This gravesite is one out of nine thousand three hundred and eighty-five in the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, one of the resting places for American Troops that died in Europe during WWII. It’s a sobering number. Instead of mourning their death, lets us rejoice that they lived.
Deborah Sampson. I take the word men to mean all mankind. She cut off her hair, bound her breast, and enlisted in the American Revolutionary War. She was born on December 17, 1760, in Plympton, Massachusetts (Go SOXs!), and at the age of ten, was sent away to be an indentured servant to a family within Massachusetts. For those new to the term, it means you are a slave (work but no pay) but for a set time limit (usually 7 to 10 years). In April of 1781, she disguised and enlisted in Captain Webb’s company in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, under the alias Robert Shurtliff. She was wounded twice during her Army career, the first was a shot in the thigh, and she removed the bullet herself. She dug the bullet out of her own thigh without medical help because she feared discovery by seeing a doctor. The second wound was a bullet to the shoulder that resulted in a fever (I’m guessing due to infection), hospitalization, and discovery. Rather than disgrace or jail time, she was honorable discharge in October of 1783 and went home.
Jimmie W. Monteith. Born July 1, 1917 (so close to July 4th) and raised in Virginia, and like so many of us, when to high school (played sports), college, and then an average 9-5 job. He was there in France on D-Day, stormed the beaches like a Bass Ass, walked into a mind field, and guided US Tanks into firing positions. He keeps going out in the open to secure the lines; I don’t know what his last words were, but the phrase You and What Army come to mind. Lt. Monteith was awarded the Medal of Honor and rest with his brothers in arms at Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
John Steele. Born in the City of Metropolis (are we sure this guy isn’t superman?) in Illinois, he is the unstoppable paratrooper. He enlisted and joined 82nd Airborne Division, where he broke his leg during the Sicily drop; he fixed it with duck tape (not really, please don’t try to “fix” a broken leg with tap) and hopped back into Italy campaign taking names from Salerno to Naples. Then it off to England to prepare for D-Day; he and thousands more parachuted into Sainte-Mere-Eglise behind enemy lines before the ships landed on the beaches. On his way down, he was hit in his foot, and his parachute was caught on the steeple of the Church. He hangs there for hours trying to get loose before some Germans came to investigate, to see if he was really dead. He was captured and three days later busted out and made it back to the Allies side and another trip to the hospital. His tale doesn’t end there; he parachutes into Holland and is in the Battle of the Bulge. He made it to the age of 57 before cancer took him, but you can still see him on the Church roof in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, on the ready line.
Havildar Lachhiman Gurung. Four feet of fury. He was born in Nepal but at 4 feet and 11 inches (1.5M), was too short to be a stormtrooper, or enlisted in the British Indian Army during peacetime. This seems odd because when it really matters, you let him in, but it’s a no when nothing is going on? In December of 1940, he enlisted in the 4th Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles on the 13th of May 1945 when it hits the fan. He was operating the forward post (person in most danger) when an estimated 200 Japanese soldiers attacked; spoiler alert, it didn’t end well for them. Three grenades landed in his trench; he returned two, but the third went off in his hand. He shrugs, grabs his rifle in the left hand, and holds off the enemy for four hours. That’s not a typo; his hand is gone, and the right side of his body, including his eye, is badly injured, but he stands tall and holds them off while yelling, “Come and fight a Gurkha!”. After the war, he returned home to his farm and fought like a Gurkha until the age of 92. I didn’t see any mention of it, but I’m pretty sure he and Daniel Inouye are brothers from another mother.
Whose life will you celebrate today? How about all those in the medical field thought out history that has fought to keep us alive. Mary Seacole, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, Percy Lavon Julian, Desmond Doss, Mary Edwards Walker.
Given the COVID-19 era we are living in, it might be worth looking up Ignaz Semmelweis. This is a sad tale; Ignaz figured out that washing your hand would decrease the mortality known in the 1840s. He couldn’t explain in detail why because germ theory wasn’t widely studied, understood, or accepted until decades later. Ignaz died young, at the age of 47, in an Insane Asylum. It’s unknown what illness he had, given medical records and knowledge of the time, but the knowledge that washing hands and equipment could save lives but was ignored must have factored into his health. He was a real-life Cassandra, cursed to know the truth but never be believed.