On Several Connections

This is particular day started as any normal day, and even turned out to be a normal day. Yet, this day had brought forth two strange connections: one odd and one historical.

At handbell practice two of our members revealed their recent discovered they were second cousins as their grandfathers were brothers. It started with one telling the other that he looked like her uncle, and it went from there. A simple oddity of two people at the same church not only not knowing, they first met each other in late August.

The other oddity involved our opening our mail earlier the same day. My dad passed away in September, and one of his requests is that we notify out-of-towners listed in his address book; so, I wrote a two-page story of his life, and we started the process. Since then, my sister and I have received many thoughtful responses – but none was more interesting that the one I received on this day.

This particular one also told a story of Angelo, whom my dad met in 1995 when he returned to Austria as part of the 50th Anniversary of VE day. They remained in contact since that day. Coincidentally, Angelo had died around the time our letter arrived, so this letter was from his surviving wife of 59 years. I can only imagine the tears in her eyes as she wrote the letter.

Angelo was a factory laborer in Italy. Due to the difficult conditions caused by the war, workers had strikes in 1943 and 1944. In early 1944, authorities arrested Angelo and then deported him to Mauthausen-Gusen, a Nazi concentration camp. In May 1945, the US Army, of which my dad was a member, liberated the camps. Angelo’s widow wrote, “For the rest of his life he devoted himself to transit the memory to the younger generations, asking those who listened, not to allow a future recurrence of similar barbarism.”

Although we Baby Boomers not only grew up in the WW II shadows, we didn’t experience the world war first hand. Yet, our connection to that time is closer than we think. Meanwhile, I hope Angelo and Dad have reconnected.

25 thoughts on “On Several Connections

  1. I hope your father wrote of his wartime experiences, or told you stories that you can commit to paper. We are losing our WW2 veterans so quickly – we have already lost all but a handful of WW1 vets, and in your and my lifetime, we will see WW2 and Korean vets reduced to handfuls. We need to collect these stories (and thankfully, there are a number of sites online to do just this), and we need to re-tell them as often as possible. In this way, and in others – such as the WW2 re-enacting I did for some years, and the museum ships such as USS Texas from WW1 and WW2, or the US pre-dreadnought cruiser Olympia which is currently fighting for her life – we must pass this knowledge on to future generations. When one of these people die, they take unique experiences with them. When my friend, Lee, took his final trip today, the entire world lost his memories of Korea. If we fail to save these memories, we not only dishonour those who gave their youth (and in many cases, their entire lives) so that we might live in peace, but we risk the danger of failing to learn from that history. Events from 60 and 70 years ago threaten us today – it is the results of the Korean War, and the Japanese invasion of China in WW2, that give us the military threat of North Korea and the economic (and potentially military) threat of Communist China today. We ignore our history at our peril – the peril into which we place our children’s future, and the peril into which we put the memory of those brave soldiers who fought for the freedom we enjoy today. The price of freedom may be eternal vigilance, but the price of losing our history, of forgetting those who gave us our freedom, of forgetting that which has gone before us, that price is one we can NEVER afford to pay.

    • John,
      My dad wasn’t a story teller about his service time. Simply the quiet, proud type. On the other hand, no matter how much is recorded, it is up to the living to learn about the past – the situations, the events, the lessons, etc – otherwise, humanity will repeat the mistakes. Well, history also shows we are very good at repeating mistakes. Thanks for sharing.

  2. And now that I have climbed down off my high horse, Frank, I must say that is an incredible story. It is amazing how these coincidences can crop up. When I was re-enacting, one of my personas was that of an 11th Air Force engineer, based in Alaska. (I’m a sucker for lesser known campaigns – the Canadians at Dieppe in 1942, the US Alaskan campaigns on Attu and Kiska islands, and so forth.) While re-enacting as a German army soldier, I met a veteran of the Alaskan campaign. Unfortunately, he did not want to share his memories, but I accepted that, and thanked him anyway. At another re-enactment, we were sitting around a campfire when two gentlemen walked up. One was quite chatty, and interested in all our gear, while the other was silent, simply glancing around. With encouragement from our group and his friend, the silent man finally began to speak, and ended up talking with us for over 4 hours about his experiences with the German army on the Eastern front. We even met a lady, on vacation (holiday, more properly) from England, at a re-enactment where several of us were portraying Coldstream Guardsmen! The odds of a lady from the Midlands, visiting Valparaiso, Indiana (if I remember correctly). It is truly amazing how the seemingly random occurrences of life can direct people together. (Someday I’ll tell you how a guy from Chicago met a girl from South Bend in Dallas while pursuing a lady from California to Houston. It’s my bio, and even I get lost sometimes! :D)

    • John,
      Why do I have a difficult time imagining you climbing off the high horse? :) Good story on your part, thus many thanks for sharing.

  3. Wow. That really is amazing. It made me think about my grandpa, too, and his stories (the few he will tell us) about WWII.

