Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Memories of My Father 4

Memories 1
Memories 2
Memories 3

And now Memories of My Father 4:
Before I move on, I want to go back to talk a little bit more about what I remember of my Dad's World War 2 days.  He was drafted in the Army in 1943 when he was 17 years old. He could still remember his serial number when he died. He had already graduated from Arsenal Tech High earlier that year. In later years he went to at least one reunion of Tech High and could occasionally be heard to sing the first line of its fight song: "Glory to Tech High." I don't remember him ever getting past the first line.

Because he had to help work in his Dad's store, he didn't get to participate much in after school activities. I believe he tried out for the baseball team but it was a moot point in the end. As a good Hoosier he loved basketball, but of course it wasn't nearly as much the rage when we moved to Florida in 1971.

But Dad faithfully signed me up for Wilton Manors baseball in Florida and I did a year or two in Farm League, and maybe three in Little League. He came to every game as far as I can remember. When I did track and cross country in high school, he again came to almost every meet. Faithful and loyal are definitely adjectives that have been mentioned these last 48 hours.

After he was drafted, Dad did Basic Training for three months down south in Jackson, Mississippi at Fort Polk. Then he was at Camp Livingston in Louisiana.  I remember him saying that when they went out on bivouac, they were afraid of snakes and would zipp themselves up tightly at night so snakes wouldn't crawl in with them to get warm. I remember him talking about how the trains zig-zagged around so they couldn't easily be found out and bombed.

He talked about how his Dad drove up north of Indianapolis in blizzard like conditions to bring him home around Christmas of 1943, I think. I can't remember if it was as far north as Kokomo but it was quite a drive and Dad was very thankful to his dad for it. He remembered this Christmas event as a memorable time when his Dad did something significant for him as an act of love.

Dad was in the ordinance corp. He started out in Patton's 3rd Army. Some of that first group (the 563) had a chance to go to college on a certain program at one point, and Dad was disappointed at first that he wasn't one of the ones chosen.  He had wanted to study drafting and actually had a scholarship when he was drafted. But then everyone in that college group was suddenly shipped out.

Some of his friends in that group died just after the Battle of the Bulge (this was after Dad had left the company).  They were in the back of a truck next to a river in Belgium around New Years and the driver drove too close and the truck flipped in. 12 of the men in the back drowned, in part because of the frigid waters. Dad had told this story in general, but I got the full story from Carl Petty, President of the 563 Ordinance Company, at the Lakeland funeral.

In these last years he went to many reunions of the first group he had been with. In fact, one of his closest army friends (and a jokester), Tom Mitchell, knew someone in the Kentucky legislature in the early 90's when I was at Asbury and got both him and me officially pronounced Kentucky Colonels, just like Colonel Sanders. I'd be prouder of the fact if they hadn't misspelled our name "Schneck" on the certificate.

Not long thereafter Dad was chosen to be part of a new seed company formed in the new 4th Army. I think he was a Master Sergeant at that time over an ordinance company.  He would end the war as a Sergeant Major, the highest rank of an enlisted man. He could have gone on to become an officer, but he was done at that point and wanted to get back home.

Like so many soldiers, he sent money home for his mom to spend. I think it took three weeks for the boat to make it across the Atlantic to England, probably in early 1944. They sailed from Fort Dix in New York.  I believe he had a friend there, a nurse named Patricia. Dad liked the name...

He said the boat also zig-zagged across to avoid German U-boats. He was stationed in Cheltenham when in England.

Then as I've mentioned they moved to Nancy, France, which is where I think he was when Hitler killed himself. He was there a year. Then they moved to Mannheim, going through Luxembourg.  Dad was in Mannheim when the war was finally over for good after VJ Day. They were scheduled to go to the Pacific arena when the war ended.

There's a stretch of road just south of Gainesville, Florida where you come down from a higher point down into a flat stretch of land. Dad always said it reminded him of the Plains of Westphalia in Germany. And sure enough, in our 1995 trip through that area, Mom and I saw exactly what he meant.

I regret that we never made it to Normandy on either of our trips to Paris together. The first was in 95, just after the 50th anniversary of D-Day.  The second was around 2002 with Angie and her parents. Thankfully he was spared the worst of the war.

I do remembering him feeling like he wasn't right with God when he was in the war. But he sent his tithe back home just the same knowing that he would get right with God eventually, and he didn't want to have to pay back tithe as restitution then.  I know he went to Paris on leave at least once when he was in France. He probably went to see some 1940s black and white movie, horrible sinner that he was.

One story I always found funny was he and his friends teasing French girls. In their sweetest voices they would say something like, "If you aren't the ugliest thing I've ever seen." He said they would just smile back at them, since of course they didn't understand English.

My Dad never had a knack for languages. He remembered a few French phrases, "tout de suite" (immediately) and "ça ne fait rien" (it doesn't matter). Mind you, it was horribly hard for me to track them down because of his pronunciation. Sunday after Sunday growing up he would slaughter "buenos dias" trying to greet Rev. Carlos Gonzalez, a Columbian minister who attended our church in Fort Lauderdale.


John Mark said...

Ken, these have been heartwarming. My father was born in 1920 and died at age 85; he served in WWII as well. I can remember our first TV, acquired in the early '60's: a hand-me-down from my moms sister...a lot of your memories resonate with me.
Thanks for sharing these. It makes me feel that except for the facts of your IQ which is at least 10 points higher than mine, your advanced education, and general brilliance we have a lot in common :)

Ken Schenck said...

Aw shucks ;-) My thoughts are usually a muddle and occasionally a miracle ;-)

I suspect those of us in this generation will share much of our stories in common. Thanks!