National Geographic : 1946 Mar
American Fighters Visit Bible Lands BY MAYNARD OWEN WILLIAMS With Illustrationsfrom Photographs by the Author In this Holy Land of three faiths the Christian calendar read August 15, 1945; the Jewish, Elul 6, 5705; the Moslem, Rama dan 7, 1364. At sunset, military bands would play "Abide with Me" while the colors of Great Britain, the United States, and Soviet Russia were dipped in honor of those who "bought our today with their tomorrow." Now the day was new. Workers were string ing banners of victory across the Y.M.C.A. (Plate IV). Barefoot street Arabs, selling the Jewish Palestine Post, had proclaimed the glad tidings. Across the street, above a V-for Victory, the roof of the King David Hotel was aflutter with flags.* During a quick walk outside the old walls, I had photographed a bearded Jew from Cleveland, scanning the headlines with his glasses off his nose, as though the full force of the good news was too strong for his eyes (page 326). At breakfast in came a young American officer, his face aglow. "It was wonderful!" he exclaimed. "I got up early, because this is my last day on leave. I went up on the Mount of Olives to see Jerusalem glow in the morning light. "When I heard the sound of many bells I realized that this was it-not war, but peace. Down the valley I could see the stony hillside where shepherds 'watched their flocks by night.' There the angels sang of peace on earth and good will to men. "Peace on earth-and I in the Holy City!" "You'll remember this till the day you die," said my companion. Outside, American soldiers were being shooed into a white-starred Army truck by a soft-spoken girl from Georgia. I joined them, for under the helpful auspices of the American Red Cross I was seeing oft remembered scenes through the eyes of GI's.** I found them clear and reverent eyes. It was pleasant to share this first-hand rende vous between ancient history and our history making soldiers on leave from the hell-hot Persian Gulf, the bloody beachhead at Anzio, steamy Accra, and maquis-covered Corsica. At Bethlehemt we bowed low to enter the tiny door of the Church of the Nativity and filed slowly in, past newly discovered mosaics which may date back to the days of St. Helena. In this fortress-church, on Christmas Day, A.D. 1100, Baldwin, Cru sader brother of Godfrey of Bouillon, had been crowned first King of Jerusalem.: King of Jerusalem on the very spot where Christ was born! King of the Holy City, where, the year before, Crusaders "rode in the vile blood of the Saracens up to the knees of their horses" and, herding the Jews into their synagogue, burned them alive. GI's at Bethlehem Shrine No such overtones of age-old violence marred the wartime visit of our GI's to the traditional site of the Christ child's manger. Said one: "How I wish my mother could see me now! She kissed me goodbye and I was off for the wicked streets of Cairo. Most that she lives for and believes in cen ters here in Bethlehem." A photographer for Yank climbed with me to the tower of the Greek monastery. An Army nurse, down from Caserta and "ten pounds thin," looked out through a blue haze to the Dead Sea, whose heavy water rattles like gravel on the hulls of flying boats landing a quarter of a mile below the level of the Mediterranean. There has been much talk of tunneling the width of Palestine and letting water from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic generate hydroelectric power in a 1,286-foot plunge into this deep crease in the face of Mother Earth. Six million tons of Jordan River water per day might then be used for irrigation, and the level of the Dead Sea could be raised or lowered. From Jerusalem and Bethany we zigzagged down through the August heat to a restaurant * See, by Maj. Edward Keith-Roach, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Pageant of Jeru salem," December, 1927, and "Changing Palestine," April, 1934. ** See "Bible Lands and the Cradle of Western Civilization," map supplement to the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for December, 1938, and map in this issue on pages 396-7 . t See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Bethlehem and the Christmas Story," December, 1929; "Among the Bethlehem Shepherds," December, 1926; and "Village Life in the Holy Land," March, 1914, all three by John D. Whiting. $ See, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Crusader Castles of the Near East," by William H. Hall, March, 1931, and "Road of the Crusaders," by Harold Lamb, December, 1933.