Tuesday, July 1, 2008

My Hero

There are many reasons why my life is blessed. My beginnings in this world were very turbulent (see early posts). Role models are very few and far between in this life, but one is blessed when one saves your life, yet never really knows it. My Dad, was my hero. Maybe that shouldn't be a big deal, but for me if was crucial. You see, he was not my father biologically. He was no relation to me by blood. He wasn't even my step father. He was my step grandfather. But, from the age of 2, he and my grandmother became my parents. I was never treated as anything other than their child. My older brother and sister (really my 1/2 aunt and uncle) were my siblings. I never questioned my relationship in this family. I was troubled by other issues with who I was, why my mother didn't want me, etc...

I adored my Dad. I wore his flannel shirts that were 10 sizes too big. I watched him shave, I imitated his strategic moves when he went to view his weather station. He gave me the responsibilty of mowing the yard, even though I was the youngest and my sister was waiting in line (sorry Cis). Even when I ran over his plants, it remained my job.

Dad didn't talk much. Mostly observed life. He was the most content individual I have ever met. He questioned organized religion, never went to Church, but read the Bible. I remember him talking about reincarnation, yet he was a strong conservative republican.

Later, when I was discovering my own liberal views we clashed greatly. He feel hard off the pedalistal I had put him on. I was ashamed of his views. In 1986 we argued when he and Mom visited me in Mississippi. At 25 I thought I knew it all and was outraged by his defense of a Church having the right to deny a Black student entrance. I slammed the door and walked out. I didn't know then that I would never ever lay eyes on him again. I didn't speak to him for years as well as my Mom for this and more important complicated reasons.

I lost my hero. I later reconciled with my Mom (grandmother). Before she died she told me that right before Dad died he said, "We never talk about Danny." I feel apart....

I knew Dad was in WW II. He never wanted to talk about it. When he died and I was visiting my Mom in Florida, she brought out a little box. In that box was my Dad's medals from WWII and some papers which included a letter home to his dad. Poppa. Poppa was in my life until he died at the age of 96 and as sharp as a tack. He was born in 1887.

My Dad had a scar on his lip where a bullet had entered during the war. Apparently the bullet was lodged within inches of his brain. The story of the War was a mystery. Here is a copy of his letter home and excerpts of his achievements.

Dad, I miss you terribly. I'm not suprised by what you did or had to do in the war. You were the most honorable man I've ever known. I try everyday to be half the man you were. I love you. Thanks for being my father and teaching me that genealogy isn't the only lineage to hand down.

May 22, 1945

Dear Dad,

From now on there is no more censoring of letters over here so we are free to write just about anything we want. You’ve probably wondered at times just where we were, so I’ll give a kind of outline of our activities.

I left the states last October 14th, from Jersey City, NJ. Coming across wasn’t too bad except for the food. We were on a British ship and they are famous for bad food. The trip took eleven days and we landed in Liverpool. Then we took a pretty long train ride to a camp in England. I’ve forgotten the name of the town we were near. I stayed there for five days and then took a train ride to South Hampton and we loaded on a Dutch boat for the trip across the Channel. We got to France on November 1, carrying packs weighing around one hundred pounds. We landed on the beach where the assault landing took place on D-Day. I’ll never forget the hill we had to climb with all that weight, and just on the top of the hill was an American cemetery of about two or three thousand graves; men killed there on June 6 and 7. If you could see that beach and the hill you’d wonder how anyone could go up it in the face of fire and live.

That night we camped out and the next day we got on some of those famous “40 and 8” French box-cars. They are built for 40 men or 8 horses and we put 30 men in them with all of our equipment, so you can see we haven’t been blessed with too much room. We traveled like that for four or five days and nights until we came to an old French cavalry post and stayed there for a couple of days.

On November 13, we were split up among the regiments of this division and I found myself assigned to Co. G-318 Inf. The other two regiments being the 317 and 319 Inf. I had a lucky break as the second battalion (it’s the one I’m in) got ten days rest as division reserve just then. We were in a town called Holacourt about seventy-five miles east of Nancy. From there we moved ten or fifteen miles and went on line. We had Thanksgiving dinner there as we were not having any fighting. It was a regular dinner, --Turkey and all the trimmings.

After a couple of days we moved into position to attack a town on the Maginot Line. It was Zimming or something like that. Only one man was hurt in the attack so it wasn’t much of a scrap. My first real battle was a small town called Henriville a few days later. It was around the second or third of Dec. After taking the town we dug in outside of the place and almost froze for five days and nights. Then we got a break and were sent back to Freming in Lorraine about four miles from Forbach which you can probably find on the map. It’s 30 or 40 miles from Saarbrucken. We were all set to spend Christmas there. We were living with a French family and really were having a nice time when the Jerries made that break through in Luxembourg and Belgium. We got in trucks and rode all night long up to Luxembourg City and took up a defensive position and waited for the fight. We had a few minor scraps and on the twenty-fourth of December our battalion was attached, for a few days, to the Fourth Armored Division and we all started for Bastogne. On Christmas day we had one of our toughest times, and lost half of our men, killed or wounded. We go to Bastogne on December twenty-ninth with a company of forty-three men.

