Archives For World War II

Over the 4th of July drive this past week I listened to the audiobook of Conversations with Major Dick Winters: Life Lessons from the Commander of Band of Brothers.

For those of you who have watched the Emmy-award winning HBO Mini-series, Band of Brothers, or read the book of the same name by Stephen Ambrose, you know Major Winters. His life has been well documented to this point through that story as well as his memoirs, Beyond Band of Brothers

urlFollowing the publication of Beyond Band of Brothers, Conversations was a book Major Winters wanted to have written after spending hundreds of hours with Col. Cole Kingseed. There were lessons through Major Winters’ life that needed to be told.

Watching Band of Brothers is something I recommend any person to do whether they are interested in military history, or not. At least do it for the sake of honoring those who served World War II. The book made Easy Company famous. Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg through the mini-series helped make the company legendary. Thousands of baby boomers and people my age were given a unique view into their epic journey from Airborne training, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, and on to taking Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest at the end of the war.

In the audiobook, Winters’ leadership principles were shared, as in Beyond Band of Brothers, and I think it is worth sharing with you. No matter your role in life, it is important to understand what it takes to lead. The military life can teach us a lot of things perhaps because the pressures seem greatest.

I have appreciated Major Winters  because of his “quiet strength” as a leader. Actor Damian Lewis played this very well on-screen in the mini-series.

I am humbled because as a leader I have far from mastered these lessons but they are principles that I need to be reminded of and develop on a daily basis. These lessons are applicable to any leader and not limited to the battlefield.

In the words of Major Winters, “Hang tough”.

Leadership At The Point Of a Bayonet

1. Strive to be a leader of character, competence, and courage.

2. Lead from the front. Say, “Follow me!” and then lead the way.

3. Stay in top physical shape–physical stamina is the root of mental toughness.

4. Develop your team. If you know your people, are fair in setting realistic goals and expectations, and lead by example, you will develop teamwork.

5. Delegate responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their job. You can’t do a good job if you don’t have a chance to use your imagination and creativity.

6. Anticipate problems and prepare to overcome obstacles. Don’t wait until you get to the top of the ridge and then make up your mind.

7. Remain humble. Don’t worry about who receives the credit. Never let power or authority go to your head.

8. Take a moment of self-reflection. Look at yourself in the mirror every night and ask yourself if you did your best.

9. True satisfaction comes from getting the job done. They key to a successful leader is to earn respect–not because of rank or position, but because you are a leader of character.

10. Hang Tough!–Never, ever, give up.

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

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What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

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If you know me personally or have read my posts before, you’ll discover that my life is shaped heavily by the lessons of Sir Winston Churchill. If you have read anything about him, you probably learned about the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of World War II or the Cold War. Yet, the hidden gem of Winston Churchill is found in his ” wilderness years.”

churchill sitting

In the Spring of 1929 when the Conservative Party lost the General Election in Great Britain and the 54-year old Winston Churchill stepped down as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had served in every major British Cabinet post except Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Churchill was never popular with the Conservative Party’s rank and file or its leaders thus he became marginalized throughout the 1930s leading up to World War II. He was in his wilderness.

gatheringstorm

These “Churchill wilderness” years are well represented by history books but my favorite portrayal of him on-screen during those years was by Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). In the movie, despite his political impotency, Churchill is the one of the few who most clearly (and accurately) sees Hitler’s Germany rearming and rising as a threat. By speaking up he becomes marginalized and dismissed as a war-mongerer. In addition, during those years he was having financial struggles and left to determine if he had any life left in him politically. Those were the years of building strength and courage to prepare for what was coming, the gathering storm. Thank God that our brave Sir Winston survived those years as they helped to fully develop the man who would lead (and arguably save) Britain in World War II.

Churchill brings encouragement to me in my wilderness. I have felt lately that I’m in it as well and trying to figure out a next stage of life and what God wants next for me. I am so thankful for this time because I can see God working despite not knowing the ending of this chapter. From one wilderness to another, Churchill is still teaching me. I am thankful for this wilderness.

The wilderness teaches us to

  • See more clearly because we are acutely seeking for purpose. We are thinking about what matters most in life.
  • Become more thoughtful in our writing, our personal relationships, and our prayer life.
  • Seek God for guidance. It is a time to remember that we are not alone. That is why God reminds us of why Jesus went into the wilderness. It was in preparation for something big.
  • Be patient. We need to slow down and embrace life’s meaningful development process.
  • Realize our potential.  God loves seeing victory through you.
  • Be thankful for the journey.

Great stories are written in wilderness. Embrace it.

You will be better because of it. We all will. 

