Lucky to have Humphrey
To the Editor:
I am writing to express my appreciation for Robert Humphrey's essays on the history of the 99th Division in World War II. We are indeed lucky to have such a talented historian reconstructing the events and feelings we experienced in those distant days of exuberant youth.
What I don't understand, however, is the negative criticism of his valuable work. For instance, to gloss over the initial friction that was engendered by throwing us ASTPers into the midst of a cadre that was from another world would be anti-historical. During ASTP training we were told constantly by the Army officials themselves that we were something "special," and that we should strive to live up to that distinction. It was to be expected that many of us were a bit disillusioned when our high hopes were dashed by being lumped as buck privates in an infantry division. But, as Humphrey clearly points out, this early animosity gradually diminished and was pretty well sublimated as we became integrated as a fighting unit.
I'm afraid many of us tend to romanticize and glorify our part in the war. We all shared a strong desire to "do something" for a noble cause. The ultimate sacrifices made by some of my closest friends will forever be etched on my memory. Even today, every now and then, I lament the loss of my closest friend at Occidental College, John Tarleton Agricultural College (ASTP) and the 394th Regiment of the 99th — he was killed in action during the Battle of the Bulge.
And yet, my own most vivid memory of our trooping through Normandy on our way to Hofen, Germany, is being surprised by a young French girl, while, with my pants down, I was straddling a slit trench in the apple orchards of Normandy. Ridiculous? Of course. But these impressions are the ones that last, along with the bitterly tragic ones.
As to the accusation that Humphrey was not present in the ranks of the 99th Division, all I can say is that most of the great historians have been in the same boat. What Humphrey has done (and is doing) is to collate the experiences of all of us in the enormously difficult task of emerging with a composite picture of the events of nearly 60 years ago. We individually lived within a very restricted area of personal experience. Humphrey has woven all our disparate memories together in a remarkable colorful fabric. OK, so Humphrey was not present at the Battle of the Bulge. Neither was Tolstoy at the Battle of Borodino in 1812.
Louis Pedrotti L/395