    • Mckenzie,
      Ah ha … your grandpa seems like my dad and so many others of that generation. I believe the don’t tell the stories because they simply did what they were expected to do – thus storytelling makes them seem too self-centered because the stories aren’t about them. John is right when in saying that we, both today and tomorrow, can learn a lot from their experiences .. but that is true with all major events. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Yeah. The only time I’ve really gotten him to open up about the war, as well as his life in general, is when I asked him if I could tape record him for an interview for one of my school projects. It was only supposed to be a 30 minute recording, but I ended up with 4.5 hours of tape. One of the best days of my life.

    • From 30 minutes to 4.5 hours? Wow! … that had to be interesting. Put what he said in context to that thought about history you wrote in your journal after reading a post here. History explains so much while offering many learning lessons. Thanks for sharing.

    • 4.5 hours? Wow, I’d love to hear or read the military stuff. Then again, if you need a person to transcribe from the tape to paper, I’ll offer you my services. (No worries, I’ll honour your privacy.) Maybe one of these days I can get my dad off his high horse (see, Frank, it’s hereditary :p) and get his Korean experiences down. Nothing dramatic, a lot of “reple depot” and rear area stuff, but still important (and a few REALLY funny stories, plus some dramatic secondhand stuff).
      Frank, I didn’t mean to suggest that peacetime events were any less important. I’m horribly biased towards military history, but can recognise the importance of peacetime history. Thankfully, there has been far more peacetime history than wartime. Of course, depending on your definition of “peacetime”. Some of us Chicagoans would count city council meetings as far more dangerous than 1000-bomber raids on Hamburg!

      • John,
        But have you ever attended a Chicago City Council meeting? :) BTW … my dad was so mum, I didn’t realize he had two bronze stars until his passing. … and yes – stories and their lessons learned are very important … ever so many!

      • Actually, many, MANY years ago (about 4 decades), I went as part of a school group. Mind you, that was back in the “calm” days, before Harold Washington or Jane Byrne. You know, shortly after that little scuffle between flower-bearing hippies and the relaxed, gentle-handed Chicago police at that great 1968 love-fest. You know, where THE Mayor Daley had a few fellow Dems over for a little chat, and the folks outside exchanged hugs? (And mace, and clubs, and dog bites, and……)
        TWO bronze stare? Impressive. Please, by all means, share whatever you know – but only if you feel comfortable doing so. That is my MAJOR peeve with we amateur historians. If the people who served don’t want to talk, that is their business – LEAVE THEM ALONE! If they want to talk, encourage NEUTRALLY. Don’t deify them, don’t demonise them, and let them give at their own speed. Too many people push too hard – you have to let them talk as, when, and IF they want to. And each group have their own “hangups”. WW2 and Korea don’t feel they are special. Vietnam vets have to be shown you’re neither rabidly pro-war or anti-war – you have to speak to the PERSON, not to the event. Latter military people tend to feel inferior to prior generations, with all the “greatest generation” talk – they want to hear they mattered, be it Desert Storm, Falklands, or even Panama/Grenada. It will be intriguing to see the psychological makeup of vets from Iraq/Afghanistan, with the deluge of news coverage and all the over-amped media support. I’ve seen several guys from both wars who actually seem almost ashamed of their service, or feel that they’ve lost their individuality as soldiers. I got one young guy to talk, simply by asking questions about his thoughts and feelings without trying to “frame” his experiences against the background of events – in a way, taking him “out of context” so he didn’t feel buried under the weight of the “you’re all heroes” media push. All in all, a fascinating study not only in war, but in psychology (itself a key and often overlooked component of military history).

        • John,
          Well … since you attended the meeting as part of the school group, you were sparred wire taps.

          Regarding the two bronze stars. I’m sure one of them was given to all in the WW II infantry, but I’m not sure of the other one … although the records are probably at my sister’s. Plus I will touch base with my nephew (if I remember) to ask him because my dad shared more with him.

          On a similar note, I took my dad to one of his army reunions several years ago. This group was when he re-upped in 1950. Interestingly, he was one of a couple who also served in WW II, but others in the room started at that time and served through Vietnam. Lotsa history in that room!

          On another side note, Brian Williams (NBC) had an interesting interview about the Gulf War.

      • And Frank, quit posting such interesting topics! My fingers are getting tired typing! Post some boring stuff, so I can take a break, okay?
        (Hey, until the government recognises “diarrhea of the fingers” as a legitimate disease, it’s all on your head, pal! ;) )

        • John,
          In some ways, the boring-to-interesting spectrum is subjective. One could take the angle (rim shot) that the position on the spectrum is relative to the type of people it attracts to comment. (rim shot) … :) …. at least I know you have a sense of humor … and presumably a sick sense like mine. (rim shot) … dang … this would be the perfect spot for a Rodney Dangerfield line. Meanwhile, since you like typing so much, maybe I’ll have to knight you as my chief promoter for gathering more traffic.

