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Searching for the Past

Posted by on June 7, 2014

daddyduringWWII-1It’s the anniversary of D-Day and everyone seems to be putting it front and center.  I don’t remember them doing this last year or the year before….I’m not sure I remember it ever being such a high priority.  Maybe it started because of old men with brittle bones indulging is past memories like the one who convinced officials to let him do a re-creation of the jump he made 70 years ago.   Maybe it’s because someone realized those heroes are almost all gone.  I’m not saying it isn’t that important or that we shouldn’t honor those who fought there, just that people seem more involved this year than previously.  Maybe it’s a nostalgia thing.  WWII was definitively “good against evil,” a situation that isn’t always as clear in today’s wars.

All the hullabaloo, plus Father’s Day coming up, got me to thinking about Daddy.  He would have been 101 on the 16th of this month.  He passed away in November of 1979 from lung cancer.  There are times when I miss him still.  Today is one of those times.  I want to talk to him about his service.  He never spoke about that time and I never asked him about it.  Now, I wonder what it was like for him.  Since he never talked about it, I can’t be sure where he was stationed or how involved he was in the fighting.   I do remember one thing he said about the war, “Don’t move when you can be still, don’t stand if you can sit, sleep and eat whenever you get the chance.  You never know how long it will be before you have the opportunity again.”

He joined the army in 1930, when he was only 17 years old.  It was a career for him.  However, he didn’t get to retire from his chosen job because he was given a medical discharge in the draw-down after the war ended.  He had severe ulcers that eventually resulted in surgery.  The doctors said that 3/4 of his stomach was nothing but scar tissue.  He always said it was from the greasy food served at the boarding house in Mississippi where we lived while he was stationed there before he was deployed.  I’ve always thought it was more about sending his soldiers out to be killed.

He was a sergeant in the army.  He wasn’t at Normandy.  I spent some time over the past couple of days calculating where he would have been on that day.  I know his unit was sent to Italy in late 1943 or early 1944.  I don’t know the exact date, but he was here when I was born and for a short time afterward because Mama told me about the two of us traveling by train to Mississippi when he was stationed there as a drill instructor.   I know he was sent to Italy with his unit when their training was finished, possibly as replacements.  He was there until I was 18 months old.  So, deployment in late ’43 or early ’44 means he missed the main Italian invasion in September of  ’43.  I’d like to know more.  From what I’ve found, it seems likely that he was fighting his way toward Rome on June 6th of 1944 when the allied forces hit Normandy.   

Considering the few facts we have:  

  1. He was a sergeant and a drill instructor for what must have been draftees.
  2. He was deployed with his unit to Italy, probably in early 1944.
  3. He remained in Europe until May of 1945 (I was born in November of 1943 and I was 18 months old when he returned.)
  4. In the military section of a family tree that our mother was working on, she said he was in the 350th Infantry.

It seems likely he was assigned to the 88th Division, 350th Infantry Regiment known as the Blue Devils.  According to the research I’ve been doing, the 88th was the first unit, in which the ranks were filled completely with draftees, to be deployed because they “consistently out-performed other divisions during Army Ground Forces tests.  They are said to  have been one of the most effective units in World War II.  I’ve found a book about the 88th Division called Blue Devils In Italy: A History Of The 88th Infantry Division In World War II by John Delaney.  It’s available on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  I plan to get a copy.  I don’t expect it to mention him by name, but I hope it will give me more insight into what happened to him there.  Who will answer these questions for future generations about us?  We should all be writing memoirs of some sort to provide our descendants with clues about our lives.

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