The Myth, the Truth, and the General's Glory

Article excerpt

We pause," says the radio announcer, "to honor America," and as prelude to the afternoon game, we get a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" by a local thrush, or perhaps a glee club. All to the good. I like the occasions when a Canadian team comes down, or we go up, and we honor Canada as well, giving us two anthems, with the visiting team's coming first.

This was extra fine at The Forum in Montreal, where a gifted baritone stood on the ice to blast the rafters with "The Star Spangled Banner," and then would do "O Canada" in both French and English. Starting in French, he finished in the other, and he was followed by a short and impressive silence in both tongues that decorated the loving friendship of both sovereignties one to the other. Then the Bruins and the Habs went at each others' throats, and everybody had a good time.

This effort at bilingual patriotism always reminds me, and I grow sentimental, of Gen. John J. (Blackjack) Pershing - who commanded our doughboys in the Great War - and his heroic handling of the French language when he arrived in France. You can look it up. (See note at end.) It was after England and Canada had been involved with the Huns for some time, and aid from America was much needed. I wasn't quite 10 and I don't remember any consecutive incidents, but I do recall fragments of this and that as we went to battle. I can remember the crowds standing in line with ration tickets to get sugar, but I don't remember if we got any sugar. I can remember a decorated general who came to school and gave us a recipe for home-baked bread that would win the war, and we were to take it home to our mothers. We sang "The Star Spangled Banner," and when my mother looked at the bread recipe she said it would cost 25 cents a loaf more than the bread she always baked. I remember the general also passed out little flags, and we sang, "Soldier-boy-Soldier-boy-where-are-you-going-waving-so-proudly-the- R ed-White-and-Blue...." The arrival of the first convoy of troopships at Le Havre, bringing US soldiers to France, was a vast event, and preparations were carefully made. First, General Pershing, who knew no more French than the word "taxi," was coached by a linguist to exclaim (with gestures), "Lafayette! We are here!" His gestures would include a sweep of the harbor to show the thousands of boys in khaki drawn up topside and hanging in the rigging, with the protective escort of a flag-decked Navy. The general, naturally, was to deliver these historic words, a thank-you for aid in the American Revolution, in French. He was, his instructor confided, letter-perfect. It is well to reflect that at the time there was no television. Wireless was in use, but there was only rudimentary radio. …