Posted by: nancy328 | March 16, 2011

Luck of the Irish Potatoes

In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to salute all the Irish south Boston members of the 26th Yankee Division. Wayne’s Irish grandmother, Annie Frances McCullough Wayne, could bend over and pluck a four leaf clover from any patch she encountered. Perhaps it was from her that Wayne’s luck was inherited.

Crossing Europe during WWII without regular rations, Wayne learned to scrounge for food. He checked root cellars and fields for root vegetables. When found, potatoes could be cooked up for a decent meal by his standards. Although I wonder how he ate them without black pepper. Wayne always said you tell how close to Boston people lived by how much pepper they used.

On page 283 of Patton’s Lucky Scout in Wayne’s “cookbook” appendix are his root vegetable recipes.

Potatoes, Southie

6 potatoes
2 pints water

This dish can be cooked if you are staying overnight in an occupied farmhouse with a kitchen or over a campfire. Peel and dice potatoes and place them in a pan of boiling water. Continue to boil until soft to a mess-kit fork.

Pour off the water, retaining the liquid in helmet. Mash potatoes with the butt of your trench knife. Mix back in some of the retained water, continually stirring with a mess-kit spoon. Use extra retained water to wash mess kit, tools, and pan as necessary.

Background

In some of the farmhouses we slept in, the farmers had stored potatoes in the basement or cold cellar. Our division was formerly part of the Massachusetts National Guard. Many in our platoon were from South Boston and of Irish heritage, nicknamed “Southies.” They loved mashed potatoes. Whenever the opportunity arose, they made and savored mashed potatoes.

Rutabaga Kabobs

1 rutabaga

Cut rutabaga into 1-inch cubes. Skewer with a 1/4-inch diameter freshly cut green stick. Place about two inches above campfire coals and rotate frequently. When a trench knife easily pierces the surface, they are soft enough to eat.

Background

Rutabaga patches were quite common over much of the territory we captured. They were often left in the ground, once grown, as a practical way to store them. We would dig out only as many as we needed. We often had to save any water we had for drinking, so boiling a rutabaga for eating was not always possible.

Posted by: nancy328 | March 8, 2011

The dreaded telegram

The telegram every family dreaded broke news of a loved one injured, missing or worst of all killed in action. Over a million families during World War II received similar telegrams to the one Wayne’s mom received in March of 1945. His injury sent him to a hospital for a few days, but he may have been back with his unit by the time the telegram got to his family.

Posted by: nancy328 | January 29, 2011

Battle of the Bulge “recipes”

The Battle of the Bulge veterans fought record cold, in addition to the enemy. From mid-December 1944 through January 1945, they fought and froze. The situation was very volatile. Battle lines and supply lines were tangled. PFC Frank Wayne Martin was one of millions of soldiers involved in that pivotal campaign that eventually turned in favor of the Allies.

Wayne scavenged whatever and whenever he could. Eventually, Christmas care packages caught up with him. His food-related stories shed some light on his humor and humanity. I’d like to share with you some of his Lucky Forward recipes. These come from the “PFC Martin’s Field Cookbook” appendix of his book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.

Here are two from the Battle of the Bulge:

Package from Home à la Disaster

1 assortment, consisting of whatever survived the journey

Background
Being a forward observer for Lucky Forward meant that we were at the end of the line as far as mail was concerned, and it was even worse for a package. If the fighting had been heavy or if we had advanced rapidly, we would get packages only about once a month.

Most of the time, just the wrapper made it to us. Sometimes a note would be written on it saying, “Thanks for the contents.” If the contents did come through, it was generally because they were stale, shattered, or otherwise inedible, so nobody in the rear wanted it. It might take the entire group to guess what it had been originally.

Folks back home were told to send Christmas packages about the middle of November if they wanted them to arrive in time. I got one from a girl who lived next door, sent at that time but not delivered until the end of January. Judging by the hardness and the color, the box seemed to contain a shipment of small paving blocks. After everybody guessed, we declared the winner to be the person who decided the items had started out as brownies! He won the box.

Sorbet Bastogne

1 envelope, K-ration lemonade powder
1 canteen cup of freshly fallen snow

Gently mix lemon powder in snow and eat before it melts.

