Never Met a Stranger: It is not about the gun?


By T.W. Burger

2022 0606: 78th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion that began the liberation of Europe from German occupation by U.S. and allied forces -- A day, perhaps, to get the day off work, or fire up the grill, drink beer, watch war movies on the tube; the old ones, portraying the last war we actually won.

For a few years, I was lucky enough to be a writer for a magazine that specialized in covering what America, meaning the United States, went through in WWII. The job was mostly writing for a section titled “I Was There.”

I spoke at length with Paul, a boy from Baltimore who found himself scrambling up Omaha Beach. Sure, he would die at any second, he decided there was no use in worrying about it, and so would go as far as he could before a German shell or bullet stopped him. He got far inland before an artillery shell sent him thirty feet into the air and out of the war.

I spent hours going through photo albums with Barney, by then a retired professor of math and statistics, who had been the statistician for General Claire Lee Chennault, leader of the 1st American Volunteer Group (AVG) – better known as the "Flying Tigers” – of the Chinese Air Force, a unit that struck terror into the invading Japanese forces. Barney could calculate the flying time for the Tigers’ P-40 fighter planes in the high elevations of the Himalayas, where aviation fuel had to be flown in contained in 5-gallon cans. And he did it without computers.

One more, a man who looked like the basic design for a kindly grandfather, even great-grandfather, visiting family in a nearby town. He had been part of the first group of Infantry making their way to Berlin in the last days of the war when they stumbled into one of the most infamous Nazi concentration camps. His eyes filled with tears and turned steely all at once, relating the horrors he witnessed.

“We were told not to give them any food,” he said. “It had been so long since they had eaten that regular food like we had would kill them.

A delegation of captives pointed out the Nazi guards that had been the worst, singling out, torturing, and killing prisoners just for sport. There were a handful of them.

I asked where they took those guards.

“Oh, we turned them over to the prisoners,” he said. “It got pretty ugly.”

The pleasure in his expression left me chilled. It did not seem like the time to remind him about the Geneva Convention’s rules about treatment of prisoners of war.

The point is that these people were no Rambos. They were butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, as it were. They went to hellish places and lived through hellish things. Then the lucky ones came home and went back to their lives. Except for the odd souvenir – my dad brought home a Japanese officer’s sword – they did not ship home weapons of mass destruction “Just in case.” They knew that between the regular military and the “well-regulated militias” of the National Guard and Reserves, we had a ready force ready to go into action should any more despots decided once again to get rowdy.

But what about today, though? We have still got those soldiers and reserves in place. We also have scads of home-grown militias and lone wolf “patriots” who are just itching to fight, though their definition of who “the enemy” is might lack a little focus. I suspect I am right that very few of them have had either proper military training or have faced hostile fire. The only person I know well who claims to never go anywhere unless armed to the teeth told me he decided not to attend college because he did not like to be told what to do. That will not work, whether with the U.S. Army or with home-grown militias.

In conclusion, I want to revive an expression the pro-gun (not that I am anti-gun, by the way) group uses all the time. “It’s not about the guns.”

I tend to disagree with that position, given how most mass shootings are done with a variety of the same exact weapon (you know the one.) What is more, getting your hands on one of those military-styled guns does not make you a soldier or a militia member or a revolutionary minuteman.

It is not about the gun.

T.W. Burger was raised in Athens. He graduated from Athens High School in 1967. He worked as a driver of everything from fork trucks to garbage trucks and concrete mixers, has been an apprentice mortician and ambulance attendant.

He has been a newspaper reporter since 1985, mostly in Gettysburg, PA, with various stints at other publications. Semi-retired, he is still working as a contributing writer for Classic City News, and lives on the banks of Marsh Creek just outside of Gettysburg.

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