**Note from me: This above was the Battle of the Bulge
This 2nd Battalion, 318th Infantry, received battle honors for “outstanding performance of duty during the period 25 to 28 December 1944. The battalion was heavily engaged with the enemy in the vicinity of Ettlebruck, Luxembourg, when it was withdrawn from the front lines for the movement to the Bastogne, Belgium area. Its effective rifle-fighting strength had been reduced to 200 men. Attacking on Christmas Day after several days without rest, the battalion began its assault of the enemy positions encircling Bastogne, Belgium. Throughout the next 4 days and 3 nights, the depleted battalion battled its way in freezing temperature through the besieged forces in Bastogne. The stubborn resistance of the enemy and well dug-in positions required constant use of the bayonet and hand grenade in their destruction. Suffering heavy small-arms fire from flanking positions, the battalion fought on with an unrelenting determination that overcame all obstacles, routed the enemy, and established contact with the forces within Bastogne. The aggressiveness of the heroic infantrymen of the 2nd Battalion, 318th Infantry reflects the finest traditions of the Army of the United States.” Extracted from the War Department Battle Honors Citations of Units, General Orders No. 24, GO 24, Washington, D.C. 6 April 1945.**

We had Christmas dinner there four days later. Then we came back to Luxembourg to a town called Ettlebrook for about a week. There we got replacements and rested a little. On January 21st, we shoved off at two o’clock in the morning in an attack of a town called Berschniede a little ways east of Ettlebrook. The snow was six inches deep and it was close to zero and you couldn’t see ten feet ahead of you. I was carrying a light machine gun (40 lbs.) and we walked four or five miles. It’s enough to say it wasn’t a pleasure trip. We arrived at the town about day-light and started the attack at once. We had our two machine guns set up and before we could get off more than a few rounds we were pinned down by sniper fire. They hit five of us inside of fifteen minutes. I got back to the rear some how and was taken to the hospital and you know the story on that.

I came back to the Company on March 14th, and was put in charge of one of the machine-gun squads. That same night we got in a tough spot and had to shoot our way out. Then began a long series of hiking, riding and not much shooting. We were in St. Wendel, Kaiserlautern, and crossed the Rhine at Mainz. From there we went to Kassel, then to Erfurt, and then to Chemnitz.

**Note from me: This is where my Dad’s modesty is amazing. He received the Bronze Star for individual heroic achievement during the course of the attack on Kassel, Germany April 2, 1945 (two days before their surrender). “Sgt Smith, (then Cpl) a rifle squad leader, located the source of the enemy fire. Disregarding intense enemy fire, Sgt Smith ran to an exposed position where he fired his rifle so effectively that he killed three, wounded two, and forced eight other enemy soldiers to surrender. Sgt Smith’s courage and untiring devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the armed forces of the United States.” Extracted from Headquarters 80th Infantry Division APO 80, U. S. Army, dated 24 May 1945, general orders No. 135.**

We had a hard fight going into Erfurt and lost a lot of men. From Chemnitz we went to Nuremburg in southern Germany. That city has been almost completely destroyed by bombing. Hitler called it the “most German of all cities.” We stayed there on guard duty for several days. Then we went across the Inn River into Austria at Branau. That’s were Hitler was born. By then we knew the war was practically over as we had gone for a week without hearing a shot, and it was just a few days later that we heard the good news.
Well, Dad, that’s pretty near the complete story. Now we are on guard duty at some little town in Austria about 20 or 25 miles west of Branau and 200 miles west of Vienna. All we’re doing is checking all the Jerry soldiers for discharge papers. The whole Sixth German Army is being demobilized around here. Every little town is full of people who left their homes to get away from the Russians. I simply can’t exaggerate the fear these people have towards the Russians. They are scared to death of them. In all seriousness, Dad, I sometimes wonder how we won this war. Some to the crazy things and silly orders we’ve carried out makes me wonder. I suppose the real reason we won is that we had so damn much stuff that the Jerries just couldn’t hold. Make no mistake the Jerry soldier was well drilled and as long as he had officers he would stick in there. But once you knocked their officers out there were so many lunk-heads. They had a tank better than ours and their 88 gun was a real piece, but we just had too much. Dad, if you have any questions just ask them and I’ll try to give you a straight answer. I suppose I’ll have quite a bit of time now to write. What I’m really wanting is a piece of paper with “Discharge” written in capital letters on it. I think I’ll be back in the States this summer and we can talk of a lot of things. I’ve changed quite a bit, Dad. I know I’ve grown older in appearance and I’ve lost some weight but I’ll put that back on when I get back. My nerves are still good though I feel just lucky about coming through it all with no more than a few missing teeth. How about sending me a corn-cob pipe and some Granger tobacco? Make sure it’s Granger because I can get other kinds over here, but I don’t like them.
I’ll close for now.
Love from,
Your son,
Lyman


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