Background
During the Battle of the Bulge, we took refuge one night in a small stone building. It looked a little like one of the old-fashioned railroad stations I knew from rural New England. The temperature was reported to have warmed up from the -40 °F we had been having to a moderate 20 °F above zero during the night. As I opened the door, looking at a large snowdrift, I saw that about six inches of fresh snow had fallen during the night.

I decided to try to make a cool dessert by mixing the snow with some of the lemonade powder I had in my pocket. I scooped up a mess kit of snow, but as I did so, my cup hit something solid about three inches below the surface.

As I brushed the away the snow with my hand, I saw an arm in a German infantry uniform. I called the others, and soon we uncovered three Germans lying close together, frozen stiff. They had no weapons.

They must have come to surrender under cover of darkness, but were afraid to knock, perhaps thinking we might shoot first and ask questions later. They must have decided to huddle together to keep as warm and sheltered as possible next to the building.

We all felt sad that these poor men had frozen to death, so close to freedom. The unfortunate thing was that we would have been glad to take them in at night and ask questions. It could have worked out better for both them and us.

Posted by: nancy328 | January 26, 2011

Messy Ride on the Rockhill Victory

Do you ever wonder about the story behind those old newspaper stories pasted in a scrapbook? This clipping was from the Boston Herald late in 1945.

 

1543 YD MEN REACH N.Y. ON BATTERED SHIP

NEW YORK (INS) – The transport Rockhill Victory carrying 1543 members of the famed 26th, “Yankee Division,” arrived in New York yesterday after a rough two-week Atlantic crossing. The ship docked in Staten Island with a patched hull and seven life rafts missing. The soldiers aboard are members of the 104th and 328th regiments of the Yankee Division. Five of the men suffered bone fractures as a result of being pitched about on the ship during a storm that lasted 13 days. Army Capt. George S. Schuster of Milwaukee said: “The men were the sickest bunch I’ve seen on any troop transport.” Capt. N. D. Scull, skipper of the ship, called a 52-degree roll at which the vessel pitched, a “record.” The patched hull was the result with another troop ship at Marseilles.

Also docking at Staten Island was the Andrew Moore, with 552 members of the 357th and 358th antitank companies of the 90th Division. But they told a contrasting story. Lt. Charles Hornbuckle, of Poplar Bluff, Mo., said it was an extremely pleasant voyage. “We traveled ahead of one storm and behind another, taking the southern route.” Hornbuckle revealed two soldiers were court-martialed aboard ship for stealing $752, fountain pens and watches. One already has been sentenced and the other is awaiting sentence. First Sgt. Gus Vlahakis of Gardens, Cal., said that many of his men were gloomy over the length of the 18-day voyage.

Rough two-week crossing . . . what an understatement! Wayne certainly agreed with Army Captain George Shuster that “The men were the sickest bunch I’ve seen on any troop transport.”

In his book, Patton’s Lucky Scout, Wayne devoted a three-and-half-page section to his late December crossing, which he titled: “How the slab of concrete saved my life at sea.” Wayne had been wary of boarding the concrete-patched ship to go home.

Wayne explains the situation in his book:

“An announcement was posted saying that anybody wanting to get on this ship could do so individually, on a volunteer basis, instead of waiting to sail with their unit. It would depart as soon as enough people had volunteered to fill it. Also, as the other ships in its group had departed, it would cross the Atlantic alone.

Although I was skeptical about the ship’s seaworthiness, I decided to look into it more closely. The thought crossed my mind that the Marseille harbor master might just want this injured ship out of the way, so it didn’t sink in the harbor and interfere with the necessary traffic of the very busy port.

I went to the dock where the ship was tied up and asked some of the merchant mariners if the same original crew would be aboard—and if they had been given the same choice of going aboard on a volunteer basis.

I found that all of the original crew had volunteered to serve aboard her. For me, that was good enough. After all, nobody knew this particular ship better than her crew.”

If only they had calm seas for their crossing, but that was not to be the case.

How the Slab of Concrete Saved My Life at Sea

“The ship lurched and rocked back and forth so far that if you put anything on your bunk and let go of it, the item was likely to shoot off, to land in the foot-deep bilge water sloshing on the floor. At one point, I was using my mother-of-pearl penknife to cut a tangled shoe-lace. I set it down it on the bunk next to me, and before I knew it, the knife was launched into the bilge water.

