This column first appeared in 2013. I have revised it here.
Dear Private Parman,
On a European tour, my wife and I visited you at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Luxembourg. Your grave was one of thousands but it attracted our attention because it was the only one adorned with fresh flowers.
Somebody near and dear to you, your widow perhaps, or a sibling, or maybe your child, still thinks of you, still holds you in their heart.
I didn’t know you, of course, because you died on March 18, 1945, eight years before I was born. I see on the white marble cross that marks your resting place your first name was David and you were from Missouri. Maybe you were a farmer or a teacher or a young man just out of high school before you fought with the 315th Infantry, 87th Division of the United States Army.
Luxembourg was at the center of the great fight in which you perished. We now reverently call it the Battle of the Bulge. We thought the Germans were defeated in late 1944. Their cities and production centers were nearly all leveled by then, but Hitler had one last card to play. He massed his men and tanks at the center of the thin American line and pushed forward.
American talk of being home by Christmas was obliterated in a hurricane of German shells and bullets.
You watched all of this unfold in shock like most of the other boys around you. But undermanned and outgunned, in the bitter cold and snow, you guys fought like hell at places like Bastogne and St. Vith and Foy, refusing to yield to the German onslaught.
We have never forgotten. We will never forget.
You were among the 90,000 Americans killed, wounded or missing during the Bulge. There are reminders everywhere of this epic conflict but none so moving as the beautiful, austere patch of green a grateful Luxembourg gave our nation so you and your fellow patriots could be interred on American soil. Attendants there carefully, almost lovingly, trim the grass around the headstones with hand clippers one blade at a time.
I don’t know where or how you fell. I pray you didn’t suffer. Our forces entered Germany the day after you died and the enemy surrendered a month later. It’s heartbreaking to think the war was almost over and that you never returned home to the heartland and the loved one who still sends flowers.
It’s 75 years on now and our nation is still the greatest on Earth thanks in large part to all you and your buddies did on that European battlefield. But America is also beset with a malignancy you could probably never imagine having seen our troops desperately fighting alongside one another to protect the principles for which we stand.
Today, incredibly, we have politicians that would prefer to destroy the America you fought for than amicably reconcile differences on how to govern. The rule of law for which you fought and died has become the rule of chaos. Worse still, through a quirk in our electoral system, one designed to prevent someone unfit from assuming the presidency, someone unfit is now in the White House.
We learned last week this so-called commander-in-chief thinks you and your comrades are “suckers” and “losers” for sacrificing your lives in combat. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. It’s completely in keeping with President Trump’s lack of character to regard your selflessness as foolish because he has never done anything unless he personally benefited in some way.
The Germans you so bravely fought and defeated represented the worst evil mankind has ever conjured up, an evil so profoundly toxic we thought it could never rear its hideous head again. So I’m ashamed to tell you, David, that the evil you and your fellow soldiers destroyed with your blood, sweat and tears has manifested itself once again on our American streets.
Swastikas fly over white supremacists and anti-Semites. And here’s the sickening part: The president of the United States of America has not condemned them. In fact, he winks and nods at these neo-Nazis with approval.
I’m sure you wonder, how can this be? What did we fight and die fight for?
I wish there was an answer. You had an ideal in mind when you went into battle, one that honored democracy and liberty and equality, everything Nazi Germany stood against. You weren’t suckers or losers. You are and always will be heroes.
But with this charlatan in office today, we aren’t living up to your noble ideal and for that I am deeply sorry.
(Postscript: After this column originally appeared, we learned the flowers on David Parman’s grave are sent every year on his birthday by his widow back in Missouri. She married David’s brother when he returned home from the war).