Knowing Dad, he probably wouldn't be too thrilled about me doing this. Like many World War II veterans, he didn't talk about his wartime experience at all. He just wanted to forget it.
After all, World War II changed his whole life.
He was majoring in chemistry at Bowling Green State University when he was drafted. He never went back.
In November 1942, he was inducted into the Army in Cleveland. From there he went to Camp Perry near Port Clinton, and then went through Basic Training at Ft. Riley in Kansas. From there he went to Ft. Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan for Military Police Training.
It's hard for me to imagine Dad – so low-key and good-humored – as an MP.
One aspect of Dad's home life in Lorain would ultimately have an effect on his Army assignment. His parents had lost their home during the Depression, and consequently his family moved in with his grandparents on W. 28th Street. His grandparents spoke a lot of German around the house, which Dad got used to and picked up on. He ended up taking some German language classes in school as well. As a result of all this, Dad could speak some German – so the Army assigned him to the 443rd Military Police Prisoner of War Processing Company as an interpreter.
|Basic Training at Ft. Riley; Dad's front and center on the steps|
For the next year and a half, Dad did a lot of traveling around Europe in England, France, Belgium and Germany. According to his service record, he seemed to constantly be on the move. I guess wherever there were going to be Axis prisoners to process, that's where Dad ended up. He was involved in the Battles of Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes and the Rhineland.
Late in the war, Dad's unit was shipped back to Camp Atterbury in Indiana. Strangely enough, when the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan, Dad was on a 30-day leave in Lorain – preparing to be sent to Japan with his military police unit. So he had to be happy about the bomb being dropped.
When his leave was over, though, it was back to the Army. When the war finally ended, he was discharged on October 23, 1945 at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (At least he got to see the Alamo.)
He dumped his uniform in the trash, and then apparently took a vow of silence about his wartime experiences.
Thank goodness in the 1990s, my mother forced him to label all of his old Army photos and explain where they were taken, and who were in them.
When he did talk about the war to me, it was usually about seeing the Glenn Miller Orchestra or some other Big Band that was there in Europe to entertain the troops. That brought a smile to his face.
So why was Dad so tight-lipped about his Army experiences?
I believe the war changed his whole perspective on life – and him as well. I think he was so happy to get out of the Army alive and come home that all he wanted to do was find a job, get married and start a family of his own. He didn't want to dwell on the unhappiness of being in the war for three years and away from his family in Lorain.
I guess that after all that he had experienced in the war, Dad just didn't want to think of himself in terms of the Army ever again.
He mellowed somewhat on that stance late in life when Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation was published. He enjoyed it very much, as well as the two follow-up books, and I think he finally accepted that he had played a role in something very important.
When Dad passed away, he was buried with full military honors. After years of not thinking of him as a soldier, I now find it hard to think of him as anything else.