It was a certainty that seasickness would start to be widespread.
…..
As the storm got worse, so did the seasickness plague. It soon became impossible for the victims to get to the head (toilet) because it was overflowing with people too sick to move on or even care.

So those suffering had to make alternative arrangements. And it was far too rough and dangerous to go on deck to relieve yourself.

Everywhere, all over the ship, it was the same, and the stench was becoming intolerable.

Accordingly, when I wanted to go from one end of the ship to the other, I would go out on deck to do it.

…One evening as I did this, I noticed that I was the only one on deck. I had simply wanted to get some fresh air and get away from the stench for a while, to nibble one of my apples before I turned in for the night.

As I tried to re-enter the ship’s hold, I found the door locked. I went all around the deck of the rocking ship, trying every deck-level entrance that I passed. They were all locked.

Fortunately, when a storm of this magnitude hits, it always is standard procedure to string safety ropes around the deck to give sailors something to hold on to. I looked for the ropes and clung to them as I made my way around the lunching deck.

As far as I could see, there were no lights on anywhere. As I stood there trying to find a way in, some large chains broke loose and started to sweep back and forth on the deck.
. . .
I did venture on deck the next morning. What a mess! The loose chain flailing about had destroyed all of the lifeboats. It had also smashed to pieces the lockers containing the life jackets. In addition, some lockers full of cans of unthinned paint had been crushed. Pieces of the cans were stuck between the chains that formed the railing around the ship. The paint was a thick goo, roughly the consistency of caulking compound. The goo had coated the loose life jackets, so there were now dozens of them stuck everywhere—on the side of the cabins, rails, just about every above-deck structure that I could see. It had been a rough night.”

Posted by: philipmartin | December 20, 2010

A Simple Christmas Tree in World War II

[a blog post from Nancy Martin]

During the Christmas season, an evergreen tree evokes fond memories of special Christmas ornaments and lights. But soldiers have to improvise when they are far from home.

On Christmas Eve, 1944, Frank Wayne Martin was in a farm house somewhere near Luxembourg. As Wayne notes in his book, Patton’s Lucky Scout, here is what he did:

I walked farther among the spruce trees until I found a small tree that was the right size for our Christmas celebration. I hacked it down with my trench knife, took it back it back to the stone house, and set it up inside next to the fireplace.

For several days, I had also been gathering materials to decorate a Christmas tree as I walked around the countryside. Whenever our bombers flew over, they would drop clouds of aluminum strips to confuse German radar. The strips were essentially the same stuff as the aluminum “icicles” sold in stores to hang on the branches of a Christmas tree.

By the time I emptied my two pockets of the collected anti-radar strips and placed them on the tree, it looked quite nice.

Whenever I see a small simple tree, it reminds me of his, the spruce tree enjoyed by a band of brothers in the winter of 1944, in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge. Those radar-chaff “icicles” brought a touch of home across the Atlantic Ocean to that stone farm house.

It would not surprise me a bit, if he brought in the tree humming ‘O Tannenbaum’ (O Christmas Tree). Since the Christmas tree tradition started in Germany, Wayne would have found simple pleasure in continuing on the edge of Germany the centuries-old tradition of having a tree – especially in the midst of war. Nothing kept him from celebrating Christmas with a tree – not the Great Depression, and not even World War II.

Merry Christmas to all.

Posted by: philipmartin | December 14, 2010

Another Photo from the Collection of Frank Wayne Martin

On the eve of the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, which began in the cold of December 16, 1944, and lasted into January of 1945, here’s another photo from the personal collection of Frank Wayne Martin. As a scout for General Patton’s “Lucky Forward” advance headquarters, Wayne’s unit was whisked away from a much-desired R&R and hurtled into combat in the Battle of the Bulge.

Frank Wayne Martin and three fellow soldiers in World War II

Frank Wayne Martin, at end of artillery barrel, with Sgt. John Archibald Skuse ("Archie") at his side, and two other soldiers

One of their main assignments during the battle was working with a group of tank destroyers (TDs).

