May 5, 2011
Note from AZ:
This piece was written 5+ years ago, before my brother Ed died on January 25, 2015 at 88 years old. I love him and miss him still. He was a great man…
“We Were Quite Unprepared To Wage War”
That’s what it was called: the war to end all wars—and then peace on earth forever. Some do not think that’s what happened. In a few years, we were fighting again—this time in the Far East: Korea, to be exact.
And then ‘Nam. And then the Balkans. And then Iraq. And Afghanistan. And various other places around the world.
Back then, Europe was boiling with war. Germany’s leader started planning for war. He began attacking surrounding countries in the middle and late 1930’s. But Hitler needed more money to wage his war. So he enlisted the Japanese to attack America on December 7th of 1941, early in the morning at the naval base at Pearl Harbor and Henderson Field, the Army airfield in Hawaii.
It was a complete surprise—although some believe it wasn’t, and that the White House knew what was going on. Ships were destroyed and thousands of men were killed—mostly sailors. The President immediately asked Congress to declare a State of War against Germany, Japan, Italy, and any other supporting Axis countries. Congress complied.
But we were quite unprepared to wage war against anyone. Several War Acts were generated concerning nationalizing factories to make planes and trucks, weapons and ammunition, and research in various types of weaponry.
“A Gift From Uncle Sam”
The main necessity to wage war was, of course, personnel. A draft was instituted, and Americans began to be called into the armed forces.
Patriotism was high and thousands of individuals did not wait to be drafted, but enlisted instead. The value of enlisting was also that one could choose the branch of service to be in for the duration of the war.
The Blue Star flags began showing up in windows all over the country, signifying that someone serving in the military lived in that home. It was an honor. Over the years it seems that some things have changed a bit.
Fighting in Europe was raging on in 1944. Prior to the Battle of the Bulge, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of men, the army needed personnel quickly to reinforce the military in middle Germany.
An enlistment program began in the winter of 1944. The Army told high school officials around the country that if the seniors would volunteer to go into the Army before they actually graduated, they would be guaranteed graduation after they served their tour of duty. Not only that, but they also received an offer they couldn’t refuse: if they were selected as having good grades and college potential, the Army would send them to college to train as an officer. How could a young person turn that down? It was a gift from Uncle Sam.
“He Changed, And I Think We All Did”
My brother—who was a senior—and several of his classmates, leaped at the chance to go to upscale Amherst College in the western part of the state of Massachusetts to study to be an Army officer.
They left school on February 5th, 1944. We watched as these brave boys took the oath to serve their country, got on a bus, and headed to college. That was the last we saw of Ed until my Dad and I drove to the western part of Massachusetts and picked him up at Camp Devens the day of his discharge.
Much had had happened during the time he was away. He changed, and I think we all did. It was a small town. Sadly, several of the homes changed their Blue Star flag to Gold. We knew everyone and prayed for them. Stories quickly spread as to what had happened to our soldier friends.
Since our letters were censored, as were Ed’s coming to us, we never could tell him what was happening back home. We waited for the mail to come every day. And when nothing showed up for a while, we would be in a state of panic.
Because of the space letters took up on planes everything was sent by VMAIL. It was mail reduced in size and placed on very thin paper. It was folded in such a way as to have a letter the size of about 4”x4”. After the censor, there wasn’t much to read. But you could recognize the handwriting, and that was good.
Uncle Louis Reads The Mail
There was a rather funny story about the Army mail in the family. My Uncle Louis was a very tall man with a very small vocabulary. He sort of made up words. He called me Rubber Tire. That’s all I can remember about him, but he was fun.
Louis got drafted, and after basic training, he was shipped to India, where he was put in charge of the Army mail service going into that country. We were very careful not to snicker too loud when the story was told in family groups. Poor Uncle Louie. It made sense though for the Army to put a man in charge of the mail who couldn’t read very well. God Bless his Soul. He added much to our family.
