I read yesterday, that Adolf Hitler went into his underground bunker, known as the Führerbunker, with his mistress, Eva Braun on January 16, 1945. It was a coward’s move, so as not to have to face the Russians when they marched into town. He left his men to finish out the war in a losing battle, and when they wanted to surrender, they were rewarded with death. They were considered cowards, and yet Hitler made his last trip above ground on April 20, 1945, his 56th birthday. He took that opportunity, in the ruined garden of the Reich Chancellery, to award the Iron Cross to boy soldiers of the Hitler Youth, and then he retreated back to the safety of his bunker. On April 28th, Hitler learned that Reichsführer, SS Heinrich Himmler, who had left Berlin on April 20th was trying to discuss surrender terms with the Western Allies through Count Folke Bernadotte. To Hitler this was treason, and he was enraged. He ordered Himmler’s arrest. He also had Hermann Fegelein, Himmler’s SS representative at Hitler’s Headquarters in Berlin, shot. Those men were doing their best to stay alive, and Hitler sat in the safety of his bunker calling them traitors and cowards. Hitler’s bunker, while not elegant by any standard, was quite comfortable. He and Eva were well protected until the day they took their own lives on April 30, 1945…one day after their April 29th marriage. Their death came by cyanide poisoning, with Hitler’s accompanied by a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. They did not want to face the possibility of a trial for the many war crimes he was responsible for.
In what was proving to be a crumbling empire, Hitler’s death camp soldiers knew they too, were in trouble, the day after he went underground. On January 17, 1945, the Russians were approaching Auschwitz. The decision was made to evacuate most of its population and send them on a death march. It was the largest and the most notorious of the death marches. Just nine days before the Soviets arrived at the death camp at Auschwitz, the SS marched nearly 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Loslau, 39 miles away. There, they were put on freight trains to other camps. Approximately 15,000 prisoners died on the way, which is why it was called a death march. Loslau recorded a freezing -4°F and lower at the time the prisoners were arriving. Residents tried to help the prisoners, and many prisoners regained freedom between Auschwitz and Loslau, as the residents helped them escape. The prisoners who were left at the camp were liberated on January 27, 1945, which is a day now commemorated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. In years after the Holocaust, survivors, such as Primo Levi, Viktor Frankl, and Elie Wiesel, wrote memoirs of their experiences in Auschwitz, and the camp became a dominant symbol of the Holocaust. In 1947, Poland founded the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum on the site of Auschwitz I and II, and in 1979, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
For most of his life in the United States, my great grandfather, Cornelius Byer, was friends with the Indians. He and my grandfather, George Byer were invited to Pow Wows with the Indians, and many of them came to their home bearing gifts and just to visit. That wasn’t the normal course of events in those days, however. For many of the people that the Indians dubbed, The White Man, crossing paths with the Indians meant death. Many of the Indians were considered criminals. They were locked away in prison or, if they were lucky, the reservations. The reservations weren’t great, but they were better than prisons…I suppose.
Crazy Horse has a serious score to settle with The White Man. The government wasn’t suppose to let the settlers into the Dakotas. Then explorers went in anyway, and found gold. Of course, the government reneged on the deal, and The White Man came flooding into the Dakotas. In reality, it was going to be inevitable. A some point, the United States and her people were going to grow to a place whereby they would need more room. Eventually someone was bound to find the Dakotas, and especially one of my favorite places, The Black Hills. This was the area of the United States where the Lakota Sioux and Crazy Horse lived.
The breaking of the treaty to keep the Dakota Territory in the hands of the Lakota Sioux brought the government into a war with the Lakota Sioux and with Crazy Horse. Crazy Horse would lead the Lakota Sioux to victory in The Battle of the Little Big Horn. After that battle, Crazy Horse was a wanted man, and the cavalry would stop at nothing to find him. After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, on June 25, 1876, it was inevitable that Crazy Horse would one day have to surrender. That day came on May 6, 1877, when Crazy Horse, He Dog, Little Big Man, Iron Crow, and several others surrendered themselves to First Lieutenant William P Clark. For the next four months Crazy Horse resided in his village near the Red Cloud Agency, but Red Cloud and Spotted Tail became jealous of the attention the Army gave to Crazy Horse. They had adopted many of the White Man’s ways, and when they heard a rumor that Crazy Horse was planning to slip away, and go back to their old ways. Crazy Horse had actually agreed to fight on the side of the White Man, but his words were misinterpreted, and on the morning of September 4, 1877, just four months after his surrender, the Army attacked Crazy Horse’s village. Crazy Horse agreed to accompany Lieutenant Jesse Lee back to Fort Robinson, there Lieutenant Lee was told to turn him over to the Officer of the Day. He didn’t want to, but he did. As he was taken into custody, Crazy Horse struggles and was stabbed with a bayonet by one of the members of the guard. He died later that night. It was a sad case of misunderstanding, and it cost him his life.
