The closer a soldier was to fierce combat during any war, the less likely he’ll want to talk about it years later.
My wife’s father, Milton E. “Mick” Cotten, served for 41 months during World War II. He left Turkey, Texas, in March 1942, and was honorably discharged as a Technical Sergeant in September 1945, a good example of the folks Steven Ambrose writes eloquently about in his book Citizen Soldier.
Mick had no particular desire to be a soldier. Like most who did the real fighting and bleeding, he just wanted to survive and get the job done right—and as soon as possible—so he and his buddies could go home. He didn’t like to talk about what doing that job entailed, and he almost never did.
I do remember some fire in his eyes when the name of General Patton came up. Mick rarely said anything bad about anybody, but he was among the “ordinary” soldiers who despised Patton as an arrogant jerk who needed to think more about his troops and less about his own glory.
We’ve done a little research to trace Mick’s path during WWII. I don’t know how excited he’d be about this. Like so many others then and now, he went to war so most of us wouldn’t have to, so we could get on with our ordinary lives. I do think he’d like us to remember the “ordinary” folks who paid a price because they knew day to day life in freedom is precious.
Mick fought in some serious battles, including the bloodiest battle of that bloody war, the “Battle of the Bulge.” We have a little notebook where he listed the names of men in his mortar and other squads, shortages of men in squads, colors of smoke for forward lines, flanks, etc. And names and addresses of some of his men’s next of kin.
Mick fought in three major campaigns and more smaller ones. He was wounded on Dec. 3 and Dec. 16, 1944. Shrapnel ripped into his body and through his hand. He lay in the snow in Normandy, saved from bleeding to death by miserable cold.
A War Department telegram informed his parents that he had been seriously wounded. Mick then wrote from the hospital in England, where he got a letter from his friend and lieutenant calling him the best non-commissioned officer in the company and saying, “That hole in your right chest had me pretty worried.”
Mick did finally come home. He married, and he and his brother-in-law ran a gas station in Turkey, Texas. He farmed there for the rest of his life. My wife remembers as a little girl sitting on his lap, tracing with her fingers the shrapnel scars on his chest.
Her mother framed Mick’s medals in a “shadow box.” He’d earned, among others, two Purple Hearts, the French Croix de Guerre, and a Bronze Star. There was talk from one of his former officers that a building at Fort Knox might be named in his honor. (It never happened. Budget cuts.)
Did you know you can buy medals online? You can get that French “War Cross” for $35.99. A Bronze Star is $22.99. A Purple Heart, $44.99.
But Mick, and many others, who have served and are serving our nation in whatever war in whatever capacity, paid a lot higher price. And they didn’t do it for medals.
Freedom is not free. The blood on lots of hills screams out that truth. And none screams it more loudly than blood shed on a hill called Mount Calvary.
You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!
Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.