In Memoriam: The Boys of Praha
In the space of 12 months and nine days in 1944, Praha, Texas, gave up most of its youth – and nearly all of its future – to confront unimaginable forms of evil on faraway continents.
“It gave you a part in something that you could believe in wholly and completely and in which you felt an absolute brotherhood with the others who were engaged in it. It was something that you had never known before but that you had experienced now and you gave such importance to it and the reasons for it that your own death seemed of complete unimportance; only a thing to be avoided because it would interfere with the performance of your duty.”
— Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
They no longer exist. And even in the Texas farm country where they were boys, their names are slipping from memory. People who live among the green hills here are hardly more likely to know about Praha’s loss than the strangers who travel the dark farm-to-market roads in their pickups and minivans, taking scenic detours on their way to Houston or San Antonio. This is understandable. Being told the factual history does not make the truth about Praha more believable. A trip, however, to the church and cemetery at Praha will leave the visitor carrying away a distinctly American heartache.
Visitors traveling to Praha for Memorial Day or Veterans Day approach from the north, noticing first the stark, white steeple of the parish church, which hovers brightly over the landscape. The blacktop of FM 1295 runs south off of U.S. Highway 90, directly at the Church of St. Mary’s Assumption. Close to the cemetery, the pavement curls back deferentially to the west and infrequent traffic passes quietly, the distant hiss of wheels on asphalt insufficient to disturb the serenity of a spot many U.S. military veterans have come to view as almost holy.
Praha provides old soldiers a measurement of sorts for concepts like the price of freedom. There is, though, something incalculable, impossible to assess or even understand, about the sad history of Praha. Today, it is little more than a ghost of a town with only about two dozen residents. The New Handbook of Texas claims the population never surpassed 100 people during the 20th century. Those numbers are where the anguish begins in Praha’s tearful truth.
The curious and the proud often come here and stand in front of the nine graves in a state of near bewilderment. There, they try to comprehend how war’s bloody arm could reach this far, gather up this much life and destroy it. By the dates on their tombstones and the locales of the deaths, the Allied offensive against the Nazis, Mussolini and the Japanese is recorded in the destinies of these nine fallen farm boys. Little Praha was not protected from World War II by statistical improbabilities.