9/11 and out of a larger sense of civic duty, which he wrote about in his application to become a Marine officer. “The price we pay for the liberties and luxuries we enjoy in this country is eternal vigilance,” he wrote. “I wish to put my money where my mouth is by having the honor to serve.”
Today, I find myself asking how many other sons and daughters who “had options” like Nate had will rise to the occasion, but there are troubling signs that privileged Americans, at least, are sitting on the sidelines. I attended Yale University’s graduation ceremony last week and found that only one brave student out of the entire graduating class is joining the U.S. Army. Disturbingly few kids from top schools go on to any kind of government service, opting instead for jobs in finance and consulting and law.
Memorial Day commemorates those who were killed while serving in the armed forces, but Brian Castner hopes that we will remember those who survived injuries but might not have if not for bomb suits, armors, and other advances.
In late 2007, as Adam Popp lay next to a smoking bomb crater, his new stump of a leg pouring his life into the awaiting Afghan dirt, he did two things only possible in the last decade of conflict. He called his father from the battlefield on a satellite phone to say that he was bleeding out. And then he lived.
We’re not remembering Adam Popp on Memorial Day. In previous wars, we almost surely would have.
Technical Sergeant Popp was an Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) technician assigned to a US Army patrol in Paktia province, clearing a route to a new Special Forces medical clinic for local civilians. The Improvised Explosive Device discovered by Afghan police on a highway outside of Gardez was classic in nearly every—a bulky bag sprouting wires stuffed into a drainage culvert under the road.
A culvert packed with explosives presents a particularly dangerous and challenging problem. If the bomb remains unfound, and the attack proceeds as planned, the damage to an armored vehicle driving over it is catastrophic. Find the device and simply blow it in place, and you have shut down a highway for weeks or months, until over-taxed engineers can finally fix the span. If the culvert hole is too small, an EOD robot can’t access it. If the bomb is too big, the robot isn’t strong enough to pull it out.
It was because of this last condition that Sergeant Popp found himself on his hands and knees in the bomb suit, 80 pounds of overlapping Kevlar plates, yanking out the device by hand. The bag itself Popp freed with a grunt and tossed harmlessly to the side. No, the bomb that nearly killed him was a second device, hidden in the ground, specifically placed to kill the bomb technician responding to clear the culvert. Popp was set up. He shifted his weight from his left knee to his right, and his world exploded.
At 3 in the morning, the phone rang in a home in tiny Lanesville, Indiana. No one answered, so the answering machine picked up. Shouts, screams, and confusion, silence, pause, and the phone rang again. The home’s occupant was now awake, so he answered.
There were 50,000 American deserters in World War II, whose experiences have been erased from history. But Charles Glass says as former deserters die along with other veterans, we might remember them for a moment this Memorial Day.
When the United States entered the Second World War in December 1941, thousands of First World War veterans had yet to recover from their physical and mental wounds. “Today, twenty-five years after the end of the last war,” Fortune magazine reported, “nearly half of the 67,000 beds in Veterans Administration hospitals are still occupied by the neuropsychiatric casualties of World War I.” In World War II, 25 percent of all battle casualties in the U.S. armed forces were psychological. From that number came most of the American soldiers who deserted.
There were 50,000 American deserters, whose experiences have been erased from the history of what Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called the “crusade in Europe.” Few if any soldiers deserted in the Pacific. They were not braver, and their conditions were no easier. There was simply nowhere to desert to on Japanese-held islands.
As former deserters die along with other veterans with the passage of time, we might remember them for a moment this Memorial Day. Their story is part of the war. They fought. Many won decorations for courage. Almost all of them were combat troops in an Army that put only 10 percent of its total force into the frontlines. The rest never saw action. It is a forgotten aspect of American strategy that troops were not rotated by units in and out of battle to give them time to rest, to know the recruits who replaced their dead or captured comrades and to deal with the trauma of constant terror. Many combat veterans who fought resented the 90 percent who spent their time in the rear, sleeping in comfortable beds and enjoying the company of French and Italian women.
Members of the First U.S. Infantry Division landed in North Africa on November 8, 1942, in the first test of American military power against the Germans. They fought until the Germans surrendered in Tunisia the following May. They invaded Sicily three months later. In June 1944, they were among the first troops to hit the Normandy beaches into the face of ferocious German counterfire. Without rest, they drove across France and fought in the Hürtgen Forest, the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Siegfried Line. They suffered almost 20,000 casualties, a loss rate of more than 100 percent for their original contingent of 15,000. Some were bitter that other units did no fighting at all, while they never rested. A minority reacted to the constant strain by shooting themselves in the foot or running away.
