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WW II loss evokes grief and spirituality today

February 28, 2014

Concerning my uncle Bud:  yesterday when I encountered someone with a birthday in 1923 I felt intense sorrow and loss.  Bud was born Sept. 15, 1923.  Bud (Carl R. Bonde Jr.) died in 1944 on the SS Leopoldville near Cherbourg, France.  He might just as well have survived and I might just as well have gotten to know him.  We might have gone deer hunting near his home in Kalispell, Montana.  He loved to play chess.  So do I, with my grandson.  If Bud had taught me I might be able to beat my grandson today at chess.  I went hunting last fall but I didn’t get a good shot.  Might have been different if Bud had helped to raise me.

As a child my mother taught me at bedtime to say my prayers including praying for dead people like my dad and my uncle Carl.  I puzzled about this because they were gone, weren’t they?  Why pray for them?  Mother said yes they were dead but their spirit was still with us.  Yeah, I thought.  Spirit.  That’s the spirit.  I found that easy to believe.  Mother was well educated, intelligent, honest.  My dad died of cancer in 1953 so I had memories of him.  I never met my uncle Carl, or Buddy, but I grew up with the things a young man left behind.  You know, Boy Scout stuff.  Shotgun shell collection.  I believed the stuff about their spirit.  I still do.  On the other hand I find it easy to believe that inanimate things have spirits too.  I’d like to tell more about that some other time.

Carl’s army buddies in the 66th Army Infantry Panther Division who survived that Christmas Eve torpedo spent the last 4 months of World War II in the relative safety of emplacements in France in Saint-Nazaire and L’Orient guarding the Nazi submarine bases.  The bases proved to be impenetrable pockets that remained after the rest of the Nazis had been pushed out of France following D-Day.  After a couple tries to break into the massive 10-meter thick concrete bunkers the allies decided it was more strategic to keep the enemy contained.  A coalition of British, French and the US did just that. 

One of the Panther soldiers told me that they didn’t fire their weapons at the Germans in the submarine bunkers.  Wouldn’t help anything and it would expose them to enemy fire because they’d give away their position, he said.  The Germans had 88’s.  They didn’t have to hit you to kill you.  They just needed to come close.  

Wally Merza, the veteran who told me about the 88s, did not seem like one traumatized by war.  He had good memories of supervising German prisoners of war.  Wally and his buddies fed the Germans after VE day.  Or, rather,  the Germans fed each other and Wally and his fellow soldiers watched them.  Wally said that once a POW ran up to him to give him his rifle.  The POW urged Wally to take it because the POW was afraid he would get into trouble.  Wally or the POW? I wondered.  Probably either or both. 

About then when Wally was telling me about the POWs, he looked around at his 80+year-old veteran friends and asked, “Did any of you guys go to Arles?  Man!  I really liked Arles.”

Before that when I visited Panther veteran Bill Moomey he said he believed my uncle and the 762 others who died from the 66th Army Infantry Division that night saved him and the rest from being sent to the Ardennes Forest to counter Hitler’s military strikes.  The 92nd Infantry was sent instead to the Battle of the Bulge and many died.  Bill cried during the visit when I met him.  He said he felt strongly that God had saved his life and expressed grief that he survived. My uncle Bud had just turned 21 when he died.  


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