As he notes in his book, Patton’s Lucky Scout:

“The TDs had much thinner armor than the typical tank. To improve protection, lots of crews added about six inches of concrete and chicken wire as a covering. We would alternate positions with them as we advanced, in a ‘leapfrog’ strategy. First, they would advance through us to ‘blast’ out an area in front. We would advance through them to occupy the cleared area. They would then advance through us again and clear another area in front. We would again fold into the cleared area in front of them. In this way we advanced slowly, but in a way that secured the area we had retaken.

“Once the task force had secured sufficient area, a rifle company would fold in to relieve us for further advances. Usually the Fifth Rangers would be our flank support. We all had to work in close support of one another. To leave large gaps between us and the infantry would invite the Germans to fill in the gap behind us rather than allowing our own troops to do it.”

(This photo is taken at a different time than the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in extremely frigid weather. In this photo, Wayne’s stalwart companion, Archie, is seen at Wayne’s left [viewer's right].

Sgt. John Archibald (“Archie”) Skuse had worked as foundry worker, where he had developed his powerful arm muscles. He also boxed. At one point, he had been a sparing partner to Rocky Graciano. I had paired up with him as a sort of brains-and-brawn team in the states before we were shipped over. He decked anyone besides me that called him Archie.

Posted by: philipmartin | November 8, 2010

Veteran’s Day – Thank Them with a Hug

[post by Nancy Martin]

Hug a Vet for Veterans Day!

How to celebrate Veterans Day? The department of Veterans Affairs website lists the purpose of Veterans Day:

A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

Lots of communities hold parades and I encourage you to attend those, but don’t forget to hug your favorite veteran and tell them thank you. When I’m out and see someone in a military uniform, I make a point of going up to them and saying “Thank you for your service.” A simple sentiment, but something they appreciate hearing. I usually do the same thing for those wearing a cap or jacket that identifies them as veterans. If you are at a parade and see someone standing taller and saluting rather than putting their hand over their heart as flag passes, they are likely a veteran – thank them also.

When I think of someone celebrating Veterans Day right, Mary and Maureen come immediately to mind. In November 2005, a patriotic veteran, my father-in-law Frank Wayne Martin, who served the common good in and out of military, was in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at Yale Hospital. Mary and Maureen made that Veterans Day special and memorable for him.

Wayne’s congestive heart failure had reached a critical point, despite getting a pacemaker the previous summer. In early November, the first surgeon who evaluated Wayne refused to operate, saying “He wouldn’t make it off the table alive.”

We asked for and received a second opinion. Dr. Cary Passik examined Wayne, heard some of his WWII stories, including the one where the 5th Rangers nickname for Wayne was “Survivor Martin.” The doctor knew a key to living and living well was Wayne’s survivor spirit, which was still very much intact. Dr. Passik also thought the operation was very risky, but felt if Wayne survived it would restore him to a decent quality of life. The surgeon, after explaining the risks and complications – not sugar-coating the hard work of post-surgery rehabilitation – asked Wayne if he wanted the risky operation.

He unhesitatingly answered “Sure, what the heck. It beats the alternative. Let’s do it!” The heart surgery was scheduled a week out on November 15, triple bypass and a heart valve replacement.

I had been updating his many friends on his condition. Two of them, Mary and Maureen, are tour guides at the United States Military Academy at West Point. They drove two hours each way to celebrate Veterans Day with a veteran who needed their support. They certainly honored the spirit of Veterans Day as they visited him. They brought flowers, candy and a little stuffed animal, an Army mule. Most importantly, they brought themselves – the gift of presence.

Wayne’s prognosis was bleak that Veterans Day, but he still had that ‘survivor spirit’ that helped him survive nine months in combat in a job doing a job with an official two-day life expectancy. Their visit helped buoy his spirits. We joked that both Wayne and General Patton could be stubborn as mules. Wayne was still following General Patton’s advice that “humor is important to survival,” and the laughter we shared was tonic for him. He joked that he was too stubborn to die during the war.

Wayne’s ’West Point girl friends’ had met him when he took their campus tour. They perceptively recognized he was walking history and soon discovered he had been a forward observer for General Patton in Europe. Wayne liked to visit the Academy frequently and eat at Thayer Hall. He often dropped by to say hi to his friends and share his latest war story write-up over an ice cream at a shop near campus.

