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80 years ago, they were all heroes

Last Thursday was D-Day and I started to write about that for last week’s paper, but I decided to take the week to soak up all the remembrances and tributes before I sat down to write this. Last week I stated on a Facebook post that 13 of my family (both Grandfathers and multiple Great-Uncles) served in World War II; however, I miscounted, the total number was 14. 

They all served in various theaters during the war and three were at Normandy on D-Day, two on the beaches and one in a B-17 that flew three missions that day, one before dawn and two more after the invasion had commenced. I don’t tell you this to brag about my family, but to expound on the history they not only witnessed but played a role in it as well. Each of these veterans of the war kept fairly silent about their service when I was young. Most of the information I got during that time dealt with second-hand stories and what it was like on the Homefront during that time.

I have the fortune of being one of the rare people who actually knew all four of my Great-Grandmothers. They, along with both of my Grandmothers and Great-Aunts often told me stories of the depression and the war years. Tales of the rationing that transpired both as an order of the government to support the war effort, and out of necessity brought on by the Great Depression. They also passed on stories of the war and what those who fought in the war went through.

Later, after I served in the Military and served three times in the Persian Gulf area of Operations from Desert Storm to post 9/11, My Grandfathers and Great-Uncles would open up and discuss things with me, especially after I played back video of some of our flights. For my Uncle Gerald the videos brought back what he described as vibrant memories, and we discussed his piloting a B-17 on Daylight raids over Western Europe and how he was shot down. He said he was the last to bail out of the plane that fateful day and awoke from the impact in a bombed-out vacant lot in Berlin, surrounded by angry Berliners who were held off by four black-shirted SS troopers. He later discussed the POW Camp where he was in charge of logistics including everything from the distribution of Red-Cross Aid packages to the darning of socks which his mother had taught him as a skill to save money during the depression.

They served on the ground at D-Day, in the pacific on islands like Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Tarawa, New Guinea, Guam, and the Philippines; they fought in the west in places like North Africa, Italy, and of course Western Europe. One Great-Uncle stood on the deck of the USS Missouri on V-J Day and stayed in Japan for the initial part of the occupation.  One fought with Patton and helped liberate the Concentration Camps. One Grandfather flew 49 combat flights in the Pacific as a Navigator on a B-24 Liberator, while the other served in Biloxi, Mississippi the entirety of the war as part of the logistics staff funneling materials to the front; something that was vitally necessary, but that he always felt like was a waste of his abilities. 

I heard so many of the stories, their triumphs and their defeats. The scars and the memories, both good and bad, that haunted them the rest of their life. These stories were pleasant and at times quite horrifying, and while I’m familiar with my family, it’s safe to say that this happened in every family of the time. It’s my belief that we all have these sorts of men somewhere in each of our families. It’s often amazing to me that so many came home and went back to life as normal, even though it wasn’t normal, there could never be normal after that. 

As I watched the videos last week of the 100-year-old men walking the beaches of Normandy for what will be the last time for many of them, I couldn’t help but think about the memories that must have resurfaced and of the bravery they saw 80 years ago. In my family, all but one of this generation has gone on home to be with God. How wonderful it was to have the opportunity to get to know them all. I am grateful to God for that precious gift.

You ask combat vets if they’re heroes and they will almost always, and with great humility tell you they’re not heroes. They will tell you that the heroes are the ones who didn’t come home, and they’re right. But when I look at these men of steel who went so far away to save us all and bring peace to this world, I wish we could tell them that they are all indeed Heroes in the highest sense of the word.




The Cameron Herald

The Cameron Herald
P.O. Box 1230
Cameron, Texas 76520

Phone: 254-697-6671
Fax: 254-697-4902