todd depastino

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Memorial Day

Bill Mauldin had long derided as “brass” those like Patton who used their positions of power to aggrandize themselves. Indeed, Mauldin became something of an expert on brass, defining it not as rank or office, “but a state of mind.” “Brass,” he wrote several years after the war, “is an alloy which knows it is not gold, and mistakenly tries to hide this fact by polishing itself to a high shine which removes it even farther from the true mellow, dull twenty-four-carat glow.”

By this definition, Lucian Truscott’s Memorial day performance was pure gold. Before a crowd of army luminaries and VIPs from the States, including several U.S. senaors, General Truscott climbed onto the speaker’s platform and turned his back on the audience; his address, he informed the crowd, was for those lying beneath the endless rows of graves in he sandy soil of the Anzio beachhead. “It was the most moving gesture I ever saw,” said Bill.

The general’s comments were brief and poignant. He apologized to the men arrayed before him for sending them to their deaths. It was his fault, he said, and the fault of all those commanders who order men into battle. He had made mistakes, the general admitted, and those errors had cost lives. He did not expect to be forgiven. Then, as if speaking for Bill, Truscott rejected the usual platitudes about the honor and greatness of dying for one’s country. “Truscott said he would not speak about the glorious dead,” Bill recalled, “because he didn’t see much glory in getting killed in your late teens or early twenties. He promised that in the future if he ran into anybody, especially old men, who thought death in battle was glorious, he would straighten them out. He said he thought it was the least he could do.”

—Todd DePastino, from Bill Mauldin: A Life Up Front