General Frederick Kroesen, veteran of three wars and survivor of an assassination attempt, died last week, age 97. Six years ago I sat next to him at a luncheon. I greeted him with his first name, until I realized who he was, a retired four star general and former U.S. Army vice chief of staff. We discussed his WWII service, about which I posted later that day on Facebook:
Had the pleasure over lunch of sitting next to this 91 year old retired USA Army general and veteran of WWII and Vietnam, serving from 1942-1982. He was a platoon commander 1944-1945 in France and Germany, starting with Allied invasion at Marseilles. I asked if he fully realized how evil the Nazis were before war’s end. He said no, they were just enemies who needed killing, and then his unit came upon one of the camps. I told him about watching the new Brad Pitt movie FURY last eve in which Pitt as tank commander orders an underperforming new recruit to shoot a German prisoner. The General said some of his men didn’t want to take prisoners but he as an officer had to restrain them. I asked if all soldiers, as portrayed in movies now, used the F word like a machine gun. He said absolutely not, they cussed but not like that. I asked if FDR were universally admired or seen as mostly a politician. He said admired up to a point, but the military agreed the war effort required his reelection. I asked if as a young man at the war’s start he ever doubted America would win the war. His answer: no, but most did not realize then how unprepared we actually were.
I could have pelted him with additional questions for hours. Kroesen said next time he’d like to discuss Vietnam. The senior USA commander there at the end, he indicated he was no fan of the Paris peace accord negotiated by Henry Kissinger. Sadly, I never saw him at this monthly lunch group again. (It was Sons of the American Revolution.)
But sometime later I was in line at a neighborhood bakery, where an elderly couple ahead of me were taking their time ordering. I grew irritated. But then I recognized it was General Kroesen and his wife. Besides his service in three wars, he and she were together targeted by anti-tank missile propelled grenades that struck his official armored Mercedes in 1981. He was then commander of U.S. Army Europe. His aspiring assassins were the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or Red Army Faction, a Marxist terror group afflicting West Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. Fortunately, thanks to the armor, provided weeks before by West German authorities wary of the terror threat, he and his wife escaped with minor injuries.
“Take all the time you want,” I thought to myself as they deliberated over their bakery selection. “You‘ve earned it.”
As Kroesen later recalled of the assassination attempt against him, “It’s not the first time the Germans shot at me and missed.” He had in fact been wounded in all of his wars, WWII, Korea and Vietnam. On Memorial Day, we remember and honor Americans like General Kroesen who sacrificed themselves that we might live and prosper as free people.
But there’s a wider lesson in Kroesen’s life and military career, which is the near permanence of conflict. He served the U.S. Army for 40 years during which the three wars in which he fought together killed over half a million Americans. All of them, and the wider Cold War, were struggles against totalitarian powers with sinister master narratives dramatically at odds with Western and biblical notions of human dignity, equality and justice.
The assassination attempt on Kroesen, it was revealed after the Cold War ended with the Soviet Bloc’s collapse, was facilitated by notorious East German spy chief Erich Mielke. We often forget today that the 1970s and early 1980s were their own epic of terror, including Mideast groups, but also European Marxist groups like the Baader-Meinhof Gang, Italy’s Red Brigades, which kidnapped U.S. Army James Dozier not long after the attack on Kriesner, plus the Irish Republican Army. These terror groups and others collaborated with assist from the Soviet Bloc, Libyan tyrant Muammar Gaddafi, the PLO and others.
Kroesner lived to see the end of the Soviet Bloc and most of its terror network, and to see the rise of a new terror network, mostly rooted in Islamism, not Marxism, but which learned important lessons from earlier terrorists, with whom they shared the same enemies: Western democracies. Kroesner told me he never as young man doubted America would prevail in WWII, despite its unpreparedness. No doubt he believed the same about America’s current enemies.
Kroesner’s death announcement via his funeral home concluded:
General Kroesen departs this life leaving the world a better place, and his legacy of service to the people of the U.S. and other nations will endure for generations.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Rest eternal grant unto him, O Lord, and may light perpetual shine upon him. Amen.
Amen indeed, to Kroesner, and millions of others whom we commemorate this Memorial Day.