The Front Line

by Kim on September 21, 2009

My Dad wouldn’t talk about his experience in the war much. It was possible that he never could comprehend the situation that he was in – even 35 years after it happened. It was also possible that it was so horrible, it was just best to not talk about it. Every single one of his children knew not to ask. We knew that coming from the farm and reporting to duty in Europe was a stretch for our father at age 20. It changed his life.

 

Before his service

Before his service

 

My Dad entering the Army in 1942, 20 years old

My father graduated from high school in 1940 and two years later, he was drafted into World War II. In November, 1942, he reported to Camp Wheeler Georgia for basic training. After three months, he went overseas to Tunisia and then to Sicily. He was in the 9th infantry and was on the front lines. He was in all the famous battles of WWII in Europe and survived to not talk about it.

My father died in 1982. Before he died, we didn’t ask him too many details about his war experience. He wouldn’t answer the few questions that we asked him. He did tell us about kissing the ladies in the streets of France when VE happened. He talked about playing poker in the trenches to pass the time. He talked about sending his checks home to his mother and asking her to put the money into his bank account. We remembered that his mother needed the money and when he arrived home, his bank account had no more money in it than when he left for the war. We sent off for his war records after he died to trace his battle fronts and found that his records were burned in a fire in 1974 in St. Louis. My sister and I have detailed from letters from our aunt, books about the 9th Infantry, and telegrams from his injuries which battles he was in, when he was injured and even what his military life might have been about.

My dad trained as a BAR man, which stood Browning Automatic Rifle and would have weighed 60 pounds. My dad was a football player in high school and in very good health and fitness, so it makes sense that he would have been chosen for such a task. He won an award for his sharp-shooting in training and we believe he was a sniper on the front lines. In Sicily, Dad was wounded in the left thigh while on Mt. Etna. We have the telegram sent to my grandmother that he was wounded in July, 1943 in Sicily. She received the telegram in September (2 months later!) telling of his injury. He was hospitalized and returned to active duty in October, 1943. He had three brothers in Europe in the war and they all got to visit him during his hospital stay. He received a Purple Heart in October, 1943 for his injuries and his part in serving his country during that war.

Newspaper article about my father's injuries and Purple Heart Award

Newspaper article about my father's injuries and Purple Heart Award

Dad was part of Operation Overlord – the invasion of Normandy, but because he had combat experience, went in on D-Day +4 on June 10th, 1944. The less experienced men went in on day one.  I can’t imagine his experience going ashore four days after the initial battle. I have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan and if that movie is as true to fact as they say, it must have been horrific. My dad would have been 22 then.

My father was injured July 13, 1944 during the battle at St. Lo, France. It was an 8-day battle and he was hurt on day 2.  He was hit with shrapnel which struck behind his right hear. They never removed this shrapnel, though he return home with the shrapnel from his earlier wound in the thigh.He returned to duty soon. It’s remarkable to me that after getting injured twice that he wasn’t sent home. They needed all men and if were able, they put you back with your unit for more battle.

My Dad wrote several letters to his sister Bert and talked about his socks rotting away and never having to go longer than 2 months without brushing his teeth. He wanted to know if any of his old girlfriends asked about him. He served in Belgium after France in the Battle of the Bulge, and remarked how cold it was. He was injured the third time in Germany on March 7, 1945. At this point, he was a driver for officers in his unit – possibly due to his previous injuries. Still – he was a target from the enemy as before.

After victory in Europe, he was assigned to a contingent who was to report for duty on the Pacific front. The atomic bonbs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and kept his from having to serve time in the Pacific. He was discharged in September 1945 after 2 years of service to his country. He received a disability check from the government due to the shrapnel left behind his ear.

My father was the only one of his brothers who served in the war who never advanced beyond Private First Class. He told the story that he had to dig a foxhole for an officer, but during an attack, he jumped in the foxhole (he had none). He was demoted for this offense, but he lived to tell the story.

What was it like to live in rural Ohio, never traveling out of the county, and then called to serve your country on another 2 continents? My father was a bashful young man before the war, and a quiet, wise older man after.

Many of my father’s fellow war veterans told their stories at the 50th anniversary of WWII. They were honored and many published book and agreed to be interviewed about their experiences. As my sisters and I piece our father’s story together, I wish he had lived to tell the story himself.

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