The Eight Toughest Soldiers Texas Ever Produced (Featuring Heroism, Betrayal & Many Dead Bodies)
Our war heroes are presented to us in different varieties. There are those we create for ourselves, in the mold of what we think a hero should be: David Crockett (nobody but Walt Disney called him Davy), astride the ramparts at the Alamo going to a hero's death while clubbing those craven Mexican soldiers with the butt of his rifle. All crap, but cut from the finest Texas crap.
Audie Murphy, starring in the story of his own life.
Then there are the Walmart brand-name of heroes, those created by our own government, purely for propaganda. Think of the crew of The Memphis Belle. No doubting their bravery, but the government cooked their accomplishments because they needed heroes at that stage of the WW II bombing campaign, which wasn't going well at all.
The same was done -- in an infinitely more cynical way -- to poor Jessica Lynch in Iraq. There she was turned into a hideous cartoon character to which she bore no resemblance, quite literally wrapped in a flag after being shot up with tranquilizers. Thankfully, and to the shame of all of us, little Jessica quickly set about calling the Bush administration the liars they were, and the rest of us the willing stooges we were.
Finally, there are the personal heroes each of us carry around. An athlete here, a rock star there, and the soldiers with whom we are concerned here. People trained to do one thing, which is to kill other people. Take George Washington. Spent more years of his life killing people -- mostly by proxy, since he was a field-grade officer and aristocrat -- than he did fathering our country.
Of course, the worshippers of war heroes overwhelmingly are men. Sadly, we males measure our manhood, futilely, against the heroic shvantzes of our idols. So I submit my list of men to whom I am inferior in every way, but especially when it comes to the ability to kill other human beings.
Hence, being of good Texan stock on both sides, this makes me an impotent sack of useless guts, which have nothing to do with Guts. But I have my heroes, and here's my list of the best eight Texans who ever went off to war. And just for the record, since we're all men here (Of course we are -- women tend not to pick professional killers for their moral paradigms), my killers can and did kill more than yours, unless you're an illiterate, tattooed prison-Nazi.
So, defectively personal as it is, and as Veterans Day draws nigh, I present these eight sons of Texas without reservation:
8. 36th Infantry "Texas" Division: Machine-Gun Fodder, WW II
The Wehrmacht, on its way to slaughter the 36th Infantry Division at Cassino
Every swingin' dick a hero -- Right here the off-the-shelf, alt-media smugness machinery breaks down. We have nothing glib to say about this gallant but cynically squandered outfit.
The famous 36th Division was, at the outbreak of WW II, a Texas National Guard unit, and had been formed and fought during WW I. They were called up just before WW II. In 1943, as part of Gen. Mark Clark's Fifth Army, they came ashore at the beginning of the Italian campaign and fought their way from Sicily up the Italian peninsula. At Cassino, facing the Rapido River, the 36th was brought to a quick and bloody halt by the well dug-in Germans.
Facing impossible Nazi defenses on the other side, the Texans were ordered to cross the river anyway. Despite unimaginable losses, they were ordered to cross again and again. They were cut down like sandcastles under the feet of bullies. Whole companies of men who had survived battle after battle were wiped out in minutes. And still they crossed, knowing they hadn't a chance of surviving. In some cases, casualties at the battalion and regimental levels approached 50 percent.
After Cassino, the 36th Division regrouped and continued to fight in most major engagements all the way to the end of the war. By the time their war was over, men of the 36th had been awarded 14 Medals of Honor, and doubtless had earned a hundred more. Captured German generals interrogated after the war were routinely asked to name their toughest and meanest opponents. The 36th, or its constituent elements, inevitably wound up on these lists.
Fifty years later, I attended a convention of 36th Division veterans at the old Shamrock Hilton in Houston. The group included many survivors of the Rapido River crossings. The bitterness of these old guys against their commanders had not waned one bit. Most blamed the notoriously arrogant Clark, who was infamous for squandering the lives of his grunts. Some even considered him a war criminal. All infantry troops complain about their officers, but saying that about your division commander, well, that there's just pure hatred.