News About My Brother
Unless your serviceman had received fatal wounds and someone came to the door with a telegram from the President, the lesser wounds and medal awards were sent directly to the local newspaper.
I remember when a friend called my dad and told him that my brother’s name was in the paper as being wounded. He had received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with clusters for meritorious service in the Battle of the Bulge in Germany. My folks heard from friends and neighbors about how brave my brother was.
Helping On The Homefront
While he and his buddies were away, the rest of us tried to help the war effort as much as we could. My dad had to go down to the town hall to meet with the Rationing Board and pick up his gas coupon book and Mother’s meat coupon book.
If I recall correctly, we could get five gallons of gas per week, and Mother could go on Tuesdays and buy four pounds of meat a week. If there was any left by Friday, she could get a bit more.
The Boy Scouts worked on paper pick up trucks on the weekend. The paper and cardboard was used to make shell casings for the boys overseas. On Sundays we could go down to the town hall and for 18 cents we could see the Movie Tone news which would tell us what was going on in the war and show us a western movie—maybe Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.
My Brother’s Return
We didn’t see my brother for 27 months. He left and returned—thank God.
During that time, he did mail us. And sometimes he sent pictures.
After he was wounded—hit with 88 millimeter shrapnel over most of his body—he was in a field hospital for a short time and then transferred to General Eisenhower’s staff in the motor pool. If you have seen Band of Brothers, you might have seen Ed in the forest being shelled with howitzers hitting the tops of the trees and dropping down on the men.
He drove supply trucks and personnel jeeps for several months. He said driving on the Autobahn was the fastest he ever wanted to go. He learned quite a bit about maintaining trucks and engines.
Strangely, every once in awhile a wooden crate showed up at our house that said “do not open.” After we received five, they stopped coming. We would have to wait for Ed to come home to find out what was inside.
When he got home, he told us it was a German motorcycle that he liked—but the only way he could get it home was to take it all apart and ship it in boxes. After a while, he rebuilt it and used it for quite a bit.
He didn’t talk much about the war. He didn’t have post traumatic stress or any other kind of mental problems, but he was carrying a pound or two of shrapnel in his body. Otherwise, he picked up where he left off and moved on with his life.
“The Generation That Kept The Country Safe”
What a guy: 27 months of crap and he didn’t complain once—sort of unlike today. Today, some soldiers won’t fight if they don’t have a laptop, an iPhone, and a week off every month. And people back home file lawsuits every day of the year claiming that the military isn’t a nice place and we don’t need it anyway. What blubber.
I have found that my brother is not a unique patriot. He was the generation that kept the country safe for following generations. After the war, he spent the next 40 years driving trailer trucks back and forth across the US, carrying everything from meat to boats. He was still serving the country.
My brother was 17 years old when he left for war in a foreign land. He returned at age 19, a hardened, wounded veteran of a war he did not start but was ready to finish in order to keep America free.
As I wander through the Starbucks, in my mind I see people sitting and reading and drinking the newest “blend,” and I wonder where the hell we would be today if my brother and his buddies didn’t stand up for what they knew had to be done. I’m not sure about the Latte group—somehow I fear they missed the train.
“My Friend, My Hero, My Brother”
On May 5th, 1946 I went with my father to meet my brother at Camp Devens in western Massachusetts. Devens was the discharge center for that area. Ed was in uniform and looked good. I sat in the back of the car and he sat in the front with my father so they could talk if they wanted.
Perhaps half way home my father told him that one of his closest friends was killed in action in France. My brother—the family protector and my hero—cried. I had never seen my brother cry before—and never have since that day in 1946.
His friend Eddie was a tanker and was blown up during a battle. Those are the things he never heard overseas. The censors made that call.
My brother turned 85 last month and is still the warrior I have always known. Time and toil has taken its toll. The shrapnel can still be seen in his legs and back. He still smiles and still says “I love you” and me to him when we sign off on Skype or on the phone. He has been and still is the stability in my life: my friend, my hero, my brother.