Rod Dreher

HBO’s series “The Pacific” caused lots of folks to become interested in the life of Merriell “Snafu” Shelton, the character based on a real Marine of the same name. As I’ve written before, the real Snafu lived just down the road from me growing up. He died a couple of decades ago. This past weekend, while visiting my family down in Louisiana, I stopped by to see my Aunt Patsy, whose late husband, my Uncle Murphy, was key in reuniting Snafu with Eugene Sledge, whose famed war memoir, “With the Old Breed,” would later form part of the basis of HBO’s series.
The series’ placing Snafu’s birthplace in New Orleans was poetic license, Patsy said; he was actually from north Louisiana. I remember myself that he had a strong accent, but it wasn’t a Cajun accent, or even close. Patsy had been good friends with Gladys, Snafu’s late wife. She said that Gladys had no idea about her husband’s war past until Murphy read Sledge’s book, realized that the guy Snafu in the book was his friend from our community, and got the two of them together. Patsy told me, “She said he never, ever talked about what he did in the war.” If you read Sledge’s book, you can imagine why … but still, for that man to live all those years without talking about any of those horrors to his wife — well, it’s hard for me to imagine carrying that burden.
After reading “With the Old Breed,” Murphy contacted Sledge, who came to Louisiana to be reunited with Snafu. Murphy hosted a small dinner party for them, and also invited Gen. Robert Barrow, the retired US Marine Corps commandant, who lived on a farm nearby. There were also a handful of other retired Marines present for the conversation. Can you imagine what that was like, listening to Sledge, Snafu and Gen. Barrow talking about the war? Man!
And all that was how Snafu’s wife learned about what her husband did in the war. She’d had no idea.
By the way, when Gen. Barrow died a couple of years ago, I had a moment of intense remorse, over having thought for years that I should go by and visit the retired general, and talk to him about his experiences … but never did. Here’s what I wrote about it at the time. I concluded:

What I want to tell you is this: you can probably think of an old man or old woman in the periphery of your life, someone who may or may not be as illustrious or as accomplished as Gen. Barrow was, but who still has quite a story to tell. You may have thought to yourself that someday, you’d like to sit down with that person and have a long talk. But everydayness sets in, and you never do get around to it. Suddenly, you’re out of days. The moment has passed. There’s nothing left but regret.
I was a fool to let the opportunity to benefit from Gen. Barrow’s wisdom pass me by. Whoever your Gen. Barrow is, don’t you be a fool too.

Do it. Time is passing. I’m inspired by my late uncle, who, upon reading Sledge’s book, didn’t just say to himself, “That’s interesting — ol’ Merriell’s in this book,” but rather took action to make something wonderful happen for these survivors of war … and for history.

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