The Last Casualty part 4
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Slumber well where the shells screamed and fell;
Let your rifles rest on the muddy floor;
You will not need them anymore.
—U.S. Army Sgt. Joyce Kilmer, “Rouge Bouquet,” 1918
The intervening years have obliterated evidence, obscured truths, blurred memories—but family members have continued to dig for answers. William Budde, a cousin and a Xavier grad, has made a hobby of tracking family histories. “He certainly was brave,” William says. “But what he did might sound, at first, a little like he was playing Russian roulette.”
Maj. Mark Budde, a relative and himself a retired Marine who served a half century later in the same regiment as George, agrees: “It does sound a little crazy to be poking around the front lines in front of the German machine. I do not understand. Why didn’t they simply sit in their trenches, on both sides, and wait until 11:00 a.m. on the 11th?” Maj. Budde went so far as to launch informal inquiries from the Corps, including as recently as March 2012. “I’d like to hear the rationale for what the command was attempting to accomplish,” he says. No answer has been forthcoming.
Dr. Louis Meiners, a 1967 Xavier grad and great grand-nephew of Budde, has a collection of Budde’s wartime letters that offer a hint of clarity. “He was wounded at the front, sent to the hospital, returned to his position, and then his wound re-opened,” says Dr. Meiners. “He was sent back to the hospital, and he begged this time to return to the front, to give the Germans ‘one more go.’ ”
So does this portray Budde as a glory hound? Can his excursion be written off as youthful misadventure or misplaced bravado? Or was it something else, something infinitely more sad—the final action of a despondent man who just lost his fiancée? “They bought a house together that they’d never live in,” says Dr. Meiners. “I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind, if he knew Regina had just died, if he wasn’t being just reckless.”
Another scenario is proffered: Perhaps these particular Marines hadn’t gotten the message of the impending peace. This was, after all, still an era of carrier pigeons and horseback messengers. “That was always my thought, that communications weren’t that great back then,” says niece Jean Meiners, a 1960 Xavier grad.
If there’s any lesson of significance to absorb from Budde’s sacrifice, perhaps it’s in the often fruitless injustice and arbitrary fraudulence that accompanies war. There’s a famous quote by Joseph Persico that William Budde likes to reference today, if by way of meager comfort: “The pointless fighting on the last day of the war is the perfect metaphor for the four years that preceded it, years of senseless slaughter for hollow purposes.”
[View a photo gallery of Budde]
[Where is Budde buried?]