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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Gray Matters:Veterans of World War II

Monday, February 11, 2008

The preponderance of WW II veterans in current obituary columns is sobering. The ranks of those who served our country so nobly is thinning.

The recent January date on which my sister and her soldier husband were married 66 years ago, brought many reminders. The two of them had graduated from Iowa State in 1939. Helen had a job in Joliet, IL as home economist for a utility company and Harold had entered the service.

As a member of the medical corps with the 34th Division, he was one of the first to leave for Europe. In April, 1942, the famed Red Bull Division departed from Ft. Dix, NJ, for further training in Northern Ireland before heading for Africa.

Although I was away in college, I do recall my parents' misgivings when my sister went to join her fiancÚ in N J. Soon after she arrived they were married in the post chapel. I still have a treasured snapshot taken against the stark white wall of that building right after the brief rites. He had enough leave so they could spend a honeymoon week-end in New York City.

In a few weeks he left for Ireland and she returned to Joliet. Harold, and others in the division, had applied for Officer's Candidate School, but for some reason, their acceptance was not announced until after they arrived in Ireland. As a result, those who had been accepted for OCS were shipped back to the states.

Harold's brother and his wife who lived in Chicago met his train and drove him, unannounced, to Helen's apartment. I will never forget getting back to my room from a morning class at the University and finding a message telling me to return a long-distance call from my sister.

You younger folks have no idea what that meant. In those days we called long-distance only in the direst of emergencies, and then only in the evenings when rates were reduced. With my heart in my throat, certain something terrible had happened to my soldier brother-in-law, I placed the call. Her elated voice, as she told me Harold was, in fact, standing there beside her, is still clear in my memory.

After three month's of rigorous training in Texas, the newly-minted 2nd Lieutenant served in New Orleans and Tacoma, Wash. His wife was able to be with him during that time until he was sent to the Pacific Theatre. By the time of his final assignment, he had attained the rank of Captain and was in charge of all the non-medical administrative aspects of one of the major army hospitals in Manila. It was the hospital to which the few "living-skeleton" survivors of the Bataan Death March had come. There he was even privileged to meet Gen. Douglas McArthur's wife when she came to visit those survivors.

Harold was among the first sent to Europe and, due to his transfer to the Pacific where the final fighting took place, he was among the last to come home. They were apart for nearly four years. In 1992, just after celebrating their Golden Anniversary, he died of cancer.

Recalling all of this, I marvel at my sister's patience with today's complaints of the much shorter separations of military families. I know it's a different war and different times, but still, in my estimation, theirs is but one of the many stories we should all be reminded of, think about, and honor.