A few weeks ago, while looking through old family photos, my mother-in-law came across a photo of her father, Joe Tetrault, with a little black cocker spaniel named Scrappy. The photo was taken in the spring of 1945 during a Presidential Citation Medal awards ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise. It turns out that Scrappy had somehow managed to become the unofficial mascot of the Enterprise. Grandpa Joe, as he was known to me, had slipped the dog onboard the ship during his tour of duty on the USS Enterprise in World War II. Grandpa Joe could be a sneaky one so this really didn‘t surprise me. That cocker spaniel “served” almost 4 years on board that ship! He was totally devoted to Grandpa.
During the ceremony, Scrappy laid at Grandpa Joe’s feet not moving an inch, which was a good thing too because Grandpa Joe had on his dress uniform! My mother in-law is happy that she found the picture. Grandpa passed away in 1999. He and his WWII stories are deeply missed!
I was born in 1953, so I listened to my dad and uncle’s stories about World War II and the real “tough guys.”
However, this past year I lost my heroes. When my father passed, Mom gave me a map he had when he was in the U.S. Navy. I never saw it before, but he had it from the time he left the United States to the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach. Every day is on it, right up to the big day.
When my uncle passed I got another treasure. A 101st Airborne Screaming Eagle patch he wore at Bastogne. He was fortunate to survive there, despite the Nazis throwing everything they had at them.
So to me, the members of this generation are my all-time “tough guys.” I can’t imagine either one of those ordeals today–going onto Omaha Beach or holding onto Bastogne.
My father never talked about his war experiences until a few years ago when the History channel aired a program about Peleliu. After that show, he shared some of his experiences on that island with us.
George Dietrich Jr. was a member of the 5th Marines, 1st Division who fought on Peleliu. Their first assignment was to secure the airfield. The men were told it would take a total of two or three days to capture the island. It actually took 10 weeks. On the first night they crossed the island to the airfield and dug in. Seven Japanese tanks passed onto the airfield, but they were stopped by the marines. The next day the airfield was secured, and marines continued on to their next mission. They went up into the mountains, were driven back twice, and finally captured the hill on the third try. On day seven, they were replaced and given a hot meal on the beach.
Because Peleliu is not far from the Equator, the heat was intense and 50-gallon diesel drums filled with water were distributed. George drank from puddles after witnessing the men in his squad becoming ill from drinking water tainted with fuel.
With their area secured, they chased the fleeing Japanese across a narrow strip of water to the neighboring island of Nicasemus. As his squad reached the far side of the island, George came over a hill leading down to the beach. Suddenly, the enemy stood up in the water and shot him in the leg. When the battle began, there were 21 men in his squad, and only 3 were left when George was wounded. He was transported to a hospital ship where doctors want to amputate his leg. George refused, and after a year in a hospital in Idaho, he made a full recovery.
New Brighton, Pennsylvania
Click here to read Rick Atkinson’s take on how the study of World War II history will change when those who lived it can no longer tell their stories.
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