The Next Great Mission
I was compelled to comment on Rick Atkinson’s article in the November 2009 issue (“What is Lost?”). We are losing veterans daily and many of their stories go untold. My father was in the army, 28th Infantry Division, and served at the Battle of the Bulge. He only started talking of the war a few years ago, and unfortunately he passed away before I could record his experiences.
It is up to the younger generation to pass along these stories and support the organizations that promote the gathering of eye witness testimonies. Mr. Atkinson did a fantastic job of letting me know it is my responsibility to keep the sacrifices of these great men from disappearing from view. Thank you, Mr. Atkinson.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, GA.
I have a private World War II museum in my home that I share with any veteran interested in touring it. When visitors enter the room, they are greeted by 23 standing mannequins, each fully dressed in wartime uniforms from around the world. They sign my register with a brief service history and I present them with a World War II magazine subscription card (true fact).
I had a pilot come to a surprise party I hosted there for a fellow veteran friend. A couple months later the pilot returned with his wife, son, and extended family. This gentleman’s name is Rosy. He was shot down on his 23rd mission outside of Vienna and spent 11 months in a POW camp before being liberated by General Patton on his 19th birthday. Rosy told me he had changed his rank insignias at the camp to get better treatment. It worked for a while, he said, until one of the gunners ratted on him. Rosy appealed to the Germans’ egos. “I told them they were shooting us down so fast that we were climbing through the ranks faster. They found out a short time later I had lied and beat the hell out of me.” His family rolled their eyes. They had all heard the story before.
Then the family asked, “Why do you do this? This is great, but you’re so much younger than all the World War II vets.”
I looked at all of them and said, “What if you could talk to a Civil War veteran and he could give you a firsthand account of Gettysburg. Wouldn’t that be incredible?” I pointed at Rosy and said, “Well, he is that Civil War veteran. He is living history, but only for a short time more. So you know those stories you hear over and over? Remember them well, and make sure you pass them on to the next generation.” The realization hit them and they broke into tears, even Rosy. I looked them in the eye and said, “And that is why I do this.”
I’ve told many other visitors to my museum the same thing. I wish my own father were alive; I would ask so many questions. To all the veterans reading this, I know for many of you it is too painful to speak of the past. But for those who can tell their stories, do it now and do it proud. Your families need to know and so do the generations to come. Tell it how you remember it, but make sure it gets told.
PORT ST. LUCIE, FLA.
Each person’s World War II experience is significant in its own way: that has to be the first principle. If a veteran does not wish to talk about his experiences, even to his own family, all that personal history will be lost.
This happened to me. My father was a Polish officer who spent the duration of the war as a POW in various German camps. I recall being able to goad him into talking about this time only once. Adult children move away, life goes on, but that time stands still in a way, unless there is an active, conscious effort to find out as much as possible before it is too late.
Family difficulties and personal reticence should not prevent a full attempt to bring these stories to light, because they are history. All that remains after these men die, if their stories go untold, is a blank page.
I really enjoyed your article “My Bit of History” (November 2009). Most people remember and appreciate those who served on the front lines; however, few remember the factory workers, nurses, mechanics, cooks, and thousands of other personnel that enabled the front-line units to do what they needed to do to win the war. Please keep printing the stories of the people that performed these absolutely essential—but less than glamorous—tasks.
For Mexicans Who Served, the Sky Was Hardly the Limit
I thoroughly enjoyed the article about the 201st Mexican Fighter Squadron (“The Eagles Have Landed,” November 2009). But these men weren’t the only Mexicans to see combat overseas during the war. Between 250,000 and 500,000 Mexicans and Mexican Americans, including my father, were drafted or volunteered to serve in the United States armed forces. Thus, a five-man Sherman tank crew in Europe might consist of Kowalski from Pennsylvania, Smith from West Virginia, Benedetto from New Jersey, Rabinowitz from New York, and, yes, Garza from Nuevo León. And many Mexicans served with distinction, including Jose M. Lopez, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism in killing over 100 German soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge.
Mexican nationals also served in U.S. service units overseas, and Mexicans who drove trucks in the famed Red Ball Express convoys went on to help liberate the Buchenwald concentration camp. Sephardi Jews who spoke Ladino, a language descended from medieval Spanish, were astonished to be able to converse with these soldiers in a similar language.
Mexicans have served in the U.S. military since at least the Civil War. Their contributions must never be forgotten.
VICTOR M. CARRERA
Remembering Patton’s Roundup
As much as I’ve read about the war, I had never heard of Operation Cow boy (“‘Something Beautiful,’” November 2009). Goes to show what good deeds the human race is capable of if you put aside the insanity of war.
My uncle, Guy French, served as Col. Charles Reed’s driver during this time, and lived in one of the buildings shown in this article. Needless to say, he was thrilled beyond belief to receive his November issue of World War II and see an article about a time in his life that was so special to him. Now in a nursing home in Oneonta, Alabama, Uncle Guy entertains all who will listen with World War II stories and still tears up at the mention of General Patton, his hero. Thanks for this great article about the greatest generation.
PHYLLIS GALBREATH RATLIFF
Georg Elser set his Munich Beer Hall bomb to explode on November 8, 1939, not November 9, as stated in the November 2009 issue.
Originally published in the April 2010 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.