Milt Giese still couldn’t talk about it. I worked with him at an asphalt paving company in the summer 1984. One afternoon I asked him about his experiences in the Army at the end of World War II in Europe. He talked for bit, but then stopped when he got to the part of helping recently liberated concentration camp victims. He teared up and was still unable to speak about that experience almost 40 years later. At 21, I only vaguely understood why.
Earlier this year I finished Rick Atkinson’s third book in his liberation trilogy, The Guns At Last Light. It’s a fascinating and sobering account of Europe’s liberation from D-Day to Germany’s surrender in May 1945. I discovered that combat soldiers saw their mission in simple terms: kill as many Germans as possible as soon as possible so they could get home and get on with their lives. As journalist Paul Fussell wrote, “Hardly any boy infantryman started his career as moralist.”
That is until Allied soldiers began finding concentration camps in late April and early May 1945.
The war for them went from being just awful to absolutely horrific. For many, it was also a moment of clarity as to their purpose and reason for their physical and emotional sacrifices. A soldier who helped liberate the concentration camp at Woebblin said this, “I’ve been in the Army for 39 months. I’ve been overseas in combat for 23. I’d gladly go through it all again if I knew that things like this would be stopped.”
I now realize Milt Giese felt the same way. And he, like everyone else who has served or will serve, certainly is no “sucker.”
I’m Andrew Nelson, and that’s my Perspective.