Monday, June 21, 2010

Battlefield Philanthropist

Sixty-six years ago, on June 12, 1944, Private Ainsworth went ashore in Normandy with the Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. He was one of two members of his company who didn’t get killed. A German artillery shell landed nearby and he was injured seriously enough to be discharged. I have never met Mr. Ainsworth, but I’ve seen a picture of him. I counted two arms, two legs and two eyes. It sounds to me like the Krauts did not hit anything TOO important. Apparently, Private Ainsworth got what Americans call a Million Dollar Wound. He fathered three children and had a career teaching school. His third child, Philip, managed to get a degree from Hereford College and married an American gal who was studying at Oxford in 1977 as part of The Ohio State University’s summer program. I was Phil’s best man when he got married March 18, 1978, thirty-two years ago. Way to go, Phil and Diane.

I’ve heard a few stories about what Private Ainsworth went through in those days in Normandy. I understand that he was an athletic bloke whose specialty was sneaking up behind German soldiers, grabbing them by the helmet and taking them prisoner. This, no doubt, made him very popular with his battalion’s intelligence officer, since he brought in good sources of interrogation.

Forgive my slightly warped sense of humor, but it seems to me that Private Ainsworth was a real battlefield philanthropist. Imagine, if you will, what it must have been like in those days. People who have seen the film Saving Private Ryan might have some tiny inkling of the fighting that went on in Normandy. So if you were a German soldier, what present would you rather receive? A: all the tea in China B: All the gold in Fort Knox or C: an all-expenses paid vacation to Canada for the next year, where you would receive three hots and a cot with credit toward your pension? If any of the men Private Ainsworth took prisoner cursed their luck, there are several thousand men buried in Normandy who would love to trade places with them.

It occurred to me one Christmas that some of those German soldiers are still alive, telling stories to their great-grandchildren, who would never have been born but for Private Ainsworth’s courage. (And inadvertent battlefield philanthropy.) I doubt if any of those ungrateful Kraut bastards ever sent Ainsworth a Christmas card. Well, nevermind. If they won’t, I’m writing him a tribute right now. Congratulations, Mr. Ainsworth, on surviving Normandy and being around to celebrate the sixty-sixth anniversary. Best wishes from America.

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