Last month I posted an ironic and funny story of how a teacher I work with told me about her grandfather’s experience in World War I. She had given me a rather large family photo album containing information and pictures pertaining to her grandfather, Captain William Redden, and his time in the army. The irony of the whole situation was that the regiment he served in was identical to the one my friend is writing a book about, and which I just read an excerpt of a few days before. It was just one of those things that get us history buffs excited. Any way, I had to put it on my blog because of how astonished I was, and she thanked me for it and said she would share it with her family members. Sure enough, tonight I received a message posted to the wall of this blog’s Facebook Page, from one of Capt. Reddan’s other granddaughters, Lynn. I thought I would share it with you all here:
Greg, my sister told me about your encounter at school with regard to our grandfather’s experiences in World War One, and I’ve read your blog on my grandfather Captain William J. Reddan, author of “Other Men’s Lives”. We are only here because our grandfather survived the Battle of Bois d’ Ormont—fought on 10/18/1918. He was ordered to take over 200 men into battle and returned with only 13. My father, his youngest son, was born 10 years after he came home from the war. The part you mentioned about his refusing to shake the governor’s hand occurred on page 397 of “Other Men’s Lives” when he saw the sickening “hero’s welcome” and welcoming parade which we still do one hundred years later (for killing people?) and here I quote grandfather after being introduced to the governor of NJ: “The Governor complimented the regiment on its work in France and remarked ‘It was hard going, captain. The enemy put up a strong resistance’.”
Grandfather replied “The enemy in front of us put up a good fight and we knew it, but they were not nearly as dangerous as the enemy in rear of us, in our own organization”. My grandfather gave all he had in World War One (ironically then called the War to End All Wars). And by the time World War Two came around, he saw his oldest son, Bill, then his next oldest, Doug, go off to fight and when his third son, Corr (born with a hearing disorder) was (finally) accepted to go abroad (that’s now three sons fighting “the good fight”), he had a heart attack in July of 1944 and died immediately on the beach of Manasquan. His 4th son, my father, Joseph, would also later serve in that war. There are only a few “Other Men’s Lives” around. Thanks for your blog.
I really appreciate the note, because it kind of brings the story full circle. The relative I know, Kimberly, had told me how the Captain died in the summer of 1944, which actually occurred right after the D-Day Invasion (June 6), which you could say marked the beginning of the long road towards the end of World War II. This was a man who had survived the First World War, and then was able to witness most of the second, even though upon the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, many proclaimed it would be the “War to End All Wars”—no nation on the planet would be foolish enough to wage war again after so many millions had died. Oh, how wrong they were, and how we still have not learned since.
It is also ironic the quote that Lynn posts from the book, in which the Governor told Reddan , “It was hard going”, to which he responds that it was only made that way because of the people in command. This is a stark comparison to a scene in Gods and Generals, at the end of the battle of Fredericksburg during the Civil War, in which countless waves of Union troops were sent in to their deaths, attacking a heavily entrenched Confederate position behind a stone wall. As Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and his 20th Maine regiment are retreating after the battle, with heads hung low, Major General Joseph Hooker rides along side him and says, “We had a hard chance, Colonel. I’m glad to see you out of there.” Chamberlain answers back, looking the general right in the eyes with great bravado, “It was chance, General. Not much intelligent design there…we were handed in piecemeal on toasting forks.” I guess you could say history does repeat itself after all, though in many different forms.