Monday, November 10, 2014

A Veterans Day Tribute

Tomorrow is Veterans Day. I will do nothing special to commemorate the day. I never do. Neither will most of you. It’s not really that we don’t appreciate the men and women who have served their country, it’s more like we are too busy enjoying the freedoms that their service purchased for us. Tomorrow, I will spend most of the morning engaged in free enterprise, and the afternoon on the golf course. One of the reasons my life turned out so well was the fact that 70 years ago there were hundreds of thousands of men barely 20 years old who dedicated themselves to the annihilation of the Nazis. One of them was my Uncle, John Henry Dixon.

A few days ago I went to see The Fury, a film about a Sherman tank crew in the waning days of World War II in Germany. The film took place in April of 1945. One month prior to this imaginary tale, a real flesh and blood battle was raging near the town of Pruem deep inside the crumbling Third Reich. Lt. John Dixon, in the early morning hours of March the sixth was about to be given a set of extraordinarily ill-conceived orders from his commanding officer. Behind the scenes, other senior officers had tried to talk the commander out of such a dangerous move but to no avail. In the book written about the 70th tank battalion and its amazing combat history, Marvin Jenson describes what happened this way:

“The next morning I told Lt. John Dixon that his platoon would lead. They had only four tanks left, and I figured if they got hit it was better to lose fewer rather than more. I was very apprehensive about the whole setup. I told John to get his tanks going full speed and to head for a clump of trees, maybe 200 yards ahead and left at about a forty-five degree angle. The idea was for Dixon to get that far, which would give us firepower for the main attack.”

There was good reason for apprehension. Sending four Sherman tanks across an open field with German guns trained on every inch of that field was the sort of thing that contributed greatly to the short life span of tank crews in WWII. There is no indication that my Uncle questioned his orders although he surely must have known what was about to happen.

“An infantry major radioed Dixon and ordered him to move out…Dixon got his tanks going full speed, but about half way down, all hell broke loose. Tanks 1,2,3, and 4, all four were hit. We couldn’t see where the fire was coming from on the ridge, but it was a hell of a display of gunnery, and they had excellent guns, probably 88’s…Lieutenant Raiford Blackstone was a witness to the attack and reports that he and Lieutenant McCaffrey went down to the tanks to aid the stricken crewman, “I wrote with white enamel on a tank:6 killed,14 survivors, March 6, 1945”

Uncle John survived the battle and the war. According to my mother, he was never the same man after he returned from Europe. He settled down and lived his life in an unremarkable way. I knew him only when I was a child. For me he was the kind man with the very sad eyes. He, along with hundreds of thousands of others, did their duty, then came home and mostly never talked about it again.

Mr. Jenson was gracious enough to sign my copy of his book. I told him that John was my Uncle and he went on and on about what a great man he was. On the inside cover he wrote this:

To Douglas,

Your Uncle John Henry Dixon was one of the men who made the 70th an outstanding unit in the long struggle against the tyranny of the Nazis.

Marvin Jensen
So tomorrow, I will think of my Uncle and say a prayer of thanks for the men and women just like him who have answered the call throughout our country’s history.