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Posted: February 18, 2014 9:00 p.m.

A wintry lesson in perspective

Soldiers have endured far worse in winter than we have

It’s not yet 10 a.m. on Wednesday Feb. 12, and the Peach State’s 2014 Icemageddon already has Georgians in its Arctic grip.

Ice-coated limbs make an old oak tree pop and groan near our front porch. The normally frisky squirrels hunkered down in nests or most likely, our attic. Long-standing pecan trees twinkle on the back forty with frilly icy lace, and our crape myrtles sparkle elegantly as if garlanded by millions of silvery miniature Christmas lights.

A picturesque quiet engulfed our neighborhood. Young children as well as young adults weren’t hooting from the joy of building a snowman, tossing snowballs, or the realism of no school. They were all inside warm homes surfing the Net and/or driving their parents bonkers. Every few minutes a vehicle slithered along ice-covered Milstead Avenue with the driver’s sight focused straight ahead, either for safety’s sake or maybe hopeful a workmate or church member would not witness the foolishness of this venturing out against all sound advice.

Little Foot, the stray cat we feed daily, camped out in the middle of our front porch with no intention of leaving. Given the opportunity, he may end up inside under a bedcover. Cutie Pie, our elderly Rhodesian Ridgeback, can no longer scramble down the back steps due to back leg arthritis, so "Daddy" had to put on his golf shoes for traction and carry the 70-pound woolly load down the steps to do her "business.’’ Our Beagle, hardheaded enough to be a politician, scampers down the frozen steps with ease, then makes a slippery beeline for Little Foot’s food dish. Our 4-pound Chihuahua, Lilly, attired in her best wintertime sweater, will have nothing to do with the ice and snow and incessantly yaps for "Daddy’"to sit down so she can take a nap in his armpit.

While Cutie Pie searched for the "right spot" in a back yard covered with ice pellets, "Daddy" kept a cautious eye on the big pecan tree near our storage shed. The limbs were sagging; when a slight wind forces them to move, the crackling sounds like microwave popcorn in the zenith of a pop-fest. Which limbs will hold, which ones will not, becomes a secondary worry when the feasibility of the whole tree uprooting flashes a vision of huge consequences.

The ground is baking-powder white, the roof appears bleached, and the icicles are multiplying by the minute. Anchor people on the local news stations sound like Chicken Little, "The sky is falling!" But the problem is, they’re right on target. The sky is falling, as ice cubes. The morning is treacherously beautiful, and everything points to the beauty becoming even more treacherous.

So we wait. No power and no heat, or uninterrupted power and a cozy home? The situation is nothing less than a wintry crap-shoot. Another vehicle just passed by, a city truck, then a tractor with a front scraper. I suppose all of us are doing the best we can to survive.

As the author of "A Veteran’s Story," my reflections are never far away from the military angle. The Continental Army at Valley Forge virtually froze to death in the winter’s fury. Only one in three of the soldiers had shoes. Of approximately 12,000 troops, more than 2,500 would die from cold and disease, as did around 700 horses. Disease emaciated the soldiers: typhus, typhoid, dysentery, pneumonia, and smallpox took a dreadful toll. Yet, the soldiers hunkered down and lived to fight another day.

On Dec. 16, 1944, the German Army launched 30 divisions into an American "gap" in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium and Luxembourg. Only three American divisions protected the area. The Battle of the Bulge was an all-out attempt by Hitler to turn the tide of World War II right smack-dab in the middle of the worst European winter in recent history. Soldiers trapped at Bastogne fought off German tanks and troops in 14-degree weather, in the ice and in the snow.

My Uncle Thomas fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He’s gone now, but I remember his words about the fight. "We almost froze to death. My feet were frostbitten, but I had to fight on. You fought or you died; you kept fighting or you froze."

Marines consider the battle in Korea known as the "Frozen Chosin" as the time "when hell froze over’." It started on Nov. 27, 1950, when the temperature dropped to 20 below zero. Hordes of Chinese attacked in near-suicidal waves. As one Marine stated, "You couldn’t kill them fast enough."

At night, temperatures dropped to 35 below zero with wind-chills at 60 to 70 below zero. Food rations froze solid. A can placed in a fire would blacken the food on the bottom, but the food on top would remain a solid block of ice. Machine guns were sluggish; the recoil of artillery would be agonizingly slow. If a truck engine shut down, it would never start again.

Snow reduced visibility to a few feet, and behind those few feet came more Chinese. Fighting was hand-to-hand; weapons froze, as did the men. Medal of Honor recipient Gen. Ray Davis once told his sons: "It was so cold you couldn’t think. You couldn’t discern what direction you were going." But Davis made it, as did his indomitable Marines.

And today, and into the night, young men or women of the United States military are on a snow-covered mountain in Afghanistan. Most likely lonely, homesick, and praying not to be the last casualty of our effort in that war-torn country, all they want to do is come home.

Yes, we may lose power and we may have to bundle up tonight. But unlike the soldiers at Valley Forge, we have food, and shoes. German Panzers are not coming down the road to kill us; rather, Georgia Power crews, emergency personnel, and National Guard soldiers in Humvees are standing by to save our lives. Our pipes may freeze and tree limbs may break, but unlike in Korea, we aren’t relying on frozen weapons and frozen food for survival.

And we aren’t stuck on a God-forsaken mountain in Afghanistan with dreams of home. We’re already there.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at aveteransstory@gmail.com or aveteransstory.us.

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