Like so many of his friends and family, Mary and Maureen’s fascination of his WWII stories grew over time.  They were among the chorus encouraging him to write a book. That Veterans Day, Wayne finally decided, at age 82, to consider himself retired from engineering and agree to work on publishing a memoir book. He already had a rough collection of his stories, with the working title Never a Dull Moment.

I am proud to say that the Daughters of the US Army gift shop at West Point sells Wayne’s book, Patton’s Lucky Scout. I know Wayne was pleased at that fact and I would like to think his mentor approves also. After all, the running joke is General Patton’s statue still roams around the academy grounds . . . looking for the library.

Ironically, November 11, Veteran’s Day, is also General George S. Patton’s birthday.

I still have and treasure that little mule. As Mary and Maureen went out of their way to do for Wayne, I encourage everyone who loves freedom to thank a veteran. Use Veterans Day as a good excuse to hug your favorite veteran and thank all who serve.

Posted by: philipmartin | November 5, 2010

What Did You Do During the War, Dad? (Part III)

[This is the 3rd in a series of posts by Nancy Martin, co-author with her father-in-law of the book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.]

Veteran’s Day (November 11) is coming soon. That’s a great time to begin interviewing the veteran in your family, if you haven’t already.

To help you, here are the rest of the story prompts I’ve developed. Make your own list . . . a running list of topics to explore, tailored on what you already know about your vet. Of course, addressing these questions will take more than one session! That’s part of good oral-history interviewing . . . taking the time to develop a rapport, to show a genuine interest, and getting a basic foundational understanding of what a veteran did. Then, in follow-up sessions, you may be able to explore deeper, to fill in blank parts, to enrich accounts with interesting details.

Here, then are some more questions:

  • Who was your commanding officer? What was that person like?
  • Who did you most admire in your outfit?
  • Who was the funniest guy in the group?
  • If you were in a firefight, who would you want beside you?
  • Do you still keep in touch with anyone from your old unit?
    • Who would you most like to know how their life turned out?
  • What kind of food did you eat? What was the best? What was the worst?
  • How much time did you spend “on the line” vs, behind the lines?
    • How many foxholes do you think you dug? Any memorable ones?
    • Did you get any good R&R (rest and relaxation) breaks?
  • How/Did you keep in touch with folks back home?
    • Best/worst care package or letter?
    • Did you write home?
      • Did you or any of your buddies get a ‘Dear John’ letter?
    • Did you carry a picture of someone with you? Who?
    • How did your family handle you being gone?
      • Did they keep newspaper clippings/a scrapbook/your letters?
        • If they still have them, this could lead to hours of stories.
  • Tell me about your time in the service  (be as open-ended as possible)
    • In Africa, Italy, England, European campaign, Pacific Islands?
    • When did you land?
      • If Europe, D-day or how many days after (D+)?
        • Stage in England or shipped directly from stateside?
      • If the Pacific, how many islands – Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Philippines?
    • Did you go into combat with the same guys you trained with or did you go in another unit as a replacement?
      • What unit did you serve with?
        • Knowing the unit allows you to research the unit, which can lead to more questions. There are also a lot of veteran associations for various units that love to share info and reconnect vets.
    • If in the Navy – how long were you at sea?
      • Did you experience any kamikaze attacks?
    • Did you see any good USO shows? Who were the headliners? Where and when was the show?
    • How many battles were you in (where, when, how long)  – keep this open-ended, let them tell it in their own way
    • Were you ever injured (Purple Heart medal)?
    • Were you ever captured? Where/how were you captured/with others/how long were you held/how and when did you get away/were released?
    • Did you keep any souvenirs?
    • What medals did you earn? NOTE: there are internet sites with images of all military ribbons and medals, to confirm what you have (e.g., http://www.usamilitarymedals.com). What can you tell me about why you got them?
    • Common ribbons/medals for WWII Army infantry service might include
      • Weapons qualifications Medal – in order of skill Expert/Sharpshooter/Marksman  (earned during training – will have bar for each weapon qualified)
      • Motor Vehicle Badge (with bar indicating Mechanic or Driver A-amphibious, M – motorcycle, S- special mechanical, T-tracked, W – wheeled)
      • American Defence medal (if in service a year before Pearl Harbour)
      • American Campaign medal – WWII (service 12-7-1941 to 3-2-1946 in continental United States, the Atlantic, Alaska) service stars may indicate action with U-boats
      • European Campaign medal (stars indicate major campaigns)
      • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal (stars indicate major campaigns, arrowheads indicate amphibious landings)
      • Good conduct medal (three years of “honorable and faithful” service or one year in times of war or if killed in line of duty)
      • WWII victory medal (for WWII service)
      • Army of occupation medal – (for Germany or Japan)
      • Honorable Service Discharge emblem (“ruptured duck”)
    • Common but for a good reason.
      • Purple Heart (if injured during combat)
      • Prisoner of War (if held captive or taken prisoner)
      • Combat Infantry Badge (recipients had be under hostile fire in a combat area)
    • There are many other medals, among them several for bravery Bronze Star Medal, Silver Star Medals, Soldiers Medal, Distinguished Service Cross and the highest the Medal of Honor.
  • How/where/when did you learn about VE Day (May 8, 1945)?
    • What did you think would happen to your unit next?
  • Do you consider VJ Day August 14 (cessation of hostilities announced by Hirohito) or September 2 1945 (when the treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo harbour)?
    • What did you do to celebrate the end of the war?
  • When did you get back home?
    • How did you get back home?
  • What was the food you most missed while gone and did it taste as good as remembered when you had it again?
  • What did you most want to do when you got back home?
    • Did you and was it as good as you imagined?
  • Tell about your homecoming – did they know when you would arrive or did you just show up?
    • Did you still fit into your “civies” or did you have to get new clothes?
    • What was the easiest/hardest thing to readjust to being home?
    • Did you join any veteran’s groups?
  • What did you do after the war?
    • Did you go back to school on the GI bill?
    • Did you go back to your pre-war job or into something else?
    • Did you have any problems getting housing when you got back

