General Patton and the Shite Grave

On his daily lunchtime walks, Boyfriend has taken to unearthing tiny bits of the long-forgotten history of Oakland. They are made for one another in this regard, he and Oakland. A city that has only just started gentrifying, Oakland hosts several historically significant sites, handing Boyfriend a new treasure every week. From the evolution of the oldest business owned by an African-American woman to the fate of a Japanese grocery store in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, Boyfriend has traced some very interesting stories on his recent afternoon strolls. So it didn’t entirely surprise me when the other day, as we were grabbing a snack in downtown Oakland, he glanced out of the window of the establishment and said, apropos of nothing, “You see that stairwell leading down to the train station? That was the exact location of Oakland’s first public restroom.”

"What did I say about appropriate meal-time conversation, Gustaf?"

“Now what did I say about appropriate meal-time conversation, Gustaf?” (Image source.)

This may not have been the most appropriate snack-time conversation, especially considering the fat piece of roasted potato I had just stuffed in my mouth. But it was a fascinating story. In August 1919, the City of Oakland allotted $10,000 of public funding to build Oakland’s first “comfort room,” on a site that hosted, at the time, a temporary hut for community service volunteers during WWI. The women’s section of this comfort room was provided with many more facilities than the men’s, including passageways that could accommodate baby carriages, and “rest rooms” (as opposed to “restrooms”) for the ladies to, well, rest.

Of course, with Boyfriend the conversation never stops at the end of one story. All that talk of toilets and WWI had led him to yet another tale, and before he could end the Great Comfort Room Saga with the dramatic flourish it deserved, he moved right on, without transition, to this:

“Did you know that the mayor of one of the French villages in which General Patton worked during the First World War mistakenly maintained a latrine pit under the assumption that it was the grave of a fallen American soldier?”

The first thing that comes to mind when one hears the name of General George S. Patton is his role in the Battle of Normandy. Not so well known is his role in WWI, during which he was stationed in France as Captain, and briefly as Colonel. Towards the end of WWI, Colonel Patton was given the responsibility of developing the Army’s Tank Corps. After a thorough recon of the area in 1917, he decided to establish the Tank Brigade Headquarters in a muddy little town by the name of Bourg — because what better place to learn how to man a tank than a large patch of earth slathered in mud.

George S. Patton in France in 1918. (Image source: Wikipedia)

George S. Patton in France in 1918. (Image source: Wikipedia)

But then the war ended, and for a short couple of decades, people moved on with their lives. The next time George S. Patton visited that region of France, he was a General and a hero to the people. For reasons that I imagine were both professionally and personally motivated, he traveled through some of the places he was stationed at during the last war. In Bourg, people remembered him from the last time he was there and welcomed him with a “procession of pitchforks, scythes, and rakes.” As he visited all the places that had been a part of his temporary home back in 1918, the General realized, with much amusement, that a particular “grave” by the name of “Abandoned Rear” was still being maintained by the town. Here’s the story of the grave in the General’s own words:

In 1917, the mayor, who lived in the “new house” at Bourg, bearing the date 1760, came to me, weeping copiously, to say that we had failed to tell him of the death of one of our soldiers. Being unaware of this sad fact, and not liking to admit it to a stranger, I stalled until I found out that no one was dead. However, he insisted that we visit the “grave,” so we went together and found a newly closed latrine pit with the earth properly banked and a stick at one end to which was affixed crosswise a sign saying, “Abandoned Rear.” This the French had taken for a cross. I never told them the truth.

The only record of this incident is in the General’s autobiography (from which the above passage is taken), which was incomplete at the time of his death in 1945. I cannot imagine what kind of name the French mayor thought “Abandoned Rear” was, especially considering that the word “abandon” means the same in both French and English. Maybe he thought “Abandoned” was a rank in the US Army, like Captain or Major, and that “Rear” was the last name of said “Abandoned.” Or simply that whoever had gone through the effort of putting this soldier with the last name “Rear” in the ground, hadn’t then taken the time to leave a proper epitaph, instead leaving a quick note indicating the “abandoned” status of Private/Specialist/Corporal “Rear.” Whichever way this worked out, it’s not clear if George S. Patton kept the truth from the mayor simply because he didn’t have the heart to correct him, or because he had a great–if dark–sense of humor.

