What if Hitler Won the War?
Between 1941 and 1945, tens of thousands of American men responded to the grave threat posed on the world by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. For nearly four years, these heroic men put their lives on hold to fight against evil on the battlefields of Europe, Asia and Africa.
They were selfless men who, almost to a man, felt they had a responsibility to defend the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.” They’ll tell you today that they’re not heroes, but that they were merely doing their jobs.
Those beliefs and values are a big reason why men and women of that era became known as the greatest generation in history, as Tom Brokaw so eloquently stated a few years ago. The men who survived the horrors of World War II often withstood a dozen or more close calls with death – they are heroes, as are the ones who never made it home.
It makes me shiver to think what life would be like today had the Allies not won the war. America would certainly be a very different place in the 21st century, as would the free world.
Think about it for a second. What if the Axis had won the war and imposed their will on the United States, mandating a similar fate to the one the Allies imposed on Germany in the post-World War II era?
What would America look like split in two by a giant wall running through the middle of the country, from the Mexican border all the way through to our border with Canada? Imagine a wall with thousands of miles of barbed wire and armed guards keeping watch over anyone trying to cross over from East America to West America. Instead of the Berlin Wall, history might have referred to the Yankee Wall or theAmerican Wall, or any of several other possible names.
Sound a little far-fetched? I’m sure Germans living in the 1940s never envisioned such a scenario either, but it happened.
In reality, many of us would not be here today if the Allies’ had failed in World War II. Today, America is known worldwide as the most culturally diverse country in the world, but how different would life be today if not for the heroic men of the 1940s?
Adolph Hitler’s self-defined “master race” didn’t allow for much diversity, after all. The benchmark by which all forms of evil have been measured ever since, how many gas chambers would the German Fuhrer have needed to impose his will in North America?
Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it?
America is today the greatest country in the world, a country others look up to for guidance and help when in need. Since World War II, the country has become even stronger as the Cold War has been won and America’s resolve has continuously proven strong.
But what we are as a country today can be traced back to those battlefields in Asia and Europe, to places like Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Normandy and Berlin – traced back to the men who were just “doing their jobs” to protectAmerican interests for generations to come.
Our World War II veterans are becoming a rare commodity these days. But if you happen to run across one, be sure to shake his hand and thank him for what he did all those years ago.
It was their sacrifices and their selfless acts that make life in America as grand as it is today, all the way from “Sea to Shining Sea.”
Remembering Pearl Harbor
Ask someone who was born in the 1970s or beyond what the words “Pearl Harbor” mean and you’ll likely get an answer straight out of the 2001 movie than became a blockbuster at the theaters for Touchstone Pictures.
Ask that same question to someone who was raised in the 1940s and you’ll get an entirely different answer, one filled with realism and sorrow for what happened on Dec. 7, 1941. Now take the next step – ask a veteran of World War 2 what those two simple words mean to him. It is likely a day he will never forget; most veterans from that era know someone who made the ultimate sacrifice as a direct result of what happened on that early December day nearly 70 years ago.
Listen to John Ross, who was on the deck of the U.S.S. Selfridge in berth X-9 that fateful day, just off the famed Battleship Row. It’s a day that has defined his entire life, and a day he will never, ever forget.
“We were lucky because they weren’t after destroyers [like the Selfridge]; they wanted the big ships. But it just seemed like all hell had broken loose – bombs were raining down on all the battleships,” Ross recounts in my book, World War II Heroes of Southern Delaware. “I saw the [U.S.S.] Arizona take a bomb through the deck and just settle down in the bottom of the harbor with a lot of people still trapped below deck. I was just dumfounded.”
Or the memories of U.S. Army soldier Clayton Cugler, who was stationed at Schofield Barracks, just a few miles from the harbor.
“When we went around the city, we looked out and the oil was all over the water and it was on fire. And those poor boys from the Navy, the ones who were on the ships that had been blown up, they were out there in the water fighting the fires and trying to get to shore. A lot of them died trying. Those Japanese really caught us by surprise. They had us really puzzled and mixed up for awhile.”
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 was a resounding and complete victory for Emperor Hirohito. On the flip side, it was a devastating defeat for the Americans and thrust then into a war they had been hesitant to enter.
The day changed the course of history and eventually led to President Harry S. Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
The Japanese attack on the U.S. naval base lasted for nearly two hours. When it was complete, 2,403 Americans were dead, 1,178 more were wounded, eight battleships were damaged or sunk and 188 aircraft were lost. It was a complete sucker punch to the gut of the United States, possibly the biggest ever, leading to a declaration of war and an intense wave of patriotism all across the county.
For Ross and Cugler and thousands more just like them, it was an event they will never forget. Sadly, our country’s World War 2 veterans are passing away at record numbers now and with them go their stories, their first-hand accounts of a time unrivaled in the history of the world.
We owe it to all the brave men and women of the World War II era to never forget the sacrifices they made all those years ago so that we may live today in the greatest country in the world. They truly were members of the “greatest generation” as Tom Brokaw so eloquently stated a few years ago. Without them and their service, who knows what the world would be like today.
And it all started in a quiet little harbor in the territory of Hawaii, on a peaceful morning that suddenly became one of the most historic days ever.
We must never forget!
How Do You Define A Hero?
Since October of 2007, I’ve been interviewing and writing about men and women who, to me, are the very definition of the word “hero.” These are brave souls who risked their very lives so many future generations of Americans could live as they wish in the “land of the free and the home of the brave.”
There’s just one problem – not one single person I’ve interviewed thus far, and I’ve spent time with nearly 80 World War II veterans at this point – thinks of him or herself as a hero. Not one!
It boggles my mind every time I hear it. Listening to Vaughn Russell and how he somehow survived the horrors of Iwo Jima, to a one-legged Don Addor, who woke up in the morgue after the Battle of Bastogne, and to Don Anderson, who lost his sight as a result of radiation poisoning at Hiroshima.
How can these men, and the dozens of others I’ve met, not think of themselves as the heroes among us? How can they be so humble about what they did for our country so many years ago? How can they say, without even a moment to ponder it, that they would do it all again, even knowing the outcomes?
It’s because they are heroes, whether they’re comfortable with that moniker or not. They are the reason life is so good today in the United States of America, because of them and the brave men and women of the military who followed them.
Is a basketball player a hero? How about a mom or dad, or even a world leader? Yes, I guess they can be, but in very different ways.
Our military men and women – past, present and future – should be placed on a pedestal. They should be looked up to and thanked for their service, each and every chance that you, I, our children and everyone else gets to do so.
The men and women I’ve had the absolute privilege to meet over the last 33 months have changed my life, for the better. After listening to their stories of survival, patriotism and outright courage, the problems I experience in my life these days seem almost embarrassing to even mention.
I have a beautiful wife, two wonderful daughters, a nice house and tons of great friends. And it’s all because of the Vaughn Russells, the Don Addors and the Don Andersons of the world.
They are heroes in my book, quite literally. I know they’re not comfortable with that title, but it’s my book series and I call it as I see it – God bless you gentleman, and ladies, for all that you’ve done.
You truly are the heroes among us!