May 2004, just a week before the WW II Memorial in Washington D.C. was to be dedicated, I took my Dad down to see it. At 85, he was a little unsure on his feet so I borrowed a wheelchair so I could push him around the Mall. My Dad was excited to be going and was even looking forward to the ride in on the D.C. Metro.
It was one of those perfect May days; bright sun, warm and not a cloud in the sky. On top of the perfect day we had a perfect tour guide with us. My friend Tom knew the Washington D.C. landmarks well, and ever the teacher, would regale us with bits of history and trivia that we weren’t aware of.
A little about my Dad: Born in St Louis, Missouri on November 7, 1918, he was drafted into the Army soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The buildup to D-Day was in full gear, although as my Dad would say many years later, that no one knew the extent of the Normandy invasion because it was kept so secret, for obvious reasons. From APG, my Dad was transferred to Ft. Jackson, South Carolina for further training and then to Ft. Dix for processing before being shipped out to Iceland from the Port of New York. His MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), that he was assigned to, was ordnance supply and specifically ammunition. He thought that he was placed there because he had worked in a car repair garage prior to being drafted and the Army thought that he had some mechanical ability. That the Army recognized this in my Dad was a benefit to both him and the Army.
Arriving in Reykjavik, Iceland was a young man from St. Louis, Mo. that had never ventured far from St. Louis, and yet in a matter of months had been to Aberdeen, Maryland (where he met a USO Girl from Aberdeen and proposed to her), South Carolina, New Jersey and New York City. Now standing in the Land of The Midnight Sun preparing, unbeknownst to him, for the greatest invasion the world had ever seen. I remember my Dad telling me that his time in Iceland was the best time of his 3 years overseas. He recounted how the work was very 9-5 and that the food was good, the native Icelanders friendly and he felt safe there.
All of this ended when the orders came to ship out to Britain. And ship out they did. Now part of the 1st Army, he would later tell me that he thought Britain was on the verge of sinking because of the amount of materiel that was being sent to it. Again, he knew something big was being planned but being an NCO, he was kept in the dark and followed orders like any other G.I.
Life was not bad either in Britain. My Dad stayed in a British couple’s house. At the time, the U.S. Army would come into a small town and commandeer the local’s homes for the U.S. G.I.’s to live in. My Dad made friends with his hosts rather quickly. They would provide him a warm bed to sleep in and in return my Dad would bring them bread and coffee. These staples were in great demand but scarce supply in Britain as they were rationed to the civilians. Many G.I’s were not as fortunate as they slept in Army tents and on Army Cots. The friendship that developed with my Dad’s host family lasted after the War. I still have the letters that they wrote to their yankee friend.
After a number of false starts, because of bad weather, the order came down form Ike that the invasion was on. And so on a cool and dreary night, the LST left Britain bound for Normandy, France and Omaha Beach with a young man from St. Louis on board.
Because he was in Supply, my Dad landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day + 3. The shelling of France was constant with the large Navy guns still pounding away at the German fortifications beyond the beaches.
Upon nearing the Landing Zone on Omaha Beach, the entire front end of the LST opened up to discharge her cargo of men, JEEPS, tanks and provisions such as food and ammunition. My Dad stepped out of the ship and into the waist-deep water. The engineers had cleared an area about 20 feet wide of mines. That was where he was to walk from the surf up onto the beach. He was now on French soil, scared, cold, wet and knowing that there was no going back to the ship. His first night on Omaha Beach it rained. He found a bomb crater and tried to sleep, but the rain, the cold and the constant barrage of guns, and a very real fear, kept him from getting much sleep.
Sadly, this is all I know about my Dad’s time spent on Omaha Beach. I do know that he moved with the 1st Army up through France and into Luxemburg and then into Belgium for the Battle of the Bulge. I know that he told me that they would take ammunition up to the front lines, during the Bulge, on “deuce and a half’s” (2 1/2 ton trucks) and bring back the wounded on those same trucks, to be treated behind the lines. This is the extent of my knowledge of my Dad’s time spent overseas during WW II.
So here I was with my Dad, in Washington D.C., getting a preview of the WW II Memorial one week before its dedication. Looking at my Dad that day and realizing that WW II veterans are dying at a rate of 1,000 per day, I felt very proud and very lucky that I still had my Dad there with me.
I was fortunate to have a local TV reporter interview my Dad and the tape was aired later that night on the Washington D.C. news. I have a copy of that interview along with another interview shot the following October.
I often said there are two types of veterans: One that says very little about their time in war and two; those that can’t let the war go. My Dad was the former. He said very little about his experiences overseas. Those that he did mention were of funny things that happened to him or the nice people that he met. He did come back to marry the girl that waited for him those 3 plus years overseas. Three years with very little communication. No phones, no email, no TV. The only method of communication was V-Mail and that was censored by Uncle Sam.
My Dad died the following December, another one of the 1,000 WW II Vets that die every day. Another one gone from the Greatest Generation. I miss him a lot and wish that I had asked him more about his time overseas. With that said, I think he told me all he wanted to tell me about that time in his life. He never embraced war knowing that it was the real, last resort. He knew first hand, the death and destruction war causes. During the Viet Nam conflict, I never heard my Dad say anything in support of that war. I never heard him talk about “stemming the Red Tide” or the “domino effect”, or “we must kill the commies.”
He worked at APG and benefited from the Viet Nam War in that his work supported the effort and the troops but his view on life was much simpler. He had a job to do and he did it. It wasn’t until years later that he fully realized the real cost of the Viet Nam conflict and what a mistake it had been. His views on the Iraq conflict were much more clear and faster to establish in his mind. He was against this conflict as many WW II vets are, right from the start.
I dedicate this to you, my Dad. I love you and I miss you and I’m very proud of you.