My Turn, Bill Bucher: What is a patriot? Those who love country more than themselves

Published 4:35 pm Monday, December 20, 2021

By Bill Bucher

For many of us who remember a loved one who came of age during the World War II era, the month of December can be a bittersweet time.

Dec. 16 of this year marks the 77th anniversary of the last major German offensive of the war, the huge battle that became known as the “Battle of the Bulge.” My Dad and the other mostly inexperienced boys of the 106th Infantry “Golden Lion” Division had been shipped over the Channel from England and trucked across France only five days before the battle began, and had just begun to adjust to the bitter, record-cold winter conditions in the Belgian forests that they were charged with defending when all hell broke loose.

Not yet graduated from prep school in 1943, the boy who would become my father had signed up for the Army at his first opportunity and was immediately sent to a string of Army and Army Air Force training camps across the nation. Eighteen months after his induction and four months after D-Day in June of 1944 he was shipped overseas to a staging area in England, and was soon on his way to the battlefields of Europe. The Division crossed the English Channel in early December and rode in open trucks across the frozen French landscape towards Germany, and as they traveled he noticed that they were passing through some of the same French towns near Paris that his own father had defended during World War I just 26 years earlier as an Army engineer.

The 106th Division was tasked with watching a “quiet sector,” but Hitler had been making plans to mount a “momentous” attack along a 35-mile front on Dec. 16, 1944. Surprised and surrounded by German Panzers and floods of “Volksgrenadiers,” two of the Division’s regiments were forced to surrender almost immediately; my Dad was in the third regiment, which was never captured en masse but was nonetheless very nearly obliterated in the attack. He was just 19 years old when he was made a prisoner and forced at the point of a rifle to carry stretchers and retrieve wounded German soldiers from the battlefield.

At home, his family listened in agony for the nightly radio reports for days, then weeks. His older brother, serving in the Navy at the time, followed the news as well.  In early January radio announcer Cedric Foster broke the story that the entire division had been “struck by an avalanche of steel and fire”; two of the division’s regiments had surrendered and more than 8,700 of the Division’s numbers had been captured, killed or injured by the end of the third day. My Dad’s family wouldn’t find out until late January that their son and brother had managed to survive his first encounter with the Germans, first a prisoner and then liberated later in a counter-attack by members of his own Division.

My family and many, many families like them across the nation, clearly chose to place the welfare of this country above their own comfort and safety. The fate of the nation was at stake. They volunteered, they did without basic supplies and coped with shortages, they turned in surplus steel and metals, they bought war bonds and they worked together at home and abroad to defeat the forces threatening world domination at the time. This is what true Patriotism looks like. It is no wonder that theirs has been called “The Greatest Generation.”

Which brings us to today, when fully a third of our nation continues to refuse to inconvenience themselves by wearing a simple mask for the sake of others around them, or to get a free vaccination which could bring an almost immediate end to a worldwide pandemic.

My father and others like him fought wars at great risk to themselves to defend your rights, including your right to choose whether to wear a mask or get a vaccine. But if you choose not to do either one, please don’t try to call yourself a “patriot,” because patriots love their country as much as they love themselves, and maybe even more.

So this Christmas, think about this: If you’re adamantly refusing to wear a mask or to suffer a momentary jab of a vaccine needle in order to prevent others from becoming sick or dying at the height of this pandemic, well … stop fooling yourself.

You may be many things, but you’re no patriot.

Bill Bucher, Jr. lives in Salisbury.