Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Weekend Memory

He never talked about the war to me. I was probably too young at first. I was told later that he never talked about the war at all. It was a bad memory. I even remember hearing that he had bad dreams about it.

He was disabled from a brain tumor surgery on my 10th birthday. He was fine for a few years but then spent the last 18 months of his life in a Veterans's Hospital 80 miles from our home. His wife, my mom, had already died.

He died at age 59 when I was 16.

Everything I know, therefore, is hearsay. (Or maybe even heresy.)

For example, at one point I remember a story that he didn't want to go back into the service. he was actually a year too old. He had first been drafted in 1939 or so, then discharged after his time. But by 1944 things were tough. They needed him. He turned 39 in 1944. I remember his sister telling me that my mom and his family tried all kinds of ways to get him out. It didn't work and he was sent overseas. In an interesting sidelight, his Army ID which my brother still has and I have a scan of, his birth year is listed as 1906, not the actual year of 1905!

The story, as I have dug around, also has been changing. I have discovered I may have had information wrong. Sort of. Then again, maybe not.

I had known somehow or another that he had served at the Battle of the Bulge. (As a medical corpsman at that awful battle, it sure would explain the bad dreams and reluctance to talk about what he had seen.) In the way gossip and partial information works, I also thought he had been with the 10th Armored under Patton. But looking up the information from his gravestone on the Internet, that  may have been only half true. The Ninth Medical Battalion was assigned to the 9th Infantry, not the 10th Armored. Like the 10th Armored, the 9th Infantry WAS at the Battle of the Bulge.

But my Dad had trained at Camp (now Fort) Gordon, Georgia. That was a real memory. That's where he met my Mom and married her in May, 1944. The 10th Armored trained there, but it didn't look like the 9th Infantry did. Ah, but I found a personal reflection on the web from a veteran who was in the 9th as a replacement (like my Dad) AND had trained at Camp Gordon, probably about the time my Dad did.

Then last night I dug out some postcards Dad sent home from Europe the summer of 1945. His "return address" was Co. C, 80th Armored Medical Battalion. Which was part of- you guessed it- the 10th Armored.

(Unfortunately a major fire occurred in the military records in St. Louis back in 1973, destroying millions of records. Even though his information would now be archived- and open to the public- there isn't much there.)

I wish I knew more. Both about him, what he did, what the truth might be. A lot of memory is lost when death gets in the way. I will keep digging as best I can though.

And this weekend I will remember him as one of the soldiers of that "greatest generation", long gone now, and who would probably just ignore that remembrances.

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