  5. Hmm… you want more visits. Let’s see what I can do. (It’s easy for me – ballot box stuffing, Internet-style!) And when visiting Chicago city offices, it’s never the wire taps that get you. More like the baton taps – or rifle butt taps…
    I hate to argue with you about your dad’s bronze stars, but they usually weren’t given to everyone in that theatre. It MIGHT have been a unit citation, but that would be rare. I’d have to research to be sure, but usually bronze and silver stars were individual awards. And to get two, meant that your dad did two rather impressive things, since stars had to be put in by a commanding officer and approved by at least one (maybe two) higher level officers. Not exactly like the infamous Canadian “spam” service ribbon – given to everyone in WW2, cooks to captains, heroes to zeroes, if you had a pulse in the military during WW2, you got it (hence calling it “spam” after the ubiquitous canned meat). Great side story – British (and many Commonwealth) units got the infamous “bully beef” tinned meat. The Brits LOVED Spam, because it tasted so much better (and could actually be chewed). There are stories from both world wars of German soldiers, short on supply, coming across British stocks of food, and devouring EVERYTHING except the bully beef. I believe a couple of British-occupied European towns wanted the British tried for violating the Geneva convention after distributing bully beef to starving populations. :D
    A thought occurs (yes, they are rare, but they do happen) – if you can Email me your dad’s full name, there are several government websites relating to Army records. Their should be documentation on the award of the Bronze Stars. I can try and find more info, if you want.
    And in conclusion, your sense of humour is a minor cold. Mine is pneumonia, with its’ own staph (rimshot). (SEE? I can not only tell bad jokes, but include puns as well! :p)

    • John,
      See … another example of our strange wavelength … and you didn’t realize I was preparing a post featuring spam!

      The info about the infantry bronze star was given to me by an American Legion member I know well. I just saw a site listing bronze star winners, and he wasn’t listed.

    • Well, with all due respect to the VFW gent, his word ain’t the LAST word. And one website ain’t conclusive. If you want me to look, pass on the info. If you don’t, that’s cool too. Your dad, your choice, either way, it’s fine.
      So, a story about spam the Email BS, or the real Spam? Are you aware of the annual Spam cook off sponsored by Hormel? (I won’t say anything else – I don’t want to give away too much.) Both the wife and I actually like Spam – then again, both our dads served in WW2 and gained a taste for it there, which they passed on to us. See? Spam IS hereditary! :D
      Off to dinner – not Spam. Sorry to break our strange connection! (If you want strange wavelength stories, I have some CB adventures I could relate. Yes, I did actually have a CB license – KAYR 2976. “You got Captain Insanity here, I’m going 10-10 on the side. Have a good day today and a better one tomorrow!” GOD, I am so freaking OLD!)

      • John,
        In terms of Spam … the real stuff … the meat delicacy. So thanks Hormel’s event.

        In terms of the search offer, much appreciated. Since we’re still processing the estate, I’ll pass on your offer at the moment. Meanwhile, if you so desire, you could give me some of your sources.

        Have a good dinner! … and many thanks for the dialogue. BTW … Hope you saw the interesting video on this post.

      • Haven’t gotten to the video yet, sorry. Got a couple other irons in the fire (one, quite literally – gotta feed the fire that heats the house). I’ll dig you up some sources, and see if I can find some others. Can you get me at least his theatre and division? That’ll shrink the number of possible websites (or maybe add a few – there are a number of division-specific websites). And whenever you want to get me the specific info, that’s fine. The stuff will be online whenever you’re ready.
        Wanna be creative? We have a new addition to the household menagerie – a little grey puffball of a flat-faced kitten. One of our cats got pregnant (by her nephew – dang cats got NO sense of decency), but only had one kitten. Sorry, we’ve already used Shadow and Smokey, and a cat who was clingy as a kitten that the wife named Max (get it? Max Clinger? Yeah, we deserve each other.) Any ideas? :D

        • Hot dang! One of Patton’s boys! I’ll dig around a bit tomorrow, once I get through my morning mess of Emails, see what I can find for you. If I strike out, I’ll go to my circle of military nuts (and they are in EVERY sense of the word) and see what suggestions I can find. I will NOT pass on the full information – that stays between you and me. If we run into brick walls AND you specifically state so, ONLY at that point will I pass that information on.
          Oh… um… can I get a last name? You can send it to my Email so it doesn’t appear here. Zenaru (at) Hughes (dot) Net. (Don’t ask!) It’ll seriously help me. If you don’t want to reveal that, no sweat, I’ll do what I can.

        • Frank- Do you know what battalion your father was in? One of my best sources lists by battalion, not company. If you don’t know, no problem, I’ll just dig a little more. No luck so far, although the division had a VERY large number of Bronze Stars awarded, so that might explain some of your search difficulties. Don’t worry – we’ll find something!

        • Well, Frank, I hate to say it, but round 1 goes to the mists of time. My initial sites, including the Army’s official site, gave me a goose egg. Round two this afternoon – I need to dig through some old web bookmarks. If that fails, I’m gonna call on my military mates. Most of them are Navy nuts, but they do know some sites I don’t. Oh – I just remembered a board out there in the “blogosphere” that’s got some retired Army – I’ll hook those guys as well. Never fear, my friend, I’ll find SOMETHING or know the reason why! :)

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