[November 29, 2020] He came over to shake my hand. My new neighbor next door, Mr. Jed Neidigh, had a big smile, a head full of white hair, and a firm grip. Howdy! He said as he welcomed my wife and me into the neighborhood. “I see you’re an Army man, like me.” Mr. Neidigh was the doughboy next door for the next eight years.
In those years, Mr. Neidigh and I had many conversations. That is how I first learned the true meaning of honor.
The guns of the First World War had fallen eerily silent in 1918. It was seven decades later after the signing of the Armistice that I would meet a man who fought in that war; businessman, family man, devout Christian, and now the doughboy next door. He had been part of the “Great War.”
Those of us alive have little understanding of honor. We think we know what it is but find it difficult to articulate. Today we might define “honor” as a set of personal ideals or being a person of integrity. And while that may be correct in our modern use of the term, it doesn’t capture the concept as used historically.
Except for a few pockets of society, as those in the past like doughboy Neidigh understood honor, it barely exists in the modern West. When folks in mainstream society do bring it up, it is usually done so in jest. In America and other Western nations, we lack a positive notion and healthy appreciation for the kind of classic honor that compelled our ancestors.
There are many fine books discussing honor. Psychologists, sociologists, and historians have tackled the subject by describing various parts and expressions without ever finding its core. I have concluded that these educated experts aren’t entirely sure what honor actually means. I will admit that it is not easy to recapture and describe something that was once so intrinsic to people’s lives that they did not feel the need to explain it.
During the Third Battle of the Aisne, doughboy Neidigh told me how the Allied forces were taking a terrible beating from the Germans. It was brutal combat, the kind you cannot see or ‘feel’ unless you’ve been there. He lost his rifle in one of many attacks. Never, ever, lose your rifle, for it protects you and your buddies. But “since there were thousands just lying around, I just picked one up.” The implication was obvious.1
I never could understand how the foot soldiers of WWI could charge across a vast, open no-man’s land into the face of a well-armed, determined enemy. Those massive Infantry charges resulted in horrific casualties in the tens of thousands in just minutes. Such devastation is beyond my imaginations. Despite the fact that I spent three years in combat, I still cannot grasp the full impact of such a battle.
The classic understanding of honor is the mutual respect given within an exclusive, close-knit group of equals. Honor must be earned, and its loss results in great shame. Honor, therefore, is based on the severe judgment of others within the exclusive group. And one who does not uphold the standards of the exclusive group can no longer be part of it.
Honor compelled these men, in the face of mortal danger, to do their duty. The American doughboy Private Neidigh was part of an exclusive group. He earned the honor to be an American Infantryman, and I was privileged to know him as the doughboy next door.
Just loved this article. You were lucky, Gen. Satterfield.
Luck may play a part in life, but what you make of it matters a great deal more. Look that Gen. Satterfield spent many hours talking about life and about war with Private Neidigh. What more could you do? Write it down for prosperity… he has attempted to do so.
“I never could understand how the foot soldiers of WWI could charge across a vast, open no-man’s land into the face of a well-armed, determined enemy. ”
I have to agree with you. But, as you note, it all comes down to HONOR. Either you have it and do great things, or you don’t.
Lady Hawk, correct. Let’s not forget it either. Many today have lost honor in the face of trivialities and giving away honor for money.
Giving away honor not just for money but also for fleeting fame. People want their 5 minutes of fame regardless of the costs. Why? I have no idea! Let’s have someone smarter than me comment on why.
I’m not so sure anyone can answer that. Maybe it’s just a personality defect that someone would give up so much of themselves, including sacrificing an important trait of themselves like credibility and reputation, to have a few minutes on the television. Oh, and no one knows who they are nor do they care.
Excellent point, Doc. 👍
Cool. that’s all I have to say. How cool was it that you got to meet and live near a real doughboy from WWI.
Yeah, no one I’ve ever known knew such a man. I agree, “cool.”
General Satterfield, once again you amaze me. You seem to fall right into the right place at the right time. This story of the doughboy next door is wonderful.
Yes, great story and sad as well. This man, Mr. Neighdig, must have been a real hoot. Living next door gave you a chance to understand a war that is now more than 100 years gone. We are fortunate that some lessons have been learned, one of which was the failure of the League of Nations. Another important lesson is that political progressivism is a failed ideology. We have, nevertheless, not learned that lesson yet.
Well said, Gil and a great point about progressivism. It is now rearing its ugly head again in American and Europe. Asia is laughing at us because they tried it and it failed miserably but they still cannot shake off the vestiges of that harmful political idea.
Good comment Max as usual. And, good info here on the failure of this ideology and many of its sisters like socialism and communism. Those are the most destructive forces in the world today as it was back 100 years ago.
Excellent points, gentlemen. Keep up the great analysis you guys are doing.
You were, indeed, fortunate and lucky to have a doughboy next door. I’m sure there were many great conversations that can never be had. All our doughboys are now gone.
Tom, impressive. I would like to have been there as well. Imagine what knowledge I could have gained.
Yes, very fortunate! 👍