It is not up to us to judge them. Dr. Allen Towne, a First Division medical officer, wrote in his memoir Doctor Danger Forward, “It is hard for anyone who has not been exposed to long periods of hard combat to understand what this can do to even the best units.”
Few American boys of the “greatest generation” were prepared psychologically for war. Psychiatrists deferred enlistment for more than 1.7 million men before training began. Those who saw action nonetheless broke down in such numbers that psychiatric units were stationed in forward medical-aid stations to help traumatized men back to the front. The U.S. published a booklet called Psychology for the Fighting Man, Prepared for the Fighting Man Himself in 1943 as a soldier’s guide to mental well-being. Its observations were telling. Two stand out:
Injured veterans came to Crawford, Texas, for a mountain-bike race on a solemn holiday. It’s one part of the ex-president’s work for the fallen, their families, and returning troops.
The wounded warrior in front of me rode so well, and so fast, dusting me in the flats, that for a while I forgot he was a veteran. And then I noticed and remembered what was different. Staff Sgt. Matthew DeWitt has no arms. They were blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq. As I watched him navigate the difficult terrain, snapped into handlebars with a prothesis on each arm, the obvious questions surfaced: How in the hell is he braking? And shifting?
Well, thanks to his absolute determination not to let his injuries stop him from his love for bike riding—and Ride 2 Recovery’s fantastic mechanics and technicians—DeWitt rode a specially outfitted mountain bike with a pad on the back of his seat that allows him to lean back to brake. He manipulates small buttons on the frame of his bike with his knees to shift. Which, unless you actually see him do it, seems impossible.
Talk about humbling.
And there were 19 other stories just like DeWitt’s. Men who had suffered, survived, and come to Crawford, Texas, to join their brothers in fellowship for Memorial Day weekend for the third annual Wounded Warrior 100K ride, sponsored by former president George W. Bush.
It’s easy for critics to make partisan remarks, like “George Bush should be riding with wounded warriors, ’cause he caused their wounds.” But most would withhold such cheap shots if they’d ever observed the countless meetings he has held over the years with families of the fallen and wounded vets—and purposefully never publicized. He carries a profound respect for our military men and women and understands and appreciates more than anyone the sacrifices they have made. And he is determined, through the Military Service Initiative of the Bush Presidential Center, to find ways to help veterans with jobs, housing, education, their families, and women’s issues.
For more than two years, Richard Rubin had been tracking down all the American World War I veterans still living. But when he started talking to a man named Merlyn Krueger, something didn’t seem right.
On October 15, 2005, I warily knocked on a door at a seedy motel in Pasco, Washington, an industrial town in the desert about 200 miles southeast of Seattle. Pasco looked about right for that motel, as did the man who answered the door: tall and rangy with shaggy white hair and a matching beard, his T-shirt, jeans, and bare feet were all caked with dirt. His name was Merlyn Krueger; a few weeks earlier he’d been mentioned, briefly, by a local newspaper in a short item which noted—and this is why I was there—that he was 110 years old and a veteran of the First World War.
For more than two years, I’d been tracking down and interviewing living American World War I veterans, every old doughboy I could find and get to. It had proven much more challenging than I had imagined at the outset, especially the tracking down part, but by now I was pretty comfortable with the process and confident in my ability to handle whatever the interview might present: spotty memories, deafness, confused names and dates, the intimidating awe that attended being in the presence of a centenarian. I’d become something of a studied hand regarding the superannuated, felt I had a good sense of what to expect. Like the rest of them, Merlyn Krueger didn’t look his age. Unlike the rest, though, he didn’t look that much younger.
His little room was well past cluttered, so full of old newspapers and magazines and junk that it took me several minutes to find a spot to sit and set up my video camera. He was a good interview subject, though, articulate, utterly devoid of reticence, clear on details like the date and place of his birth (April 8, 1895; Westwood, California), the town where he’d grown up (Akeley, Minnesota), his parents’ and siblings’ names (Herman and Anna; Mary, Dorothy, and Edmund). He’d left home at 14, he told me, and rode the rails around the Midwest and Great Plains, doing farm work and odd jobs. He enlisted in 1918 in Minnesota, he explained, and was sent east to Camp Dix for basic training. He never made it overseas, he said; just spent his time “drilling, firing the rifle, getting accustomed to shooting.” He described his uniform, and the camp, in vivid detail.
Still, he couldn’t recall the name of his unit. This was not the case for the Second World War, which he was careful to distinguish from the First, and during which he had served in Alaska with the 250th Coastal Artillery. He changed the subject to that second war, too, every chance he got, despite my repeated questions about the first. Concerned, I went online the next day, looked through census records, and quickly determined that Merlyn Krueger had, indeed, been born in Westwood, California, to Herman and Anna Krueger.
But not in 1895.