In one of my favorite movies, City Slickers (1991), a question is asked amongst friends who were on a modern-day western cattle drive adventure,

What was your best day?  

This is a great question to ask at different points in your life to get a pulse on where your heart is. I have a firm belief that in order to discover your heart that God gave you, it is essential to look back at the moments, in this case a day, to understand what stirs you.

For me, I remember driving through the Scottish Highlands with my good friend Steve Griffin and another South African friend. It was recommended that we go to the Isle of Skye in the west highlands. We weaved through long windy roads traversing historic and beautiful areas like breathtaking Glencoe, The Rob Roy Monument, and even the enchanting Eilean Donan castle. The day started by waking up in beautiful Portree, a small fishing village only to witness small boats heading out to sea with the sun rising above them. After a hearty Scottish breakfast of tea, eggs, and sausage, we drove and walked around the island. We drank water from the streams, walked along the coast, took pictures of the mountains, breathed in the beautiful air. Believe it or not, the Scottish Tourism Board isn’t paying me to write this as my sentiment is genuine.

After we left the island and drove north, we all were in awe and marveled at what we just witnessed.

I said to my friends,

“You know what would make this the most complete and best day ever?  “What if an RAF Tornado fighter jet buzzed through this beautiful valley?”

I had heard about military jets buzzing some of these valleys and since I’ve always been a fan of British and American airpower, this would complete it. Our South African thought we were delirious Americans who only cared about weapons. We laughed of course and didn’t think anything of it because of the unlikelihood.

Not five minutes later we heard a roar of a plane approaching us. I was in the passenger seat and could see it approaching us from behind us.  With half of our bodies out the window, Steve and I went crazy screaming and cheering as a Royal Air Force (RAF) Tornado buzzed our car at almost supersonic speed.

After the plane roared on by, Steve said it best,

That’s the sound of freedom, baby.

I’ll never forget that day.

Our reaction to the RAF Tornado made me think of the awe and amazement of Christian Bale’s character, Jim, in the beautiful and tragic Steven Spielberg film, Empire of the Sun (1987) when he sees the P-51 Mustang buzz his concentration camp. Jim saw his “Cadillac of the Sky” as a sign that freedom is coming. I can imagine that it was Jim’s best day at that point in life, despite how hard things were.

Why does a best day ever even matter?

Since that day in Scotland, I’ve had several “best days” that have topped that one. I’ve been to the World Cup in Germany and seen amazing sights. I’ve also traveled around the Mediterranean to see Greek islands like Santorini. I think mostly about Brooke and I getting married and how beautiful she looked walking toward me at All Saints Chapel in Sewanee. I remember her smile, her grace, and beautiful blonde hair gracing her long flowing white dress all while walking along flowers. God was present that day, May 28, 2005, I know it. It was a “best day” indeed.

These “best days” matter because they give us a glimpse of heaven. It is a swagger in the golf swing, a tip of the hat, a wink of the eye. It is God showing us the way things are supposed to be and what we also have to look forward to for eternity in Heaven if we put our trust in Christ.

What about you?

What is your best day? 

You know a good speaker when you see one.

But are you one?

Do you ever wonder exactly why a speech can be so good? It can bring shivers down your back. It can inspire you to change the world.  Sometimes it can be as simple as provoking the feeling that you aren’t alone.  Everyday I have the opportunity to speak in public or watch someone else do it.  I am fascinated by those who do this so well so I try to study and emulate them.

More people fear public speaking over death for example.  It is frequently ranked as the #1 fear for people as a matter of fact.   With so much fear attached to public speaking, often people shy away from trying to better themselves at it.  As Flannery O’Connor put it, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As it a good speech. I have a long way to become a good orator.

Winston Churchill noted that in each speech,

“There must be character, personality, delivery and occasion,…”

As in all things in life, Sir Winston. Thank you.

I like keeping things simple in life so there are two attributes that can be applied to about anything in life, especially speech:  Planning and Delivery.

Let us study two of my heroes of speech and rhetoric.

PLANNING: Churchill’s “Our Finest Hour” Speech

Churchill grew up with a lisp and had to overcome incredible odds to become the speaker we know him as today.  He was known early on in his political career as a rambler but over the decades, he transformed into a master of public speaking. How did he do it?  Churchill would often say that for every minute in a speech one should prepare an hour.  His work ethic was untouchable and it helped eventually him do best what was needed in the moment.  In Churchill’s preparation, he knew that his pause was his secret weapon.  By intense planning, he knew when to best use the pause.  Churchill has given thousands of speeches that you will neither hear nor read in life but if you could only read one, read his amazing “Our Finest Hour” speech.  Whenever you feel down and frustrated by life’s circumstances, it will uplift your spirit.  If you are in that Dunkirk point of life in retreat as the Allies were; learn from the Brits and regroup, reassess, and get back in the game.  You can read the full speech here.

