Like many of his generation, he really didn't talk much about his war experiences, except for the stock stories.
Before Pearl Harbor, he tried to enlist in the Navy. He said you could just feel the war coming, and he wanted to get himself a warm bed indoors. I don't remember why, but the Navy turned him down. The Army, needing lots of men quickly, drafted him. So it was into the infantry, and cold foxholes.
The first part of the war he spent in Venice, Florida, repairing vehicles. Not a bad gig; we spent vacations there when I was a kid. Many of the vets who served there remembered it long after the war, and Venice became the place they sought to retire, Dad included. But it was not to be.
Sent into battle, he landed in the European Theatre of operations just after Normandy. You've seen those pictures of the men waking in their holes with the blankets covered with snow? That was him, rag-wrapped boots and all, through the long frozen nightmare of The Buldge. He rose to.. Master Seargent? It was a field promotion: the previous fellow took a bullet between the eyes when he prairie dogged it once too often. He fell back into dad's arms, dead, soaking his lap with blood. "We kept telling him, 'better quit doing that Pappy.. better cut it out.'"
Dad made it all the way to VE day without a scratch. He believed a dead brother watched out for him. Once, a grenade landed in the foxhole he shared with another man (a vocal doubter who found religion at that moment and yelled prayers at the top of his voice). Dad snapped his eyes hard shut, and saw his brother's face clearly, smiling. The grenade never exploded. Another time, he tripped and fell. Had he not, he would have taken a bullet. Probably a lot of the men who got home safely had stories like that. How else to explain to yourself why you got to have a life, they guy next to you didn't?
On VJ Day, he was aboard ship, headed for the Pacific.
I love this picture of him. He's in Belgium someplace, as I unreliably remember. Look at that cocked helmet, that grin. Either he has just found out he's getting a few days leave, or the photographer has great legs. There had to be something to spark the smile because I think the picture was made during house-to-house searches. He said it was the most unnerving part of the whole experience. They had to go door-by-door, bursting into buildings, searching them for holdouts, snipers, or ambush parties. "You never knew what person or booby trap was behind any door you were about to open."
I wish I had paid more attention to his stories. I was young and blew them off. "Ugh... this stuff again." He died in 1989, suddenly. After he was gone, we learned that he had been a part of FDR's funeral procession. He'd said nothing about it.
After the war, there was no big Hero's life. 7-3 in a factory, kids, a divorce, me as a surprise teen stepson in the early '70s, never enough money for fun. Just a little golf and wanting the long retirement he never got.
Thanks to all who have given their best years so I can sit here prattling nonsense on a keyboard.
And a sobering timeline thought: For children today, Vietnam is more distant than WW2 was for us. At the turn of the twenty-first century, WW2 is more distant than the American Civil War was in 1900.
There are relentlessly fewer to Remember Pearl Harbor.