This was the reply Brigadier General Anthony Clement McAuliffe gave in reply to a message from the German commander at the Siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in World War II. Certainly, I know this as a part of what history, accurate or not, I learned in school. Yet this information came to me much sooner then my 10th grade World History class. This bit of lore was passed on to me by my favorite person in all of History…my Uncle Buddy.
Today is the anniversary of his birth. I have written a number of times on this most beloved kinsperson. Perhaps one might have read about him on my other locations on the World Wide Web. Perhaps, you have been privy to the many tales I impart of my relationship with this most gentle of men. It is of little import to me where and when, or even if you have never been acquainted with William J. Smith. I am thinking of him today and missing him.
He held a significant place in my life in that he was the man in my life who wanted me. For one reason or another, my father wished no connection with me other then that which my Dear Sainted Mother forced on him. It was Uncle Buddy who taught me those things a man needs to learn. He taught me that if I read many books, I would know many things. He taught me how to spit, a useful trait for a man to have, he said. I remember riding with him in his station wagon as we rambled about on various adventures, and watching him spit out the window without getting any on him, and knocking the ash off a cigarette with his pinky finger. Both, to this day, are necessary and manly activities that I still practice.
He taught me that it wasn’t my father’s fault that he didn’t want me, it was just the way he was. He taught me that the world had many things in it, and that I would have to figure a bunch of it out on my own. He taught me that women were, in general, crazy. He also taught me that it was the most noble and honorable thing in the world to love and protect the women in my life with all my heart and all my soul. A duty I wish I were better at.
I remember talking to him about being a paratrooper. He told me that he volunteered to be a paratrooper because he did not want to go overseas on a transport ship. The only problem was that in the 1940’s there were no troop transport planes that could make it across the Atlantic Ocean. His stories usually came by way of funny, or what seemed funny, reminiscences of duty off the front lines. I knew he jumped on D-Day. I know he was at Bastogne at Christmas the same year. I also know he liberated a concentration camp.
Uncle Buddy suffered from the same affliction as do I. I have been blessed with the gift of recovery. He did not have that available to him. He was Irish-Catholic which pretty much meant that he went to work, and came home and got drunk. I remember having a discussion with my Dear Sainted Mother where she told me that when he came back from the war, he spent the first 24 hours sitting at my grandmothers table, weeping uncontrollably. He would get “commode-hugging” drunk and as the years progressed, became a burden on the family. I remember asking him during one of those jaunts about town we would take, when I was thirteen, why he drank so much. He thought for a minute, and told me the entire story. He told me of liberating the concentration camp, the icy cold at Bastogne, the horror of D-Day, and about the dreams. He told me that he would have terrible nightmares at night if he didn’t get drunk. He came from a generation that did not believe in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They called if “shell-shocked” and half the time people with that ailment were considered cowards. I also remember, that despite his memories, the day he told me that he was proud of me for joining the U.S. Army.
He made me promise not to tell anyone, and I didn’t until after his death. The only one I told then was my Deifiúr, Paula. She will read this, and probably shed tears similar to those leaking down my face. I am not the only one whose favorite person was William J. Smith.
He would have been 89 today. He would have wanted me to take a ride with him in a station wagon. He would have wanted to sit on a chaise lounge reading a book and giving my Deifiúr lessons on the proper method of diving into a swimming poll from a diving board. I think he would have just wanted to be here, or perhaps I am just missing him. So, here’s to you Uncle Buddy and all the rest of those “Battered Bastards of Bastogne”…Happy Birthday!