On Memorial Day, Barack Obama told a group of veterans, “My grandfather marched in Patton’s army, but I cannot know what it is to walk into battle like so many of you."
He went on to talk about an uncle, "part of the American brigade that helped to liberate Auschwitz" and, returning from the war, spent six months in an attic: “Now obviously, something had really affected him deeply, but at that time there just weren’t the kinds of facilities to help somebody work through that kind of pain.”
Since then, the GOP gaffe police have been gleefully pointing out it was the Russians who freed Auschwitz and that Obama's mother was an only child, causing his campaign to scramble and admit that he should have said "great uncle" and "Buchenwald."
Sloppy as he may been with the words, Obama had the music right, as a Patton army contemporary of his ancestors can attest.
In the spring of 1945, we were sweeping through Germany and Austria. Along the way, we saw stragglers in ragged stripes, dazed gaunt figures wandering the roads and being picked up by Army trucks. We didn't know the names of the places they had come from, but we knew who they were, and the sight of them was an indelible reminder of why we had been fighting.
Most of us didn't spend any time in attics after coming home, but our lives were changed forever by having seen what human savagery can do.
Obama was trying to evoke and honor that pain. What he said might not win any prizes on a quiz show, but it was true to the spirit of Memorial Day and human decency.