John C. Peeler was a Sergeant in the 100th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, deployed in the European Theater of World War II. The Century Division landed in Marseilles, France in October of 1944 and moved north, toward Alsace, for their part in the Ardennes Offensive. The 100th experienced "Success in Battle," as was their motto, holding the strategic Saverne Pass against the 17th SS Panzer-Grenadiers, the "Götz von Berlichingen" Division, in mid-January, the height of winter. This is their very impressive record on paper.
But what made the most impression on me was my Grandpa's description first-hand experiences. Sure, the historical notes of the heaviest snows in the 20th century in January 1945 are meaningful, but the description of the bitter cold brought it home. The reputation of the powerful German Panzers made a dent, but Granpda's stories of the sound of the trees splintering above him from artillery blasts made it real. It was these tree splinters that caused many of the casualties to their division - people he knew, friends and comrades.
And it was these stories that really brought home to me that you can only get part of the story from a history book. But more than that, I began to get an inkling of why vets may want to experience war again through entertainment. It's a healing thing to experience terrifying, difficult events again in a controlled environment. It's a way to reconnect with them, feel the emotion again, and then put them safely away again.
I recently experienced this desire to reconnect with and re-experience events. My Grandpa died two weeks ago, today. In those grasping days afterward, where one reaches into the treasure chest of memories, as if to make sure they're all still there and weren't lost along with your loved one, I remembered these conversations about WWII. In some bizarre leap brought on by sadness, I felt a desire to watch Saving Private Ryan, to watch Band of Brothers or to play Call of Duty.
It doesn't seem to make much sense on the surface, but it was a need similar to my Grandpa's to connect with memories of war. It was different for me in that it was a need to connect with my Grandpa. I have to wonder how many games, movies and TV series' were created so that we could not only connect with memories of combat, but also for the civilians among the population to connect with loved ones lost in war or who told stories about war before passing.