The Element of Surprise
The date was January 22, 1944, the day the U.S. Fifth Army successfully conducted an amphibious landing on the beach at Anzio, Italy, the beginning of Operation Shingle. The success of the Operation depended entirely on the element of surprise. The goal was to quickly land on that beach and then push inland, towards Rome, before the Germans were aware of the invasion.
And the landing was a success, the German command caught completely off-guard, and the push inland would have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest expectations, if it were not for a commanding General who was not terribly confident in the plan and decided to delay the advancement until he was sure he had every advantage possible.
That delay gave the Germans times to mount a defense, in the hills above that beach, and the weeks that followed were absolute hell for the Americans as mortars rained down upon them, their positions visible to the German gunners, and really the only escape route consisting of swimming back from where they came.
My father was a member of that Fifth Army, trapped on that beach. He was witness to the ramifications which can arise from delay. He was witness to bodies blown apart, to children losing their fathers, to futures forever altered, and when I asked him about it once, when I asked him how he somehow managed to remain sane and concentrate on his job, as a soldier, without losing his mind, he simply told me “Bill, you never give up ground won, and you never let the bastards know you’re afraid. We had won that beach, fair and square, and there was no way we were giving it back to the Germans.”
I don’t think, for a second, that my dad’s personal credo of not giving up ground won began during World War 2. My dad was a brawler, make no mistake about it. He stood about five-six, weighed, in shape, about one-eighty, barrel-chested, strong forearms, a formidable foe to face, and during his early years he had been shaped by fighting for ground against two older brothers, fighting for ground during the Great Depression, and fighting for ground against the bigots of the world who thought the Irish were just a little less than.
To put it simply, he had a chip on his shoulder the size of a first-growth Redwood. He treated people with respect as long as he received the same. Heaven help the poor fool who treated my father with something less than respect. Dad’s response to disrespect was swift and forceful, and he would not take a step back in any confrontation.
Heaven Help His Son
I was a runt growing up. I didn’t think I would ever make it to five feet in height. When I was in elementary school I was the smallest in my class. When I entered high school I believe I was five-two and weighed a whopping one-ten.
I was fodder for bullies, and if you think bullying is nasty in today’s world, you should have grown up during the 50’s. My childhood was a classic example of Darwinism.
Now, for a moment, consider what I just told you. I was a runt, I was bullied, and I had a father who lived according to the credo that you never give up ground, you stand your ground, and you demand respect!
I have no idea how many fights I was in before I reached my teen years. There were weeks, and I’m being quite literal now, when I would be in a fight every single day, and I lost a vast majority of those fights. I would come home, bruised, cut lip, scratches, scrapes, and Mom would be there, bandages in hand, to patch me up, only to have the same scene play out again the next day, and the next, and the next.
Never give up ground won! Never back down from a fight! Never let the bastards see your fear!
There were no parent/teacher conferences back then, not for something like schoolyard fights. There were no counseling sessions. You learned to handle the situation, period, end of story, because to run from a fight, well, that just wasn’t an option, not with my father, Mr. Anzio-ducking mortars-blood-and-guts-Holland.
I wasn’t the only runt in our school. There were several of us, each “victims” of bullying, quiet kids, small kids, and we learned a valuable lesson about comradeship. I’m not sure when we had a sit-down discussion about the bullying. I’m not sure who had the genius idea of “power in numbers,” but it eventually dawned on us to stick close together, and when a threat appeared, to show power in numbers. When one of us was threatened by a bully, we would all close ranks around our comrade, and inform the bully that he was going to fight four of us, not one of us. It took about two such fights, both won by our group, for the bullying to end.
Mess with one of us, you mess with all of us, and I’ll be damned, it worked! Thank you to the Three Musketeers for the inspiration.
Mom stopped buying bandages!
By the time I arrived at high school, the bullying had ended. I was still small for my age, but I was also damned good at baseball, and in high school, athletes are somewhat untouchable. Anyone stupid enough to mess with an athlete in high school would soon find himself stuffed in a gym locker, or given a “swirly” in the toilet.
I had arrived at Heaven on Earth!
Some Lessons Never Go Away
I think of those days often. I compare them to today’s world, and the bullying I see, in-person and on the internet, and the counseling and more counseling and more counseling, and the therapy and more therapy and more therapy, and kids driven to suicide over it all, and it puts me in a reflective mood. No, I don’t have any solutions in mind. No, I don’t have any grand statement of truth which will make bullying to away. I’m not even claiming that how we handled, during the 50’s, was the best way of handling it.
I’m just being reflective.
The only thing I know, culled from my early, informative days, is you never give up ground won, and you never allow someone to treat you with disrespect. I believe those words are as valid today as they were sixty years ago. I am a human being. I treat others with respect, and I expect others to do the same with me. If they don’t, there will be a discussion about it.
God, Dad Was a Hardass!
I loved the man dearly. He was probably the greatest influence on my entire life.
But he could be a hardass!
It seemed, at times, impossible to live up to the standards he had set and yet, impossible or not, I have tried all of my life to do just that.
It seems, to me, that living by high standards is not easy. It seems, to me, that living by a code is one hell of a lot harder than living without one. It is much easier to take the path of least resistance. It is much easier to turn our heads and to ignore injustices.
But it is also beneath us, as caring human beings, to do so.
2021 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)