But polite and deferential, of course. Some veterans will downplay their role with the catchphrase of their generation, “I just did my job.” True, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it. It may mean they want your respect and serious attention, to know you aren’t just looking for a funny or sensational tale, that you really are interested in what they did . . . everyday, mundane stuff. Ask them. Start with the surface stuff.

And slowly, you may develop the rapport needed to learn more about what they felt inside about what they were doing and what was happening around them.

Some jobs were heroic, some were critical but tedious and some simply kept things going.

Some last general reminders for collecting and writing down stories:

  • Don’t try to write an epic to start out, start with “slice of life” and particular incident write-ups. You may wind up with a book, but enjoy whatever you get.
  • Be as descriptive as possible
  • Try to involve several senses in your story. The most vivid memories are sensory.
    • sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch
  • Try to be an old-time reporter; anticipate the questions of your reader and answer them
    • When, where, who, what and how
  • Use dialog, when approporiate, to give ‘voice’ to the characters in your stories
  • Read your work in progress out loud to see if it “sounds right”
  • Start by writing down all your ideas and thoughts for the story and then later go back to edit/fill-in/delete/rearrange the parts.
Posted by: philipmartin | October 4, 2010

What Did You Do During the War, Dad? (Part II)

[This is the 2nd in a series of posts by Nancy Martin, co-author with her father-in-law of the book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.]

“What did you do during the war, Dad?”

In my father-in-law’s case, the war was World War II. That question eventually led to our book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.

How about your relative?

Here are some questions & story prompts to help you encourage the veteran in your family to share his/her recollections.

Remember it wasn’t just men that served, many women did also. This list will give you a jumping-off point, but I would encourage you to keep a running list of topics you want to explore. Your questions will be better than mine, because yours will be tailored upon what you already know about your vet. Don’t feel like you have to get all of the questions answered in one sitting . . . it would exhaust both of you!

There are two questions that can lead you to other information.

1)    What was their dog-tag number? If you know this you can obtain their official service record (separation papers), which will list their medals. If they don’t remember their dog-tag number, the official National Archives (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) website may be able to help you figure it out.

