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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Ghosts of the Long Gray Line

This is Steven Petrick Posting.

I happened to catch an old film titled "Flirtation Walk". Most of the filming was done at West Point, but the film begins in Hawaii.

A matter of some interest to me is that the film begins with brief moments of a large wargame, involving an attack on the islands, involving at least one carrier (of course, the concept of a surprise attack by a large number of carriers on Pearl Harbor was not being tested). Shots of those old battlewagons thundering away were included.

That should tell you that the film was shot prior to World War II, it was released in 1934.

As I watched scenes of the corps of cadets going through their paces in their gray coats and white pants, I was haunted by the knowledge that some these men were the senior Lieutenants and Captains in places like the Philippines on 7 December just seven years hence. Men who would in that near future participate in the Bataan death march, the debacle at Kasserine.

A marching column of ghosts. The Long Gray Line.

You could not pick out any individual and know his fate. They were all of a kind. Young, tough, confident.

In their world Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany, but the Wehrmacht was still a distant thunder. Japan was on the march, the involvement of American forces, much less ground troops, was not seen as either imminent, or even likely. Mussolini's fascists were already carving out a new "Roman Empire" in Africa. Eisenhower was a mere Lt. Colonel and already considering retirement. Prohibition was over, but the depression was still a very real fact of life despite Roosevelt's alphabet soup of new deal agencies.

You cannot help but wonder what choices they might have made had they known the future that was fast approaching them.