Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

"If you do not take an interest in the affairs of your government, then you are doomed to live under the rule of fools."

– Plato


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Many of us lost a good friend this past week.  Ted Simonson was a teacher, football coach and the principal of Los Gatos High School for many years.  Ted was tough and very outspoken.  Despite being short in stature, he could “deck” a smart-ass kid with one punch, which he did. He could also get in trouble with the press for saying something like, “The Bay Bridge connects fairyland with jungle land.”  He did that too.  Ted was from the “old school” and we loved him for it.

            Ted was also a World War II hero who, among many other heroic acts, jumped a Nazi officer when his gun misfired while aimed at an America officer. That was just one of the lives he saved while in the service.  Ted was a member of the 42nd Rainbow Division that “liberated” the prisoners in Dachau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp.

            My wife Gayle’s oldest brother fought under General Patton.  They too liberated prisoner of war camps, freeing those fortunate enough to have survived to that point.  This brings me to Dachau, the subject of this blog.
 Entrance to Dachau, the concentration camp in Germany
There are a lot of stories of the concentration camps - mostly horrific - but I recently heard one exception.  Evidently in this particular case the liberating forces left the guns belonging to the Nazi guards loaded and in a pile. The Americans looked the other way as the just-released and emaciated prisoners took the guns and passed their judgment on those who had tortured them for so long.  Having seen Dachau myself, I have to be honest - I like that ending.

            My visit to Dachau in 1969 was just one stop on my motorcycle trip.  It wasn’t as much fun as the island of KrkDachau was not only depressing; it was a stark reminder of what man is capable of perpetrating on his fellow man.

Set up as a memorial, Dachau is a horrible graphic of what the Nazis did to their captives.  I went through the gas chambers designed to look like showers and saw the concrete slide where bodies were slid into trucks for the next step in their elimination. 

I saw the wooden bunks stacked up against the walls, the ovens, the horrible photographs and much more than I wanted to see. The gruesome sculpture at the entrance sets the mood for what this place represents.  Look closely at the grotesque images in that metal depiction.  The mental imprint of Dachau depresses me to this day.

Animals kill to eat and survive.  Cats sometimes play with their prey.  Baboons and apes have been known to form gangs and go on rampages killing their own kind.  But nothing compares to the human capacity to find pleasure in inflicting pain and in killing other creatures including human beings.  It’s a horrible nexus of “nature/nurture” and it raises many questions – more than I want to get into in a blog. 

I have the greatest respect for Ted’s generation, their heroism during the war, and the legacy of freedom that they left us.  I have no use for someone who would apologize for America or attempt to destroy the foundations of the country that so many of these guys fought and died for.

“The Greatest Generation” gave me the unique opportunity to be a carefree kid in the ‘50s, with all the freedoms that were still available to us back then.  As I said in my book, “The Huckleberry Days of the ‘50s,” I don’t think there was ever a better decade to be a kid. 

But the freedom I experienced in the ‘50s wasn’t free. Most people in my generation understand that and appreciate what we have been given.  Sadly, the America we remember is becoming less and less recognizable.  When a person receives something for nothing, there is little appreciation and even less gratitude.  How many flags did you see in your neighborhood this past Memorial Day? 

It's possible to be proud of the American concept, but disgusted with government and its destructive policies.   

I’m grateful to my parents and the other members of “The Greatest Generation.”  They gave us freedom and opportunity.  What we and subsequent generations do with the America that was passed on to us is now beyond the reach of that ‘greatest’ generation.  They did their part and handed the baton to us.  What happened?  


  1. It's amazing that there are those who believe it never happened.... who could make up something like that?

    Yes, it was a "Great Generation", wasn't it? But it wasn't the government that was great... it was the people and their core values. There will never be a government that can provide us with that. As a people, we're going to have to re-discover it within ourselves. I only hope it doesn't take a war to do it.

    My Dad fought in WW2 (a Jew, no less, and a bomber navigator), and I never thought to ask him what it all had meant to him, until he was already gone. I wish I had.

  2. I agree. I tried to make the distinction toward the end that America and what it stood for is great, but freedom requires eternal vigilance, as one of our founders said. Unfortunately, I think we've used our freedom to unlock the door to the asylum.

    It's too bad you didn't get a chance to talk to your dad, but most of those guys didn't want to talk or even remember what they experienced.

  3. I feel that it is I who caused my kids to have less than a sound understanding of just what it takes to keep America strong. By continually letting them think they deserved the best and that their 'opinions' mattered as much as those of others has left us with a country where honest compromise is viewed as a dirty word. My opinion, regardless of the facts rules today in a government, at all levels, that has ceased to be able to get any results.
    I wish I had done a better job of making my children understand that opinion has nothing to do with facts and that you don't diminish yourself when you get an honest compromise that allows a country to move forward.

  4. Excellent point, Malcolm - "Opinion vs facts"

    Also "Honest compromise" doesn't diminish the individual or a political party. Another good point.

    Sadly, "Honest" is the qualification and the word is almost an oxymoron in politics.