By Clyde Davis: CNJ columnist
At the time that I went through my second phase of Army Officer training as a chaplain, the home of the Army Chaplain Corps was Ft. Monmouth, New Jersey. Among other advantages, this placed us very near the Atlantic Coast or, as they say in Jersey, “de shoare.”
One day after school, we took off to an unexplored stretch of coastline, in search of a lighthouse we wanted to see.
This was no longer a working lighthouse, nor was it a historical monument, it was simply one of many abandoned lighthouses which populate the Jersey coastline.
We wanted to hike the area, and swim by the light. Prior to that, we drove a few miles north of the light, to a large bay, and came upon another abandoned facility, also not on the register of historical places.
This was an abandoned coastal artillery battery, apparently set up during or prior to WWII in order to guard the bay from the very real threat of Nazi U-boats that were encroaching, actually, very close to our east coast waters.
Let me say up front that I realize restoration takes money, and effort, and that not every thing which might deserve it can be declared a historical landmark — witness the very cool lighthouse which we visited when we had finished exploring the coastal battery.
However, with Memorial Day approaching, it doesn’t hurt to stop and think — really think hard — about the heritage which that day is in remembrance of. It is, of course, a day to honor all whom we have lost, but especially within a military context.
The WWII veterans are well into their senior years, now, and yet it was not hard to picture that abandoned shore battery as it had been, populated by energetic, dedicated, probably rowdy young soldiers, charged with the responsibility of guarding a section of shoreline which, had it fallen to the Germans, would have precipitated a disaster. (Heavily populated, not far from New York, pretty close to Philadelphia, you get the picture. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had made a major landing?)
No, no battle took place there, at least not one that we are aware of. Nonetheless, the military stationed there could not have known that such a battle would not occur.
We cannot deify our veterans; it does them a disservice. Those of us who have been in uniform know that no piece of military life, human or mechanical, is perfect. The guys stationed at that shore battery doubtless complained about their conditions. Their NCOs doubtless complained about them…and so on.
But to honor is not to deify. It is better.
I grew up in western Pennsylvania surrounded by sites associated with the French and Indian War, and the Revolutionary War. No less significant to me is the unacknowledged memorial that my buddies and I found on that bay in New Jersey.
Our nation owes its freedoms to those who have been willing to defend those freedoms.