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

DELIVERY: FDR’s Message to Congress after Pearl Harbor

Draft #1: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in ‘world history’….”

Following the sudden and deliberate attack on the United States, FDR knew this was a moment to capture emotion and reason so in his final draft he changed ‘world history’ to ‘infamy.’  Read the original version a few times and you realize that it doesn’t fully embrace the magnitude of what happened at Pearl Harbor.  It is now one of the most famous opening speech lines ever.  Can you imagine trying to describe the emotion of a nation on the fly like FDR?  He mastered the moment and a nation became united and galvanized for war.

What does this mean to you?  

Part of your planning must be to anticipate the moments that could come.  You must plan for the moment in the same way that you planned how to get there.  Over my years as a history student, I studied Churchill and FDR extensively.  Today, I become discouraged occasionally and think, “I can’t do it like them.  I am not even in a position of ultimate leadership that would require this sort of planning and skill.”  But I then realize that I am wrong.  My team, which includes my family, look to me daily to master these skills of planning and mastering the moment.

Remember that yes you can do it.

Keep it simple. Plan, and plan for the moment.

Recently I watched the movie Midnight in Paris (2011).  I’m not a Woody Allen junkie but this one fascinated me.  The main character Gil, played by Owen Wilson, is an aspiring writer who admires the “Lost Generation” artists from 1920’s Paris.  In the movie, Gil finds himself transported to that era where he meets artist greats like Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, Gertrud Stein, Pablo Picasso, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Although a fiction story, it was amusing to get lost in the story of the Gil and it got me thinking.

What era would I have liked to live in?

There is much to consider in the question and answers can be surprisingly personal.  I’ve asked this question many times to friends and you get a lot of different answers.

Women quite often bring up that era’s rights of women first.  An old female friend of mine said that she wouldn’t want to live in any other era than now because women have never had so much opportunity.  I never thought of that before she brought it up. My wife in particular always wishes she were in the Jane Austen Victorian Era with the beautiful dresses, chivalry, and beautiful dialogue (no pressure on me, huh).  My mother is fascinated by the Tudors (yes the show as well) but never would have wanted to wear the suffocating dresses or have to deal with lack of modern medicine.

Most men I’ve quizzed seem to be fascinated by eras that represent the greatest adventure to them.  If you were a baseball fan, perhaps it would be the 1920s and 1930s when Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig ruled the diamond.  If you admired the military, they say World War II, The Civil War, or the Napoleonic Wars.  My father has always been intrigued by his grandfather who lived from the 1880’s to 1980’s. His Grandpa Moberg was born during the “horse and buggy” age and lived until seeing a man on the moon.

And now my answer…

The Age of Exploration is a favorite of mine.  But then I remember details about explorers like Magellan who despite technically not making it around the world (killed by Filipino natives), ironically got a GPS system named after him.  The truth is, his story wasn’t much different from other explorers who either died in the middle of their journey fighting natives or from some terrible disease.   I’ve also been fascinated by the Roman Empire  or Ancient Greece and their gallant expansion battles, beautiful architecture, and lessons of government.  Perhaps I read/watched a little too much of Julius Caesar and The Iliad. If I were to pick a favorite, I would pick The American Revolution. I imagine myself fighting for freedom with my distant relative, Vermont Minuteman Lt. Nathaniel Bowman Brown.  It has always seemed to be a time period of great drama; to live on the frontier, fight for freedom, and form of a new way of life.

The truth is, as Midnight in Paris’ Gil points out, someone is going to be asked this question fifty years from now and possibly think that “the 2010’s” is the best era.  We are never quite satisfied in the era we live are we?   We look back to find solace and inspiration from other eras.   I’m sure that ole Uncle Nate Brown looked back to The Renaissance and thought, “Man, that era was so much better than this 1770’s mess.”

What about you?  

What is the best era in history to live? 

After D-Day…

June 7, 2011 — Leave a comment

After D-Day, it wasn’t over.  It took the Allies over a month to finally break through inland.

General Dwight Eisenhower, then Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, wrote two letters to release the morning of June 7th.  Thank God he didn’t have to finish this letter and but send a report of initial victory.

Prior to the invasion, he gave this encouragement knowing well that this was just the beginning.

“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened, he will fight savagely.”

You can read his full inspiring message here.

In life we have to keep pushing to the end.  The enemy is strong and with God’s help we will achieve victory.

After you secure the beachhead, keep moving forward.   You’re not alone.