Memorial Day memories…a letter from my great-uncle

Fred Buschhoff, of the 101st Airborne was 19 when he wrote this letter to his nephew, Dan Buschhoff (my father), for his second birthday. Three weeks after writing the letter, Fred Buschhoff was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.

France, January 5, 1945

Dear Danny,

It won’t be long now until your second birthday rolls around, and much as I’d like to be with you, your Mother and your Father to help you celebrate, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it. So, please, Danny, forgive me and accept my best wishes for a very, very happy birthday, and my sincerest hopes for many more like it, and a life of peace and freedom.

You know, Dan, there’s a very good reason why neither your Father nor I are home with you now to help mark your birthday. It will be some years yet before you’ll be able to understand just why your Dad was off somewhere in the Pacific, and your Uncle Fred in Europe, but because the reasons are important not only to us, but to you, your cousins and your friends, as well, I want to explain them to you.

When you grow older and go to school, in all probability, you will study of the Great War which we are now fighting. You’ll learn the battles, their dates; you’ll read about the causes that led to the beginning of a second disastrous conflict in one generation, and why it went to war. But certain things, important things, will never be written in history books, and those are what sent one of the greatest nations in the world on a path which would cost her her youth and her wealth.

The history book will tell you that on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but it can never tell you what made men go forth against tremendous odds to battle. It will tell you of the heroic sagas of Bataan, Corregidor, Guadalcanal, and in Europe of Anzio, Normandy, St. Lo an Aachen, but it won’t say anything about the millions of little men, like your Father and I, and the feelings of these valiant warriors. And after all it is those little things that are important and must be remembered to prevent a repetition of these events in your time. It is up to you to always keep these reasons in mind, to live by them, teach them to all who come your way, and never forget them, for all together they make America at peace and a world in which war will be something in history books only.

We, and when I say we, I mean not only those close to you, but all servicemen and war workers alike, fought for something called a “Better World” or perhaps it was “Peace”, but whatever we called it, it meant the same thing. It meant that every man, woman and child should have a decent place to live, and food enough to live. That because a man was sick or disabled, that was no reason that he should starve. That everyone should have enough, none too much and none too little. That a man’s color, race or religion should make no difference in his right to hold a job.

Too, a “Better World” included what has been in our heritage for 169 years, since the United States was born through the minds and hearts of free men. The right for all peoples, everywhere, to believe in and worship whatever they please. For all men to speak their thoughts without fear of reprisals, and if they wish to do so, print them for all the world to see. Patrick Henry once said, “I may not like what a man says, but I shall defend to the death his right to say it!” It would do well for you to remember that, and practice it. Tolerance, both religious and political, as well as in every form of life, is essential to a world of Peace and Freedom. That coupled with an Open Mind will serve to make you a better man. Always listen to both sides of an argument before choosing sides, and then let your mind, uninfluenced by petty considerations, decide.

You will study how Germany took advantage of her weaker neighbors for her own personal gains and of the subsequent misery she caused the world. What happened in world affairs holds just as true in your own personal dealings. Always be fair and honest with whomever you come in contact with, and you find that the satisfaction of being able to look everyone in the eye, and the respect others will have for you, is of far greater worth than the meager gains you might make by pressing your advantage. Honesty in action as well as in thought pays.

One more “little thing” that men are fighting and dying for, and then I’ll be done. This is something that you’ve more or less enjoyed all your life, so it may at first puzzle you but remember that it is something that the people of Germany, Japan, Italy, and yes, our ally, Britain have never known. That rare something is known as “Equal Opportunity” and has been our nation’s greatest boon. It means, quite simply, that the boy from Park Avenue, the kid from Delancy Street, and the farmer’s son from Phoenix, Alabama, all have the same chance to rise just as far as their ambition and ingenuity will carry them. You can grow up to be president, millionaire or a beggar, whatever you choose to make of yourself. Just hitch your wagon to your own star and start to pull. You’ll get there if you pull hard enough and long enough.

But “Equal Opportunity” means even more than that. It means an even chance for every man to get a job, a home, a meal, or to raise a family free from the fear of destitution. It means that every nation, every race and every people shall have an equal opportunity to exist peaceably with its neighbors and thrive, benefited by mutual cooperation. It applies to big things and little things and is one more important reason that we are fighting today. Protect it, cherish it, and nourish it always for it’s your birthright and your future.

Well, Dan, I’ve had my say now, and if someday in the future you should read this, think a minute before you call it a lot of idealistic poppycock. Ideals are what make men go forth to die, and if it weren’t for them this world would be in even a sadder state than the one it is in today.

And before I close, let me again wish you a Most Happy Birthday and a long and bright future. I pray that next year your Father and I will be with you on your day.

Lots of Love,

Uncle Fred

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