On June 16, 1858 more than 1,000 delegates met in the Springfield, Illinois, statehouse for the Republican State Convention. They chose Abraham Lincoln as their candidate for the U.S. Senate, running against Democrat Stephen A. Douglas. At 8:00 pm Lincoln delivered his famous House Divided speech to his Republican colleagues in the Hall of Representatives. Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.” Abraham Lincoln decided to run for president, and was elected president on November 6, 1860, and on December 20, 1860 it began…South Carolina seceded from the Union, followed within two months by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas. On February 9, 1861 the Confederate States of America was formed with Jefferson Davis as it’s president. Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as the 16th President of the United States of America on March 4, 1861. On April 12, 1861 the Confederates under General Pierre Beauregard attacked Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina…the Civil War had begun.
The war was long and bloody. Families were torn apart, as brothers fought against brothers and fathers against sons. The South wanted slavery, and the North did not. This war would be a horrible, brutal war. Losing was not an option for the North. Slavery had to be abolished…it was inhumane, and wrong in every sense of the word. This was Lincoln’s signature change to this nation, and those who didn’t want it hated him for it. The battles raged for four long years, ending the lives of 618,222 Americans and eventually sending 50,000 survivors home as amputees. The Civil War would go down in history as the deadliest of all United States wars…and the enemy wasn’t a terrorist group or some other country…it was us. I think it is a sad thing to think that we were our own worst enemy at one time in history.
The battles of the Civil War are names many people remember from their history lessons, Chickamauga, Chattanooga, Cold Harbor, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg, Bull Run, and a second Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam..which was the bloodiest day in US Military history with 26,000 men killed, and of course the famous Battle of Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863, which was the battle that turned the tide in favor of the Union. On November 19, 1863, President Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg address dedicating the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. The war continued for another year and a half, before General Robert E Lee, being completely surrounded by Union forces, with no possibility of escape, surrendered to General Ulysses S Grant at Appomattox, Virginia. They agreed to a meeting in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home. The meeting took place at one o’clock in the afternoon, and on this day, April 9, 1865 General Robert E Lee surrendered.
The Union had all but won, but this was not over yet. On April 14, 1865, the Stars and Stripes was raised over Fort Sumter…where the war began. That night President Lincoln and his wife, Mary, went to see the play “Our American Cousin” at the Ford Theater. At 10:13pm, during the third act of the play, Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth shot the president in the head. He was moved to the house across the street where doctors tried in vain to save his life. President Lincoln died at 7:22am on April 15, 1865. The war dwindled to a close, and in May the final soldiers surrendered. The Union was restored, and the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was passed by Congress on January 31, 1865, and was finally ratified on December 6, 1865.
Once a war is over, the people of the world, and especially those who fought in the war never really want to think about it again, but it is, nevertheless, a permanent part of history. It was on this day, January 16, 1991 that America would go to war with Iraq for the first time, and it would be a war that would ultimately draw my brother-in-law, Ron Schulenberg back into the service from the reserves, which is where every soldier is for a time following their active duty term. Ron had joined the Army during a time when things were relatively quiet around the world, and he also ended his active service during a relative time of peace, but all that would change for him when he was notified that he would have to go back to active duty, and to Iraq.
I can only imagine how Ron felt upon receiving that letter. I know how the rest of us felt. We were very concerned for Ron’s safety. None of us wanted him to go, but this was not up to us. The government, and specifically the Army had spoken, and go he would. I remember talking to him about his time over there, years later. One of the things that most civilians wonder about is things like how they felt about killing someone else, or even just seeing a dead body that had been mutilated by the weapons of warfare. For Ron, one of the strongest memories was marching from one place to another and seeing all the death that was all around them…and then simply stepping over it, like it was a rock or tree stump. In my mind, that would be almost impossible to do, but I suppose that you simply get used to some things…or as much as anyone can get used to war and death.
The Persian Gulf War…known as Operation Desert Storm, was a short lived war. Saddam Hussein invaded the little country of Kuwait, because of their oil, making Egypt and Saudi Arabia very nervous, so they called on the United States. When Saddam Hussein refused to leave Kuwait, the war began. The biggest anomaly in Operation Desert Storm, was that the Iraqi soldiers were either not well enough equipped, or simply not willing to die for this cause, and so may of them actually came up to the American troops, and surrendered. I’m sure that the initial fighting, and the amount of war dead lying around the desert, made the decision to surrender seem like the best option. Ron told of this anomaly when we talked about his experiences, and it seemed that it was with a continued sense of relief. I can imagine that the thought of having to kill someone was not one that my brother-in-law relished, but something he would have had to do, had it became necessary.
Ron returned to us from Operation Desert Storm, and his time in the reserves ended. The Persian Gulf area would continue to become more and more unstable, but by the time America would again find herself at war with Iraq and Saddam Hussein, Ron was not required to go. While it is my belief that the second war with Iraq has been far more successful, it has also been filed with far more casualties. I believe that if we had gone in and removed Saddam Hussein during Operation Desert Storm, the world would have been a better place. Would that have prevented the need to go back? I don’t know, but it would have spared many of the lives of the countless people that Saddam Hussein slaughtered during his time in power.