In Memoriam: My Paternal Grandfather in World War II

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I really didn’t know anything about my grandfather when I first started researching my family history. He died in a house fire before I was born, and I heard that he had issues with substance abuse (alcohol). I always wondered what had caused a life of sadness for him, and after quite some time, I have been able to put together many pieces of the puzzle.

 One repeating theme, at least in my opinion, throughout my grandfather’s life, is penance. Early on in his life he was involved in a car crash where he was presumably learning to drive and a fatal car crash killed his oldest brother. It wasn’t that long after when he attempted to enlist in the Army but was rejected for his young age. He did enlist later on, and, right after he was married, joined up with the 142nd regiment in North Carolina. My aunt tells me that he was joined for a time in NC by my grandmother, who presumably took this picture:

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I think that my grandfather looked so proud here, and so full of hope. It may well have been one of the last times he felt so hopeful in his life. I also see a lot of my dad in him.

Now for the technical stuff. Grandpa was a TEC 5 with the 142nd US Infantry Regiment. Since grandpa was an electrician prior to the war, being a TEC 5 during the war mostly meant they used his services for things like disarming bombs and land mines, as well as laying similar bombs and land mines against the enemy troops. It also meant he would be going in as first man in. As my husband calls it, a booby trap specialist. Think old school Hurt Locker. Now, compare that against the history of his regiment in the war (courtesy of Texas Military Forces Museum):

WORLD WAR II: The unit was mobilized at Fort Worth, Texas, on November 25, 1940. After federalization, the regiment trained at Camp Bowie, Brownwood, Texas. Training continued in Florida and North Carolina in 1942 and the regiment moved to Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, in August, 1942. The 142nd then staged through the A. P. Hill Military reservation in March, 1943, arriving at Fort Dix, New Jersey on March 17, 1943. The regiment sailed from New York on April 1, 1943, arriving in North Africa on 13 April.

FIGHTING IN ITALY: With the 141st in line, the regiment made an amphibious assault at Paestum near Salerno, Italy on 9 Sep 1943, the first landing by U. S. forces in Europe. led to fighting in the Naples-Foggia campaign, marked by an assault on Mount Sammurco on December 26, 1943. Merry Christmas, 142d. While attached to the 34th Inf Division, the 142 captured Manna Far, 31 Jan 44, and suffered heavy loses in close combat trying to storm Albaneta Farm, 11 Feb 1944.

With the 141 and 143, the 142 made a second amphibious landing at Anzio, reinforcing the Fifth Army on 22 May 1944. Participating in the breakout from Anzio and the capture of Rome, the unit was moved back to Paestum for retraining in July, 1944.

SOUTHERN FRANCE: The 142d Regiment made a third amphibious assault, Southern France, August 15, 1944, and on the 28th surrounded Livron and blocked Highway 7, closing the Montelimar trap. Driving towards Lyon, the regiment and the division stood aside to allow the French II Corps liberate the city on 2 Sep 44. Later in that month, the 142 captured Remiremont on the Moselle on the 23d.

THE VOSGES AND THE DOOR TO GERMANY: The regiment battled through the foothills of the Vosges Mountains including the Battle for Bruyeres in October, the Foret Domaniale de Champ in November and entered the Alsatian Plains by forcing Ste Marie Pass on 25 Nov 44. The 142d Infantry fought the battle of Oberhoffen 1-12 February 1945, and later crossing the Zintzel River at Mertzewiller against determined German resistance. Mopping up pillboxes and strongholds west of the Rhine in March, the Regiment reached the Rhine itself on 24 Mar 45.

THE END OF THE WAR: With the 141st, the 142d led the division’s attack across the Lecht River in the Danube plain in April 1945 and then followed in the wake of the 10th Armored Division from Landsberg to take Bad Toelz on 1 May with the 141st in the lead. It ended the war in the Kufstein area of Austria when hostilities were declared ended on 7 May 1945. The unit was returned to the United States through Hampton Roads, Virginia, on December 15, 1945 and was inactivated at Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia, on that date.

WORLD WAR II CAMPAIGNS: Naples-Foggia, Anzio, Rome-Arno, Southern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace, Central Europe.

Incidentally I found that the 36th Division, which my grandfather was part of, helped to liberate Dachau, as well as captured Gerd Von Rundstedt, the commander over all German army forces on the western front.

So. He made it through the war and he had been in for the duration. He saw all of the major action and endured the Battle of the Bulge, always at the forefront of the action in some of the most dangerous work. He earned a Bronze Star.

When my grandpa returned he struggled. It’s no wonder he turned to substance abuse. We have made such great strides in addressing PTSD for our service men and women, but there was only “shell shock” at that time, with no real relief or support for military personnel. I am an ardent supporter of Wounded Warriors for this reason, having also lost friends in the service to PTSD related suicide.

I mentioned penance earlier. I believe, based on the timing, it is likely he enlisted as a form of penance for driving the car that killed his brother. Maybe he hoped for punishment. Instead he endured through the most terrifying and horrific years of his life, watching many die around him, emerging with little more than shrapnel in his legs. He couldn’t return to his trade after the war, and frankly I wouldn’t want to if I were him either,  each wire being a reminder of his years in service. Instead he drove a cab in NYC, which again seems to be another form of penance.

Grandpa died before I was born. According to my aunt, he had suffered his second hip fracture, his body ravaged from chronic alcoholism. Unable to escape from an electrical fire at home – that trade once having been his specialty – he died from smoke inhalation.

While his death was tragic, and he had a great deal of mental suffering, I try to think of the bigger picture, and express gratitude for his service. I think of the lives he helped to restore or save, despite how torn his own family became at home as a result of his drinking and depression. I think of how strong my grandmother was to support him for as long as she did, and how I see that strength reflected in my aunts. I am grateful that he returned from the war so that I could be here today, and try to make the most of my life, thinking of how many that have passed made such great sacrifices so that I could gush over Lilly Pulitzer, make countless kitchen experiments, and help major corporations become better at what they do. I hope he has found peace in his passing and that he can now reflect on the enormity and impact of his life.

Lastly, one last picture, my grandfather with his parents. I believe this must have been taken after his return from the war. He has lost a great deal of weight, and you can see the palor of sadness:

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5 Responses to In Memoriam: My Paternal Grandfather in World War II

  1. What emotions in this post! I find it hard to express into words. What an interesting and poignant post, commentating your grandfather… Thank you for sharing this with us….

  2. Wow! that’s amazingly sad.

  3. What an incredible story. Thank you so very much for sharing it with us. It was brave of you to share so much, but I especially applaud the fact that, like myself, I am thankful and grateful for the service he did for us XOXOXO

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