Personally, when I think of the young George S. Patton being walked to the site of “Abandoned Rear” by an earnest French mayor, I imagine him thinking to himself, “Dude, this is just total shit.”

“…yes, but are you one hundred percent sure?”

And yes, I do wonder if the “grave” of “Abandoned Rear” still stands in Bourg. It’s probably a long shot, but I’d be tempted to take a look if I find myself in that part of the world.

Want to know more? Go here. And here.

Dogs of WWII: The Soviet Edition

Obviously, there is a second part to this. As WWII went, the Soviets matched the Germans at every instance of silliness. It didn’t matter which side each of them was on.

Jackie, the Hitler-mocking dog, had a happy ending. The German Vice Consul wanted to put him – and his humans – on trial, but circumstances, by which I mean the not-altogether-inconsequential skirmish with the Soviet Union, intervened. But not all dogs involved in the war lived up to similarly uneventful golden years, a fact Boyfriend thought important to emphasize:

“Did you know that in the same Soviet-German battle of WWII (mentioned in the previous post), the Soviet Union used dogs to bomb German tanks? Of course, as you can imagine, the dogs had to be blown up too, for this to happen.”

"Wait... WHAT?!"

“Wait… WHAT?!”

As the history of Canis Lupus Familiaris goes, this was a tragedy of epic proportions. And it needs to be described as such.

Many moons ago, when the Great War hath ended,
‘Twas set up far away, a school that intended
To train beasts for battle
Make soldiers from cattle
A plan that was applauded and commended.

‘Twas mystical, the Soviet Union
A land of comradeship and communion
But behind hammer and sickle
Justice, it hath been fickle
The greed for power, truly Machiavellian.

But time stops for none; another war approached
“How to vanquish all,” the question, it was broached.
To fight alongside man
Help any way he can
Canis Lupus Familiaris was coached.

In the 1920s, when climes were peaceful yet
Military men took many a pet cadet
Hounds learned to sniff out mines
Rescued kin, mine and thine
Transported goods, nary a sign of sweat.

Rescue and transport dogs.

Rescue and transport dogs.

But in the 1930s, the world began to churn
Deadly flames of fascism, through Europe they did burn
“Our dogs, to carry bombs, let’s train;
‘Der Fuhrer’s’ shown us such disdain
Let’s blow their tanks to dust at every turn!”

Canis Lupus was trained to hold in his snout
Explosives designed to take German tanks out
He was to drop them and flee
Soldiers would then turn a key
The plan would succeed; there was ne’er a doubt.

Alas! Canis Lupus was confounded
With so many commandants surrounded
Sometimes he didn’t drop-and-flee
Or brought the bomb back with glee
Upon his mates the dynamite redounded!

“This worketh not,” the beaten soldiers claimed
Many a men, broken, bleeding, or maimed
“Let’s strap the bombs to Canis,
Yes! That’s what the new plan is!”
Hundminen, this bomber-dog was named.

The Hundminen plan. (Image source.)

The Hundminen plan. (Image source.)

But training for wartime, the task is never gentle
The dogs were put through torture, physical and mental
Starved for days, no water drank
The food all stashed under tanks
They crawled underneath on instincts fundamental.

They knew where to go, the training was on track
Next, the trainers strapped bombs to Canis’ back
Under hostile tanks he’d go
Tank and dog, both, off they’d blow!
A trick learned in time; the Germans had attacked!

But alas, they didn’t work so well, these bomb-bearing mules
Their training drills, while rigorous, involved no actual duels
Germans had spies, they’re read the logs
They rained gunfire on the dogs
(And they smelled different, Russian and German fuels!)

On the battlefield they lay, many a lifeless hound
Some died blown up in the air, and some fell on the ground
(The dog, look at the irony
Was a Shepherd from Germany)
Canis Lupus d’Alsace, your tragic tale resounds.

Russians clamored on the streets, “Our dogs are sacrificed!”
The army tried explaining; their stories ne’er sufficed
“The dogs took out 300 tanks!
Believe us, for we play no pranks.”
Such shameful lies, as statistics disguised.

The program for army dogs was publicly reviled
The army made numbers up, the people weren’t beguiled.
But the system, it was rotten
The dog slaughter was forgotten
Under “Epic Soviet Failures” the story was calmly filed.