Many World War II veterans felt lost after returning home. They dropped out of school and couldn’t focus on their postwar lives. Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Dale Maharidge on what happened to them.
Steve Maharidge had no use for hillbillies. Jim Laughridge disliked Yankees. About the only thing they had in common was being in the same U.S. Marine unit during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II. Yet starting in early 1946, my father and Jim came home to parallel lives. Both spent several years drunk out of their minds.
They shared something else—they suffered blast concussions that may have caused traumatic brain injury, or TBI. It's the same thing found in some soldiers from today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only back then it was called “shell shock” or “battle fatigue.”
After my father died in 2000, I spent 12 years locating surviving men from his Marine unit. I found 29 of them. From them and their military records, I learned Dad suffered at least two blast concussions. TBI can permanently alter connections between brain cells. One symptom can be occasional explosive rage.
Dad’s temper made ours a house of turmoil. But our family never tied his condition to the war. Not only was TBI an unknown affliction in midcentury America, we pretended that the war was in the distant past. It wasn’t discussed.
This changed as the men from dad's unit neared their ’80s. They were suddenly talking. One told me I was the first person he talked to about the war.
In my new book, I look at how the war affected the rest of their lives. Many never got over it. This is something that we should think about on Memorial Day weekend. Knowing their trauma helps us understand what today’s soldiers and their children face in the coming years.
How did Renaissance masterpieces survive the carnage of World War II? Noah Charney on a team of U.S. soldiers who rescued the world’s greatest objects from being stolen or destroyed by the Nazis.
The Second World War altered the map of Europe, and redistributed art on an unprecedented scale. But few people know the astonishing extent of art looting during the war. Adolf Hitler and his deputy Hermann Göring raced one another to steal artworks. Goring “collected” a private gallery of thousands of stolen masterpieces, displayed in a hunting lodge outside of Berlin as an enormous shrine to his deceased wife, while Hitler ordered art stolen both for his personal enjoyment and to fill his planned “super museum,” a conversion of an entire city in Austria to contain every important artwork in the world. Hitler’s boyhood town of Linz would be leveled and rebuilt, with masterpieces like The Ghent Altarpiece and the Mona Lisa as centerpieces in this definitive collection. It would even feature a gallery of horrors, a wing dedicated to “degenerate” art that did not meet the Nazi standards of racial purity of artist and subject matter. This wing would show the world from which the Nazis had saved humanity. Taking a note from Napoleon, whose army featured the first dedicated art theft unit, the Nazi army established the Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR), assigned the task of collecting documents, archives, and art for the Nazi cause.
The Allies only became aware of the true, systematic extent of Nazi art theft in 1943, years into the war. They knew of the infamous “degenerate” art exhibition that had toured Nazi-controlled Germany before the war, curated in such a way as to demonstrate the “inferiority” of these abstract contemporary works. They knew of the fire-sale of art seized from German citizens before the war, and sold at an auction at the Galerie Fischer in Lucerne—many of these works were bought by American and English collectors, whose desire to add to their collections helped finance Nazi armaments. But it was only in 1943 that a fortuitous toothache brought American soldiers Lincoln Kirstein (who would found New York City Ballet with George Balanchine after the war) and Robert Posey to a dentist near Trier, Germany. The dentist’s son-in-law, who was hiding in a cottage in the forest, was SS officer Hermann Bunjes, former art adviser to Göring. Kirstein and Posey tracked down Bunjes, and, assuming that they already knew of the Linz super museum, revealed to them the ERR’s systematic looting of Europe’s art collections.
The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program under the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied armies was established in 1943, and the 400 service members in the MFAA were mostly art historians and museum personnel who were known as Monuments Men. In anticipation of the Allied invasion, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower issued a statement to the Allied Army during the summer of 1944, regarding the protection of art treasures:
Shortly we will be fighting our way across the continent of Europe in battles designed to preserve our civilization. Inevitably, in the path of our advance will be found historical monuments and cultural centers which symbolize to the world all that we are fighting to preserve. It is the responsibility of every commander to protect and respect these symbols whenever possible.
The Monuments Men accompanied the Allied armies to locate at-risk art and monuments that may be damaged or stolen in the chaos of war, and then preserve them as best they could in the field. Their story is one of intrigue, espionage and heroism, with the survival or destruction of the greatest treasures of human civilization hanging in the balance. The entire contents of the Uffizi Museum, the museums of Paris, and the treasures of dozens of churches were stripped by the Nazis. The Germans hid the contents of occupied Europe’s museums—tens of thousands of masterpieces—for use after the war. Many were stored in secret underground storage facilities, like the salt mine that was converted into a hi-tech art warehouse in the Austrian Alps at Alt Aussee, which contained 12,000 of the most important works that were destined for Hitler’s Linz museum. The Monuments Men led detective-work searches for hidden and stolen art, and followed just behind the front lines, trying to secure monuments that were damaged, like the Ponte Santa Trinita (Holy Trinity Bridge in Italian) in Florence, blown up by retreating Nazis to slow the advance of the Allies, the fire-bombed monastery of Monte Cassino, and the bomb-shattered Camposanto in Pisa. Robert M. Edsel’s absorbing, thoroughly researched gallop of a history book, Saving Italy, focuses on the efforts of the Monuments Men to protect and recover the art of Italy.
