My father served his country proudly during World War II in Italy with the Army Corps of Engineers. From the few tales he told me, I gathered that his group went about the countryside constructing or deconstructing. It sounds counter-productive unless you stop and think about it. There was a war going on after all. If an enemy army were coming their way, they would blow up a bridge to prevent its crossing. If their own army were approaching, they would do everything possible to facilitate their arrival. It was also their job to deal as necessary with the officials of the towns they passed through.
One beautiful summer morning Daddy’s unit marched into a small town in Italy and was greeted by a small group of Italians complaining about the smell emanating from a nearby farmhouse. They said they’d complained to the mayor several time, but he had refused to take any action. The Americans investigated and found decaying bodies of an entire family in the house, left behind by the ravages of war.
The commander of the unit sent for the mayor of the town and waited patiently for him to arrive. When he appeared, the commander told him, “I want you to round up a group of men to come bury this family. You need to make this your top priority. The smell is atrocious. This is an unhealthy situation.”
The mayor puffed out his chest and said, “That’s not my job. That’s what you Americans are here for. You can do it yourselves. I have more pressing business to attend to.”
The commander carefully considered the mayor’s words for a few minutes and then replied in a controlled voice.
“My men can and will bury this family if we need to,” he replied, “but when they dig graves, they’ll be digging an extra one for you.”
Surprisingly enough, the mayor had a change of heart and soon had a work detail vigorously digging graves.
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