Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grandpa, My Hero: part 1

My grandpa is an amazing man and he is truly one of my heroes. Grandpa turned 90 earlier this year and my family gathered in St. Louis this past weekend to celebrate his amazing accomplishment. We had a wonderful time and I have lots to blog about, but before I start blogging about the reunion I want to give you a little background information on Grandpa's life so that you know why I think he's so amazing. (Grandpa's high school graduation photograph:)
Grandpa was born in 1922 and in August 1942, Grandpa enlisted in the Army Reserve Corps and was called into active duty in March 1943. Grandpa reported to Camp Dodge in Des Moines, Iowa, for infantry training, but got the measles a few days later. When he recovered from the measles he was sent to Camp Wolters in Texas for infantry training. After 13 weeks of rigorous training some of the men were sent to replacement depots in the East.  Within a couple of weeks they were sent on a troop ship to Oran, North Africa.  The men were shipped to Bizerte, Tunisia, in a "40 and 8" boxcar.  (This boxcar got its name in World War I because it carried 40 men and eight mules.) The men then boarded a small British ship which took them to Salerno Beach in Italy.  Grandpa's division was the 45th division and they made a beachhead landing  in Salerno Beach, and Grandpa was in the first group of replacements.

In September 1943, Grandpa and his buddy, George Biddle, were assigned to the anti-tank company in the 45th division.  Grandpa was in combat from then until he was pulled off the line in December to get ready to go to Anzio, Italy, for a behind-the-lines invasion that was to take place in February 1944. 

On February 13, Grandpa and his sergeant were on duty guarding the gun emplacement when a 1000 pound bomb exploded about three feet from them.  The last thing Grandpa remembered was telling his sergeant that it looked like a German F109 was headed their way... however, it wasn’t a German F109; it was accidental "friendly fire" that came from one of their own P40 pilots returning from a mission.  Grandpa was later told by his buddy George Biddle that everyone thought Grandpa died in the explosion, but another one of his buddies, Everett J. Scott, decided to dig him out anyway because he just couldn't leave him. Thank goodness they did because Grandpa wasn't dead; he moved!  Paratrooper medics were called and they drove Grandpa to the field hospital on the hood of a Jeep.

When Grandpa was wheeled into the receiving unit at the field hospital, he remembered a doctor peeling his eye open asking, "Can you see the light?"  (There was a light hanging from the ceiling by a single cord.)  Grandpa said, "Yes," and that's all he remembered until regaining consciousness three days later. In the meantime, bomb fragements were removed from his skull.

The next thing Grandpa remembered was a beautiful, auburn-haired nurse feeding him soup.  His head was completely bandaged and the nurse said, "It's okay if you lie on the right side of your head."  About three days later Grandpa was taken to Naples, Italy, on a British ship.  The words of the hymn God Will Take Care of You flowed through Grandpa 's mind as he waited on the dock to be carried into the ship.  This hymn has always remained a favorite of Grandpa's since then.

At the makeshift hospital in Naples, Grandpa was able to get out of bed the second day and walk to the latrine with the assistance of crutches.  (Grandpa had a hard cast on his right ankle since it was broken.)  When Grandpa looked in the mirror, he noticed that his face looked freckled with black spots; it was soil that had been blown into his skin by the blast.

A few days later Grandpa met his friend George Biddle in the hospital on the way to lunch (George had been wounded a few days after Grandpa).  In war there’s a saying, "You never know what hits you."  That was true in Grandpa 's case.  George told him what happened when the bomb hit.  The bomb landed about three feet away from the gun emplacement and ruined the 57mm gun that Grandpa was guarding.  Grandpa's damaged helmet was found about ¼ of a mile away from him near a house whose windows had been completely shattered by the blast.  The sergeant who was on duty with Grandpa was wounded, but not nearly as severely as Grandpa.

Two months later in April, Grandpa was sent to a hospital in North Africa where he awaited transportation back to the United States.  The thing Grandpa remembered about this tent hospital was that he was there on Easter and this was the first time that Grandpa had ever experienced having real palm leaves for an Easter church service.

Space was fortunately found for Grandpa in the sick bay of a Navy ship returning to the United States.  Grandpa's eardrums had ruptured in the blast, so the medics continued to flush out his ears to try to stop the infection, but this wasn’t successful.  The ship docked along the boardwalk in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where several hotels had been converted to hospitals for the wounded soldiers.  The second day Grandpa was there he was sent to the ENT department for his ear infection.  The doctor who saw him said, "I have something new that I'm going to use to try to cure your infection."  He put a drop or two of liquid in each ear and within two days Grandpa's ears quit draining.  This miracle liquid had recently been developed, and it was the first supply of the liquid that the doctor had received. The miracle drug was penicillin!

A week later Grandpa was sent to Schick General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa, where he remained until he was discharged in October.  The hard cast was removed from his right leg, and was replaced with a walking cast.  This made getting around much easier for Grandpa.  About three or four days after returning to Iowa, Grandpa's parents came to see him.  Grandpa was so excited to see them that even though he was wearing a cast, he ran all the way down the hall to embrace them.  It had been a long drive for them, as well as a sacrifice, since gasoline was rationed. (Grandpa recovering at Schick General Hospital:)
While at Schick General Hospital, Grandpa met Dr. Spiegel who talked to him about getting a metal plate in his head to cover the hole in his skull.  This seemed like a reasonable idea to Grandpa, so he had this operation a few days later, and a tantalum plate was placed in his skull. That plate has served him well over the decades as it is still serving its purpose!

Grandpa remembered how wonderful the food was at this facility was.  After eating Army rations for months and months, the variety of fruits, vegetables and meats was unbelievable.  What surprised Grandpa the most was how good plain, white bread tasted.  After not having any bread for several months, he said it almost tasted as good as cake!

The cast was finally removed from Grandpa's ankle in late July, and he had physical therapy every day to help him be able to walk normally.  Grandpa played a lot of cards and ping pong for fun.  The entertainment was enjoyable, and Lawrence Welk was a frequent visitor to the hospital. Grandpa was discharged a few weeks later and resumed his education.

This is where I will leave Grandpa's story for now, but I will pick it up again soon because it's not over! For now, feel free to watch this slideshow that I made showcasing Grandpa's life. I really worked hard on it, and I felt like it was a success when I saw Grandpa crying at the end. I thought long and hard about my music choices, and I chose to end the slideshow with Plumb's rendition of God Will Take Care of You; the song that flowed through Grandpa's mind after he was injured in the war. It was absolutely perfect!


Andrea said...

What an awesome tribute to your grandfather!

A friend posted this photo idea that I thought you might like for your grandfather.

Kendra said...

That slide show was so beautiful! I can't wait to hear the next part of the story. What a lucky man to have a family like yours who loves and admires him so much.

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness Heather, you created a remarkable gift for your hero. I very much enjoyed watching your slidehow. Thank you for sharing. It's clear you put a lot of time and effort into your gift. Wishing you and yours many more years together.

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