Worst. Story. Ever.

Worst. Story. Ever.

Want to know more? Go here. And here. And read my previous post: Dogs of WWII: The Nazi Edition.

Dogs of WWII: The Nazi Edition

This weekend Boyfriend and I did some spring cleaning. Buried away underneath years of notebooks, papers, and writing pads, I found a poem I had written when I was nine, about the kittens my aunt and uncle’s cat had just given birth to. In splits over the dodgy meter of my poem, and over how, as a kid, I would obsessively write rhyming words in a square on the top right corner of the paper before I started the poem itself, I told Boyfriend all about the kittens Toto, Bhutto, and Charlie, who were a regular part of my life for a few years.

White and black piebalds, Toto, Bhutto, and Charlie had been thus named for very specific reasons. Toto was named after a rock band from the 1970s, a time when my aunt and uncle were young and romantic, and liked to think of themselves as rebels. Bhutto, a glutton often found stealing food from her brothers, was named in mockery of a Pakistani Prime Minister with a proclivity for corruption. Charlie was born with a brief swatch of black across his upper lip, and was therefore named after the great Charlie Chaplin.

“Of course, he was as much Adolf Hitler as Charlie Chaplin,” I said, “but no one would want to name their pet Hitler.” Mocking a corrupt politician is one thing, but naming your pet for a genocidal fascist is a whole other level of unacceptable.

“Actually,” Boyfriend began. “Did you know during the second world war, the Nazis tried to prosecute a dog called Hitler, because he did the Nazi salute as a party trick?”

Incidentally the dog, Jackie, was also a style icon. (Image source.)

Clearly, the dog was also a style icon. (Image source.)

Let me tell you the story the way my nine-year-old self would have told you about Toto, Bhutto, and Charlie:

In a town called Tampere, a long time ago
A dog had a trick that he really liked to show.
He flung his arm in the air, and he flexed his paw
(What treats was he given? I’d really like to know.)

His name was Jackie, and he was a Dalmatian
He lived in Finland, a Nazi-friendly nation.
But his German mistress, the sultry Josefine
Thought the Fuhrer had led her country to damnation.

She liked making fun of him, the sultry Josefine
She liked her husband Tor Borg, who was just as keen
To poke fun at Hitler, to take him down a notch,
Oh, Jackie’s Nazi salute – it just had to be seen!

So they threw a bunch of soirees, fixed up a party
(Nothing like Der Fuhrer’s) it was hearty, and arty!
Jackie was an instant hit; they laughed, “Look, it’s Hitler!”
So he raised one more salute, that dog was a smarty!

But the year was 1941, a war was nigh.
Fear was growing from the earth and raining from the sky.
The German Vice Consul heard of Jackie’s party trick
And decreed with a psychotic luft, “That dog must die!”

So, to the Vice Consul went the gentle Tor Borg
(I’m sure that he felt he was heading to the morgue.)
It wasn’t just the dog, it was his business too
His supplies came from Germany, not Luxembourg.

With his heart in his mouth, he arrived in Helsinki
With great foreboding, he alighted from his dinky
“His name’s Jackie, not Hitler, he’s done no canine crimes.”
Please, just let me go, he prayed, biting on his pinkie.

But the German Vice Consul, Willy Erkelenz
He knew he had the upper hand; this, he could sense.
He growled at Borg a while, the Reich had trained him well
He laughed as Borg stood there, his eyes lowered, brow tense.

Not quite what you're thinking.

Others laughed too, like a Union named Soviet
(Playing, unusually, a role quite appropriate.)
As Willy took the case of Jackie to Der Fuhrer
The Allies pushed the Reds: “Attack and expropriate!”

Caught like a kipper, like a willy in a zipper
Unwilling the Reich slipped, a lily in a clipper!
It was washed with blood, the long road to Barbarossa
But back in cold Tampere, ol’ Jackie was chipper!

Now, you know how this ends, you’re not a green-eared calf
The Nazis were vicious, but too clever by half.
As the world trod slow, the floors of purgatory
Jackie lived happy and long, a bark like a laugh.

Want to know more? Go here. And here.

(All cartoon images from Disney’s Der Fuhrer’s Face, and Education for Death.)