Monday, June 6, 2011

Anniversary of D-Day

Today being the anniversary of D-Day, I figured I'd post about family history.

A few years back, my brother Sweetums and I had a good long talk with our great uncle (mom's mom's baby brother), and he told us about his experiences in World War II. Uncle Bob had been studying engineering at Villanova before entering the war. While he did not participate in the Normandy invasion, he was sent to Normandy after the invasion succeeded and, because of his engineering background and his decent grasp of German (he was the son of German-speaking immigrants), he was put in charge of a detail of German P.O.W.s who were loading materiel onto trains bound for the front.

One day, as he was walking along the railroad tracks, he slipped on some loose stones, and fell on his ass. He slid one way, his dropped carbine slid in the other direction. As he saw half of the P.O.W.s running towards him, and the other half running toward his carbine, he thought, "This is the end of big Bob from the Bronx." The P.O.W.s helped him up, dusted him off, and handed him his carbine.

Puzzled, he asked them why they treated him in this fashion. They told him that they had been lucky to have been captured by Americans. They were being treated well, and were in a much safer position than they would have been on the front lines, or in a Soviet P.O.W. camp. Yeah, being an American meant something exceptional in those days. This sort of story really underscores the horror and idiocy of "extraordinary rendition" and "enhanced interrogation techniques". Back in the day, even America's enemies (at least the white ones) could see that we were "good guys", something that was true at the country's inception.

After the war, my uncle stayed in Europe for a year and a half, working on repairing the infrastructure of occupied Germany. Once again, his proficiency (though he admitted to not being fluent) with German and his engineering background served him, his country, and his former enemies well.

Uncle Bob made the best damn Manhattan I've ever had. As he regaled my brother and I with tales, he kept the Manhattans flowing... I had to take a two-hour "cool-off" break in order to be able to drive home. A few months after our long conversation, Uncle Bob succumbed to the cancer he'd fought for years. He was in his eighties, and had lived an extraordinarily productive, interesting life.


Hamish Mack said...

That's so cool, BBBB, such a priviledge to hear about history from people who were there. I had a couple of talks with a guy who used to be our neighbour and had been a driver in Italy at the end of the war and basically got told to bugger off for 6 months, so he took his truck and did what he was told.
Ah, we have had a brouhaha over here because the Kiwi SAS did not want to hand over their prisoners to US troops but had to obey orders and do it. They said they didn't trust that the prisoners wouldn't be abused. The SAS are not namby pamby guys.

Substance McGravitas said...

We had the same sorts of brouhahas but, uh, we complained about the dirty foreigners. In whose foreign country we were shooting people in. With those saintly Americans.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

The only WWII story I have comes from a friend (work friend, who I sometimes saw outside of work, but not in over a decade): His father rode on a truck with a machine gun, and his job was to shoot German soldiers who were inside Allied lines on their way to surrendering. Reason being, there were too many of them for the allies to handle.

I have no idea if this was true, but I heard it more than once.

Frivolous said...

Cool story, sir. I'm glad your great-uncle lived such a long and interesting life.

Sorry about how he went, though. Cancer sucks.