Orders the recertification of military sexual assault prevention staff.
In response to growing outrage on Capitol Hill and in the White House over the ongoing problem of sexual assaults in the military—including new figures showing a jump in the estimates of unreported sexual assaults, as well as the arrest of a Colonel overseeing the Air Force's sexual assault prevention program, on charges of sexual battery—Defense Secretary ordered all U.S military sexual assault prevention personnel to get recertified. Earlier in the day, the Air Force's top general said that sexual assaults in his branch of service were largely due to a lack of respect for women and typically happened after alcohol abuse.
Former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens discusses The Mission Continues, his nonprofit that helps military vets.
There were three central reasons why I decided to enlist in the Navy SEALs. One was I had spent time doing humanitarian work overseas in Bosnia with people who had survived the ethnic cleansing, and in Rwanda with people who had survived the genocide. I came to believe really strongly that, in certain situations—especially ethnic cleansing and genocide—people needed others to stand up who were willing to protect them. As a graduate student at Oxford, I spent a lot of time talking, and joining the military was a way for me to live those values. Also, I was 26 when I joined, but I still had a 16-year-old’s desire to jump out of planes, scuba dive, and do all those things that the Navy SEALs promised. And, I was attracted to the test. SEAL team training is widely considered to be the hardest training in the world, and I wanted to test myself and push myself. Plus, I had a desire to serve my country. I was fortunate to go to undergrad [at Duke] and graduate school on scholarship, and you ask yourself what all of that is for, and for me, I felt like part of it was to find a way to be of service.
Author and Navy Seal Eric Greitens attends the 2013 Time 100 Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 23, 2013 in New York City. (Jennifer Graylock/Getty )
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in Navy SEAL basic training and I remember we came out of the ocean—we had done a two-mile ocean swim—and as we were running back up the beach, someone came running from the opposite way and said a plane had hit one of the twin towers in New York. We didn’t know exactly what that meant or what was happening. Later, we ran over to breakfast and as we were eating, we started to realize what had really happened that morning. For everyone in the SEAL team and everyone in the country, everything changed that day.
One of the things that comes through really strongly when you’re serving overseas—and it’s true of Iraq, Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and the Horn of Africa, where I went—is you’re struck by the incredible power and capability of young Americans. I had joined when I was 26 and I was older, working with guys who were 19 and 20 years old. To see the kind of endurance, patience, fortitude, and thoughtfulness that they conducted their duties with in places like Iraq, where it’s 107 degrees outside, you’re wearing body armor, and inside Humvees, and then have to step out and, at a moment’s notice, engage a potential terrorist or speak with a family inside a home, was really impressive. The other thing is that people really do look to the United States for leadership. When you go anywhere in the world, almost always the longest line is the line outside the U.S. Embassy with people waiting to get a visa. There’s a profound respect for the idea of what America offers—that anyone can come and find a way to build a life here.
When I came home from duty, I flew back to the States, woke up the next morning, and drove off the base. I remember driving by a Wendy’s drive-thru, and there were all these people sitting in line at the Wendy’s. Forty-eight hours before, I had been in a helicopter that was getting shot at in Iraq. I remember wanting to stop my truck and go out and ask these people if they knew what was happening overseas. People have a tremendous respect for the U.S. military, but they don’t really understand what this generation of soldiers has endured. I also visited some friends at the Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Md., and the most serious injuries I saw weren’t people who had lost their eyes or their legs. The most serious challenge was when people lost their sense of purpose.
The idea behind our organization The Mission Continues is to create a way for veterans to serve in their community, and by doing so, they can rebuild a sense of purpose themselves while at the same time making their community stronger. All of these men and women came back with all of these great skills, talents, and abilities, and they were searching to find a way to build that same sense of accomplishment and purposeful work at home that they had overseas.
This map, created by the Center for Investigative Reporting, displays 58 VA regional offices and the number of backlogged claims by week on a national, regional and local level. This application will update itself every Monday to show each office's change in pending claims.
From Adm. William McRaven to columnist Nicholas Kristof to Bono, WATCH VIDEO of the summit’s must-see moments.
Newsweek & The Daily Beast are thrilled to introduce a thought-leadership initiative that strives to define America's Next Greatest Generation.