In celebration of his 100th birthday, former Secretary of State George Shultz wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post about trust. The second of the ten lessons he cited came from his time in the United States Marine Corps during World War II:
During World War II, I served in the Pacific theater in a Marine outfit that included a sergeant named Palat. I have forgotten his first name, but I have never forgotten the respect and admiration — the deep-seated trust — that he inspired. When Palat was killed in action, it brought home to me more than ever how pitiless war can be. Later in life, I thought about the loss of this trusted, beloved sergeant when I advised President Ronald Reagan about military action: ‘Make sure it is just,’ I said — and equip the troops for victory.
That is a good lesson — one more of our political leaders should remember. As we struggle to wind down some of the longest wars in American history, future presidents should be wary of committing our troops to new theaters around the world. When they do so, as Shultz says, they should make sure America’s fighting men and women have everything they need to win.
Shultz notes that he could not recall the first name of the Sgt. Palat with whom he served. That isn’t too surprising. They fought together in the Pacific nearly 80 years ago, along with thousands of other servicemen, and it would be an amazing feat of memory for the 100-year-old Shultz to recall every one of their names. But it struck me as odd that the editors at the Post chose not to take a few minutes to complete the minor gap in Shultz’s memory.
Many records from that era are now readily available online, and an hour of research reveals more of the story. William Henry Palat was born in Booth, Texas, in 1919, the son of Joseph and Frances Palat. Palat’s parents were Czech immigrants from the town of Hošťálková, then a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now in the Czech Republic. They came to Texas in 1906, joining a sizable Czech community in the state. Joe Palat became a farmer in Texas and he and Frances had six children.
William Palat joined the Marines in September 1941, three months before Pearl Harbor. He was eventually promoted to the rank of platoon sergeant. Palat was a part of an anti-aircraft battery in the 7th Defense Battalion and fought in some of the early battles on the Pacific Front. He was killed in action in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign on September 7, 1943.
As fewer of the veterans of that monumental conflict remain with us, we must work harder to remember their sacrifices. The shared hardships of the war shaped Shultz and his generation and changed American society.
As we fixate on the increased partisanship of today, we might reflect on the brief window of unity that followed the horrors of a world war. Palat’s sacrifice marked Shultz for life. Many other veterans no doubt felt the same way about their experiences there.
History is often expressed in terms of trends and masses, but individual stories like those of Palat and Shultz make the past real to us in a way charts and figures cannot.
Find more pictures of Palat uploaded by his nephew on FindaGrave.com.