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Last Night At the American Spirit Awards

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I have a few short stories for this post.

It’s pretty easy to get moved by important people.  Last night I had the good fortune to speak to former Senator Joe Lieberman. I needed to thank him.  In 2008 after he gave a speech supporting McCain at the Republican Convention, I wound up in his hotel room with a couple of friends and the Senator.  My oldest daughter was with me.  Senator Lindsay Graham came up as well.  Joe’s son Matt was there and his chief of staff.  In this heady moment, Joe left with my daughter and spent thirty minutes talking to her about her future college career.  She was starting the application process.

He certainly didn’t have to do that.  But, that is the kind of guy he is and it was on full display last night at the museum when he and former Vice President Dick Cheney talked about America’s role in the world.  Both men said that everyone in Congress ought to come and visit the museum.  Perhaps our tones would change.  Disagreement is part of American culture.  Finding ways to compromise is part of our rich history as well.

Both statesmen are very concerned about how Americans cannot talk to each other anymore.  Both do not think we could enter a war like WW2 today and win.  That’s pretty sad because if we hadn’t entered that war, or God forbid had lost, the world would look extremely different today and our leading our lives in freedom would be a lot different as well.

I chatted briefly with a pilot who used to toss candy out to children waiting for him at the end of the runway during the Berlin Airlift.  He literally started the American soldier tradition of trying to build bridges with children while on the battlefield.  I thanked a Tuskegee Airman because my friend Yra Harris father was a navigator in WW2.  The Tuskegee Airman were some of the fighter pilots that helped keep them safe.  Read about the raid on the Ploesti oil field raids in 1943 and you might understand why.  I met the General who is in charge of the Medal of Honor Foundation.   By the way, they are in Chicago June 7 for an event at the Union League Club.  If you can go, go.

You have to thank people when you can because you might not get another opportunity.

The story that really tugged at me was Marthe Cohn.  I had never heard it before and if you haven’t you will now.  She’s 98 years old today.  Back in WW2 she was 19.   She was born in Metz, Germany but her family moved to France.  Metz is where my grandfather’s family emigrated to the US from, so that was of personal interest to me.  She is a slight woman.  I don’t know if she is over 4 feet tall!

She became a member of the intelligence service of the French First Army during World War II and was able to retrieve inside information about Nazi troop movements by slipping behind enemy lines. Before Cohn became a spy, she was a devoutly religious French Jewish girl living just across the German border. Her family sheltered Jews fleeing the Nazis, including Jewish children sent away by their terrified parents.   For months, her family lived under blankets in the trunk of a car to avoid being found by Nazi’s.

Her life took an extraordinary turn when the Nazis invaded France in 1939. After graduating from nursing school she joined the French Resistance and—because of her perfect German accent and Aryan appearance—was recruited to be a spy. Carrying forged identification papers, she infiltrated German territory in the guise of a German nurse desperately searching for a fictional fiancé (her real-life fiancé had been executed by the Nazis).   Her sister died at Auschwitz.

Throughout the following year, she mingled freely with Nazi troops, on many occasions caring for injured Nazi soldiers to maintain her cover. She gathered invaluable information on troop positions which she secretly relayed to Allied commanders. Her intelligence gathering was instrumental in allowing the Allies to break through the Siegfried Line and enter German territory in 1945, leading to the end of the war.  If you ask her today she can tell you the exact positions of the Nazi’s today.

I cannot imagine the amount of fear that crept through her body as she approached enemy troops to chat them up.  She couldn’t write anything down for fear that if someone saw, she’d be executed on the spot.  She didn’t do it once, she did it several times.  Then she had to get the information out, and go back and do it again.  I was awestruck.  How many Allied lives did she save?  Incalculable.

For years, she never talked about it.  Her children nor her grandchildren even knew.  She has written a book about her story and it’s linked here. Watch the first few minutes of this video and you can hear her tell it in her own words.

When people say “freedom isn’t free” they mean it.  People like to thank soldiers for their service, but really we should be thanking them for their sacrifice.  A lot of them don’t return.  They sacrifice their lives so we can enjoy the life we live.  We are 75 years away from D-Day.  We are 76 from the end of WW2. America is forgetting.  They aren’t even being taught the lessons from the war and it is disturbing.  Memorial Day is coming.  Hope you take a moment and say a prayer or think about the ones that didn’t come back.

I saw in a couple of videos from the 1950s or 1960s of children in American schools standing, putting their hand over their heart and reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.  We don’t do that in schools anymore and if you are patriotic many people think you are dumb.  Marthe Cohn said last night the most valuable thing that ever happened to her was becoming an American citizen.

There’s a reason why our ancestors left other places to come here back in the day.  There is a reason why we don’t want to be like other countries and there are lots of good reasons why other countries cannot be exactly like ours.  It would be nice if people like John Cusack understood that.  Out of one side of their mouth, they say they love America. Out of the other they aren’t willing to do the little things that make America America.  Actions speak louder than words.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, America will have to wage war on itself before it can wage war to end tyranny like Hitler, Tojo and others brought to the world in the 1930’s. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen while we go through the internal journey our country will have to go through.

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