2)    What unit did they serve with? Get as specific as possible. If you research online, you may find multiple unit/regiment/division specific websites. You may also find books, even movies specific to your veterans unit.

Here are some more prompts to start with and directions they may lead:

  • Where were you when you heard about Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941)? Who were you with? And what happened next?
    • Did you enlist or get drafted?
      • How old were you?
      • Still in school or working?
      • Had you been following war news before Pearl Harbor?
      • Did you have a steady or were you already married?
        • What did they think about you going into service?
      • Did you have siblings? If so, what about them, what did they do?
    • Which branch of the service did you join and why?
    • When and where were you sworn in?
    • Were you or did you have relatives involved in the war before the U.S. officially entered the fight?
  • What was your dog-tag number (a lot of vets can still recite theirs)?
    • Do you still have it . . . or your uniform, or any pictures or other souvenirs?
      • This question could potentially get your most interesting stories!
      • If they have their original uniform, you may find their dog-tag number written in the collar in permanent ink.
    • When and where did you do you do boot camp?
      • What was the easiest/hardest thing for you there?
  • Did you get any specialized training? What sort? When? Where?
  • When did you ship out? To which theater of war?
    • How was your crossing? How long did it take? Do you remember the ship’s name? Was your convoy attacked?
  • What unit(s) did you serve with?
    • There are several parts to this question. For instance, in my father-in-law’s case, he served in the 328th regiment, which was aligned with the 26th Yankee Division, which was part of the Third Army. The divisions were sometimes realigned as situations changed. Try to get down to specific company if possible. This answer will allow you to do additional research and perhaps even find other vets that served with your vet.
  • Who did you serve with? Friends from home, buddies you meet along the way?
    • This may be a vet’s most talkative question, but potentially a sad one.

I’ll post the next group of suggested questions tomorrow.

Posted by: philipmartin | October 3, 2010

What Did You Do During the War, Dad?

[This is a post by Nancy Martin, co-author with her father-in-law of the book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.)

“What did you do during the war, Dad?”

In my father-in-law’s case, the war was World War II. That question eventually led to our book, Patton’s Lucky Scout.

But first and foremost, it led to over 100 little stories.

Each of those little stories was a little snapshot, a small glimpse of what Frank Wayne Martin experienced as a scout for General Patton’s Third Army. In Wayne’s case, after a little prompting from his family, he started to write down his recollections. Most of his stories only took two or three pages; a few were just a single sheet.

How about the veteran in your family? Have you asked your own version of that simple question: “So, what did you do in the war?” You might be surprised at how showing some interest might pry loose a story or two. If nothing else, it is a way to show respect for the variety of experiences, good and bad, extraordinary and everyday, of our men and women who served our country.

Some veterans get more talkative as they get older. Some vets are just waiting for someone to ask. For others, it never occurred to them that their story might be interesting.

Clearly, for many vets, their war memories are something they don’t want to revisit. And that is something to be respected. But you won’t know until you ask.

You may get a nice simple story. But be prepared to follow the convoluted twists and turns of free association, as memories long dormant start spilling out. It’s how our memory works. It’s a gathering of many precious moments . . . some unforgettable, some stored away without even realizing what we remember (until we’re asked . . . and start to recollect).

In my experience, as I followed the various threads, the little stories wove an amazing fabric of a colorful cloth, describing my father-in-law and his role in a great historic event, the march of Patton’s Third Army across Europe, ultimately resulting in victory.

My own dad was one of the reticent ones, but we still have a few snippets of stories that I treasure. They help give my brother and me a perspective, an extra dimension to the man we knew.

Some vets are already gone. In September, 2009, it was estimated that 2,272,000 of the more than 16 million soldiers that served in WWII were still alive.

However, the estimates noted that 850 or more die every day. So the number alive today is likely under two million. And shrinking quickly.

In a post tomorrow, I’ll begin a list of questions to ask your dad, or grandfather, or uncle. (Of course, for some of you, the vet in your family might be one of the women who served in the U.S. armed forces.)

Here’s a first tip: You may hear a story you have heard a thousand times before. Keep your ears open . . . even when favorite stories are told. You often will hear a new little nugget, embedded in an old familiar tale, that may be the priceless beginning of your next question, leading to another story.

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