I spent most of last week re-reading Winston Groom’s World War I nonfiction book, “A Storm in Flanders.”

When it came to writing history, especially about wars our country fought, Groom stood almost alone. His consuming page-turners left thousands of loyal fans enthralled and awaiting his next work. 

Groom was taken from us at the young age of 77 in 2020 in his Gulf Coast city of Fairhope. I remember when I got the news. I did not want to believe the famous Alabama writer was gone.

Groom was excellent at novel writing, too — “Forrest Gump” is the best example — but it may be his historical narratives of our nation’s wars and wartime leaders that will be his lasting legacy and his major contribution to literature and military history. 

Groom’s first outing as a historian was “Shrouds of Glory,” his Civil War narrative of the battles from Atlanta to Nashville, which was the Confederates’ last campaign of the Civil War.

Both books won praise from literary and military reviewers for Groom’s meticulous details woven into the fabric of his great penmanship.

Groom achieved fame in middle-age for his best-selling book on Gump. The novel was a hilarious sendup of a dim-witted South Alabamian who played football for the University of Alabama and became a Vietnam War hero. 

Groom’s historical narrative of the first big battle of World War I places us deep into the muddy trenches of Flanders, Belgium. There, amid the flooded foxholes and ripped-apart landscape, Groom gave us a close-up look at life and death in the muck and rain common to the Ypres salient, or bow.

If you recall, this was the battle where the German army introduced deadly mustard gas to the art of war. We also see for the first time submachine guns and flame-throwers, weapons of horror used to shatter the mental stability of the allied British forces. 

Yankee Civil War Gen. William T. Sherman was right: “War is hell.” Groom describes the hell-like experience of frontal assaults, cannon fire and hand-to-hand combat between British and French fighters. His sentences sting and startle. Brave soldiers become meat tossed to the enemy lions. 

War was no longer a noble cause, Groom wrote. It had turned into a daily horror show, where the bravest of men broke down crying or screaming out of their minds. 

The war gave birth to the term “shell-shocked” to describe soldiers bombarded day and night by cannon, grenades and explosives.

Reading Groom’s book got me into the right frame of mind for this year’s Veterans Day, which is Thursday, Nov. 11 — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

Historically, the triple numbers represent the exact time the guns of World War I fell silent in 1918. Thank God the bloody nightmare finally came to a close, with an entire generation of men either dead or damaged for life from the conflict. 

The first November day of remembrance came in 1926, eight years after the war’s end. Congress passed a resolution asking all Americans to observe Nov. 11 as a special day to salute those who fought in the “war to end all wars.”

Congress did not know then that America would fight in a second world war, almost as horrible as the first. Or that Americans would fight wars in unfamiliar places like the Philippine Islands, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The most destructive wars in history have been fought in the 20th century. As the number of military veterans increased from those wars, Veterans Day gained momentum. 

Today, it is one of America’s most significant days of remembrance. But following the unpopular Vietnam War, the day kind of felt out of favor, took a back seat, so to speak. The Gulf and Middle East conflicts helped spur renewed interest, leading to a big comeback for Veterans Day.

Veterans Day is now regarded as one of America’s proudest days. Cities and communities across America, including Auburn, find significant ways to express gratitude to all our military veterans. 

People everywhere step up to give our veterans a deserved pat on the back. The special day allows us the chance to show our vets the respect they’ve earned.

Find the time to thank someone who served our nation in the military. It may be your mom or dad, aunt or uncle, cousin or a friend, even a stranger. Tell them how much you appreciate their sacrifice.

In the grand scheme of things, our veterans are very important. So is the special day we set aside to honor them for their service.

 

 

Ralph W. Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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