Varicose veins kept my father out of the US Navy, and for most of his life he would have denied serving in the military at all. Eventually, however, the government decided otherwise, which is why today his grave with that of my dear stepmother can be found in Saratoga (NY) National Cemetery. He was never in combat, and would have thought it preposterous to brag about his role in the war, well aware as everyone was of the sacrifice borne by so many. He hadn't met his first wife yet, and never saw her brother, my 19-year-old uncle Joe Gaffney, who was killed fighting with Third Army in the Ardennes.
My father just went to work for Pan American World Airways, staying with them for the rest of his career until, as the company was spiraling into dissolution, it laid him off in the early 1980s. In World War II, as the government eventually decided, that meant he was attached to
Air Transport Command of the United States Army Air Force. He served on military transport planes (Douglas C-54s, I believe) with regular routes from Newfoundland or Bermuda through a base in the Azores to Casablanca, North Africa.
He must have heard have heard the joke about another mid-Atlantic base,
"If I don't hit Ascension,
My wife will get a pension."
He was the navigator, and 22 years old.
We walked around the cemetery a little, the wife leaving lilacs for some of those lost in our 21st century wars, and at the marker of an unknown New York soldier who was killed in 1862 at the Battle of Antietam.
From there we went to my sister-in-law Ruth Ann's grave at Greenridge Cemetery in Saratoga Springs, where also can be found Civil War soldiers.
That grand monument is all very well, but some of the graves tell a grim story. This lieutenant, for example, was killed at Fort Stedman (or Steadman, as the tombstone spells it) on March 25, 1865, defending against Robert E. Lee's last offensive. The war almost over, yet he had to die.
This soldier died in 1862 at Camp Griffin, Va., probably from disease.
On today's date in 1863, the first of two unsuccessful assaults was made against the Confederate fortress of Port Hudson in Louisiana on the Mississippi River. The Union commander was Nathaniel Banks, who had succeeded Benjamin Butler. Both were political generals who never learned military competence and were retained too long. According to Wikipedia, the Union had casualties of about 5,000 killed or wounded during the one-and-a-half-month siege, but another 5,000 men died of disease. The deaths of most Civil War soldiers came from disease, not combat.
Grant was taking unnecessary casualties about the same time as Banks, directing unsuccessful assaults on Vicksburg, up the river; and Rear Admiral David Farragut lost ships and men running by Port Hudson in March. But Grant and Farragut could fight their way through to victory, whereas Banks and Butler generally produced defeat. Yet Port Hudson did fall, eventually.
One of Banks' subordinate generals, Thomas Sherman, lost a leg in the May 27 attack there. By his side was Captain Adam Badeau, who was shot in the foot. A writer before and after the war, who also became an undiplomatic diplomat, Badeau spent his military career as a staff officer. Twenty-two years later, he would play a key but unheroic role in The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant.