The greatest generation is slowly fading away. The VA says that 520,000 survive from the original 16.1 million who served in the armed forces during WWII. I am nostalgic for the departed heroes who fought in the war and have told stories about them.
Now I want to commemorate another who still remains very much with us, his voice clear and resolute. This is Bill Hochman, professor emeritus of history at Colorado College.
When I was a student at Colorado College, the anti-war movement with its repudiation of Vietnam was powerful. As a Vietnam veteran, this created problems for me. I looked for solace in my classes. I came to know Bill at CC through the Freedom and Authority Seminar, which he organized and taught for many years.
Freedom and authority are seen as incompatible by many. You can't be free if you are under authority. But there must be some authority if society is to function. In Bill's seminar, we discussed how to reconcile the two. There were many opinions, of course, but my conclusion was that in a diverse society there are many groups, which are forms of community.
Each community has its set of rules for members to follow. This constitutes authority. We belong to many "communities" and are therefore subject to authority. But authority confers freedom because we choose to associate freely with others, or not to associate. We join groups which we think will respect our freedom, defined as furthering both societal and personal goals. We look for a guarantee of freedom within the bounds of authority because we trust that others in our groups will respect our individual autonomy. This respect for freedom is the source of authority.
It's been a long time, but I'm still hoping that Bill will give me an A for the course. Be that as it may, WWII veterans like my father, my uncle, like Bill Hochman, for me are lessons in freedom and authority. The Second World War destroyed fascism, an evil distortion of authority, and clearly preserved our freedom, a truth which I have always envied. We did our duty in Vietnam, but I am eternally conscious that my war neither destroyed communism, another distortion of authority, nor preserved freedom. We lost the war, and our tragedy is that you can't come home from the war unless you win it.
In hindsight, I feel that my generation did not grasp the balance between freedom and authority and that this is the reason we did not bring Vietnam to a decisive end.
But let me not lay blame. The times changed. Our era was more nebulous, more ambivalent about many things. Not so with the WWII generation. They freely responded to the challenge and unmistakably embodied the quality of freedom under the authority of democracy, resulting in victory in war and a world cleansed of evil.
Bill was a lieutenant in the Navy during the war. His ship, LST 376 (Landing Ship Tank) took part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942, Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, in July 1943, and in September 1943, Operation Avalanche, the invasion of Italy. During these landings, LST 376 was subjected to heavy Axis air raids and other attacks. Bill and the other sailors endured it all. Soon after, the ship was ordered to England in preparation for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion.
On June 9, 1944, LST 376 was ferrying troops, weapons, vehicles and supplies from southern England to the Normandy beachheads. That night, a German E-boat, a light craft armed with torpedoes, attacked the LST and put a torpedo into her. She sank quickly and 44 men went down with the ship. Bill managed to put on a life jacket and jump overboard.
A British destroyer rescued the shipwrecked survivors from the cold waters of the English Channel. A British officer, Colin McMillan, reached over the side of a lifeboat and pulled Bill out of the water. Bill never forgot that man, and in 1989 traveled to London and met him again. This meeting, full of the emotion that old warriors feel for comrades, resulted in a lifelong friendship and the creation of a documentary film, "Remembering Normandy," which Bill made in memory of his shipmates who perished in the sinking of LST 376.
On 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, at the Mount Carmel Veterans' Service Center, 530 Communication Way, Bill Hochman will present the documentary and give a talk on his experiences during the war. The public is invited.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.