My grandfather served in World War II. He happened to be staying with us when 'Saving Private Ryan' released. Advertisements were all over the television. One day he simply turned the channel and said, "I don't want to see that." I asked him about his time in the service, and this was the quote he gave me: "Our first day in Europe, they sent us out to patrol a forest. We were all so scared, I'm surprised we didn't shoot each other."That was the all he was willing to say.
I remember watching Happy Days as a kid and thinking the 1950's were eons in the past. In truth, at the time, the 50's were a mere two decades old. Ya' know, like 1996 was two decades ago. When my son was doing a project on the Civil Rights Movement, he interviewed my father-in-law. My husband's father was born and raised in the South during the grim heyday of Jim Crow laws.
As someone who writes about the American West, I'm always aware of how little stands between us and history. See that odd little white hill below? That's Old Baldy. Lewis and Clark wrote about Old Baldy. They even captured a prairie dog for President Jefferson near that bald pate. I've walked all over and around that hill. I've probably even walked in their steps. The view sure hasn't changed much.
I'm also aware that history isn't as straightforward as we'd all like to think. Back in the olden days, the 1970's, a time as foreign to my children as the Revolutionary War, we had one TV. And dad controlled that TV. Which meant I watched a whole lot of westerns. You know the ones - where the cowboys are the good guys and the American Indians are often the villains. Sigh. And the American Indians are usually played by other nationalities. Double sigh.
Joseph Medicine Crow passed away this week. He was 102 year old, and the last living link to the Battle of Little Bighorn, otherwise known as Custer's last stand. He heard testimony from someone who took part in the battle, and chronicled the account for history. Joseph Medicine Crow was the last war chief of the Crow Tribe of Montana.
From NPR's article by Merrit Kennedy: Medicine Crow earned the title war chief "for his deeds in Europe in World War II, which included stealing enemy horses and showing mercy on a German soldier he could have killed," Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports.
The next time someone asks you, "If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead..." I urge you to chose 'living'. History is all around us. We simply have to ask.
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