Tags: Sense | Awe | for | the | Sacrifice | Made'

'A Sense of Awe for the Sacrifice He Made'

Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM

In a feminine world, mothers would be in charge, and I imagined it a world with less strife, little suffering and, of course, no wars. Words would settle disputes, a kiss on a skinned knee could magically stop pain, and the Golden Rule would keep everyone in line. These two worlds would be diametrically opposed to one another as different as men are from women.

I never imagined that within the short span of my life I would get that chance to see and compare those two worlds side by side. However, I did, and to my surprise, it was not the feminine rule that provided the safest world.

It was the cultural revolution that made this close-up examination of two distinctively different worlds possible. Not on a grand scale, but on a narrow arena of life that set those two worlds in such close proximity that you could touch both with one sweep of your hand.

Like two parallel universes existing within the brief span of two generations, these diametrically opposed universes are showcased by two wars: the masculine world in which we fought World War II and the feminine world in which we tried to fight the Vietnam War.

I acknowledge that there are many differences between the two wars. It is the political and social climate in which those wars were wages that provide the area of comparison. Also, new information has recently come to light indicating the American public had less truth regarding the Vietnam War then and now, making it increasingly difficult to dismiss the seriousness of the threat of any communist regime.

When we fought World War II our country was solidly behind the war effort. Media reports overwhelmingly supported the war. The goal was to win the war, defeat the enemy and welcome home our solders. This was the singular message, and the entire nation fell in line behind these ideals. The importance of the individual was lost to the importance of the overall mission. The whole nation, men, women and children, fought like men.

During the cultural revolution of the 1960s there were sweeping social and ideological changes to many aspects of American life. The military and other American institutions became targets of the demonstrators. The military became an object of scorn and derision. Leaders who emerged from that generation held onto their adolescent loathing of the military. Any action taken by the military was immediately suspect and criticized.

The media did a total surrender to the cultural and social pressures of the revolution and completely cocooned itself in the feminine ideology. The media think with their feelings and then simply fail to think.

News coverage of the war many times centered on the plight of the individual soldier, told by sensitive journalists whose primary view on the world and war was how it was affecting them on a personal level. This makes for compelling television, maybe a few times, but, quite frankly, even from the perspective of a total military neophyte, it is no way to fight and win a war.

However unfair, this popular form of journalism continues today. Its reverberations still spill over to imprison spineless politicians and prevent them from performing their constitutional duties.

I wonder how successful would America have been in WWII if she had to fight the war on three fronts: European, Pacific and American media? What if journalists in WWII used the individual stories of American service men and women as propaganda pieces to advance their own anti-war sentiments?

Take any of the stories behind any of the lives given fighting WWII and you could have real compelling drama against war. Would it have weakened the public’s resolve to continue the necessary level of casualties until final victory? My own uncle’s story contained such pathos, modern-day journalists would have loved to have told the story ....

My uncle, Stephen Gogolya, was the only son of my maternal grandparents, John and Mary, and he and my mother were the first in the family to speak English. My mother, who was two years younger, accompanied him to first grade, where they learned English.

Sixteen years later, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, my uncle enlisted in the Air Force. My grandparents, who still spoke mainly Hungarian, were horrified that their son, whom they hoped would be their strength and joy in their old age, would willingly enter the war.

It is difficult for me to assess his motivation, never having known him and possessing only a handful of his letters; however, I suspect he was caught up in the emotions of the time. I know he was decent and fair minded, so he was probably angered by the attack on the U.S. base in Hawaii. He wanted to serve in the Air Force, because he wanted more than anything to fly. On one level he may have viewed this war as an opportunity to see and travel the world and escape from the long, difficult hours spent working in a Pittsburgh steel mill.

My uncle was in the war more than two years. He had just been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross two weeks before that fateful day in March 1943. He was a staff sergeant and the top-turret gunner in a plane called the "Southern Comfort.” According to the newspaper accounts the 10- man crew had to bail out of their plane after being hit in a German bombing expedition. Shifting wind currents moved his parachute, and he was dashed to his death on the rocky coast of England. All other members of his crew survived the bailout.

Few mementos from his life remain aside from all the wonderful pictures. We have the telegram from the Secretary of War expressing his deep regret that "your son Staff Sereant Stephen L. Gogolya was killed in action in defense of his country in European area March 31.” We have a letter from one of his crewman friends assuring us he had a Catholic service, which the entire crew attended, and that my uncle's last pay of 36 pounds, 6 shillings and 5 pence, about $146.40, would arrive home within 60 to 90 days. These items are kept not out of habit or obligation, but they are held in a sense of awe for the sacrifice he made.

I celebrate the life my uncle gave to his country. I think what he did and every young man and women who died in defense of this country in any war, from the Revolutionary War to the Gulf War, is wonderful. And this cannot be said enough times. They are heroes in every sense of the word.

No single life, in war, is greater that the common goal of maintaining freedom for the masses. Those lives still remain precious to the individual families, but should never be used to pull the country off course when the goal is to maintain the freedom for all.

Thoreau writes that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. And we do. We carve out little lives for ourselves, and we hope that the choices we make for our lives provide us with some measure of fulfillment.

We pretend to ignore the inevitable. But the majority of us, after living our lives of quiet desperation, will have died quiet deaths of meaningless exchange. Occasionally fate calls a few special souls whose young lives will be offered up in exchange for the noble cause of freedom, and they will remain forever young and courageous.

No one dying on a battlefield ever died an empty death. The universe holds those sacred sacrifices and throws them back into the sea of humanity, whose cords reverberate back through the ethereal time and resurface time and again in places such as Tiananmen Square, or in a raft 90 miles from the coast of Miami, or in Lech Walesa’s Poland. It is why the desire for freedom never leaves our earthly realm, is the natural yearning of the human spirit to breath free.

Caption to the photo on the home page: The crew of the Southern Comfort, January 1943. Left to right: Capt. High Ashcraft, pilot; Lt. James M. Moberly, navigator; S/Sgt. Frank M. Corser, waist gunner; S/Sgt. Ray Armstrong, ball turret gunner; S/Sgt. Frank Hilsabeck, tail gunner; T/Sgt. James Patterson, flight engineer; T/Sgt. Douglas Glover, radio operator and gunner; S/Sgt. Stephen Gogolya, top-turret gunner (also pictured above); Lt. Bert M. Wells, bombardier; Lt. William J. Lakey, co-pilot.

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In afeminine world, mothers would be in charge, and I imagined it a world with less strife, little suffering and, of course, no wars. Words would settle disputes, a kiss on a skinned knee could magically stop pain, and the Golden Rule would keep everyone in...
Friday, 25 May 2001 12:00 AM
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