|Private (Proud to Be) Webster|
|David Kenyon Webster|
|He Didn't Have to Be There. But he was there.|
|Men Who Never Served, Never Ducked a Bullet|
David Kenyon Webster was a child of privilege, whose family connections could have easily shielded him from combat during World War II, or, at the very least, got him a commission as an officer. But he decided to serve as a private, and he chose the most challenging service, the newly formed Army parachute infantry, soldiers who fought surrounded by enemy.
He wrote the book from which "Band of Brothers" was drawn in larger measure than the producers of that show credited. Stephen Ambrose, whose book by the same name drew attention to the story of Easy company, endorses Webster's book, but when you read it, page by page, you see how many of the details of time, place, action, feeling the script writers used. Ambrose's book gave them the skeleton on which to structure a narrative, but Webster's book provided the muscle, heart, arteries and central nervous systems to bring the stories to life.
It was not Ambrose's fault, I suspect, Webster did not get more credit, but it is somehow fitting Private Webster did not get invited to the party. That's the way privates were treated in the Army. It was guts and glory Patton; the general got the glory, but the privates spilled the guts.
Reading through Webster's Parachute Infantry now, the details of the experience of war, in particular the harrowing Operation Market Garden, the failed attack dreamed up by Field Marshall Montgomery, makes you feel intensely grateful for things like clean sheets, heated homes, hot showers and peaceful New Hampshire fields.
But one passage astonished me. In the midst of the Allied operation, beset by diarrhea, having slept in a foxhole which he thought comfortable because he had found straw for its flooring, having returned from being made to sweep out the officer's quarters in a near by townhouse, Webster mentions he had been allowed to walk two miles to cast his first ballot, a vote for Franklin Delano Roosevelt "the only one who ever gave the working man a break." Webster had been too young to vote when he joined the Army, but had turned 21 while in Europe and was 22 during the 1944 election.
What he says then, as an aside, should make us look at the 3 stooges pictured above, and at Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, with unmerciful clarity.
Explaining why he walked the 2 miles in a war zone, Webster says,
"Roosevelt...was a politician, as crafty and conniving as any, for politics is a cesspool of lying lawyers, but his work was greater than the man, and the country was better for it. The rich Republicans hated Roosevelt for helping the working man, for encouraging the labor unions to wring a fair day's wage for a fair day's work out of employers who had never heard of such a thing before and for putting into effect fair-employment practices that they considered outrageously Socialistic. Roosevelt helped the unemployed, when Herbert Hoover, the last Republican, an engineer who never quite understood humanity, had said, "Let every man help his brother," when he knew perfectly well that the rich weren't about to help the poor, never had and never would. I had grown up with Republicans and gone to school and college with them and sickened by their selfishness, their cold avarice and lofty contempt for the common people, had early sworn to vote for Democrats, who, for all their rotten political faults, were more concerned with the welfare of the country has a whole."
Mad Dog, too, went to school with the children of the rich, and saw that same cold avarice, still operating thirty years after Webster. Cold contempt and disregard for the suffering of their fellow man, still alive and well among the upper classes, and it sickened Mad Dog just a surely. Mad Dog can understand the Joe Sixpack Republicans, those desperate men at the bar, who worry about meeting the mortgage on their mobile homes, who are just one check away from having their F150 pick up trucks repossessed. You don't expect mercy from desperate, disadvantaged, resentful men. But from the rich, you might expect some magnanimity.
Which is why Mad Dog's bumper stick says, "Not a Republican."
Webster wrote his magnificent book, but not a publisher would touch it. Once the "Band of Brothers" got hot, the book was published and gained some attention.
But Webster never lived to see it. He never had his moment at the award ceremony. He went out sailing on the ocean in 1961, looking for sharks, and never came back.