WWII Veteran at the Range, Old Habits...


December 21, 2006, 02:20 PM
I've been meaning to post an enjoyable experience I had at the public outdoor range this past summer. Things are slow at work this week, so...

I had brought my younger brother to the range to shoot a Korean-era Garand I had picked last Fall. Among the dozen or so shooters at the range was an elderly man and his middle-aged son, zeroing a bolt-action rifle. The older man was wearing a WWII Veteran ballcap, with his unit listed, etc, and a few pins attached. Anyway, they finished with their gun and packed up, then came back and looked over our shoulder as we shot.

At the next all clear, I looked towards the older man and said something like "I bet you know your way around one of these," while pointing towards the Garand. He kind of smiled, nodded, and said "You could say that." We made introductions, etc, and by that time firing had resumed. I asked him "Do you care to show us how to work this thing?" again, pointing at the rifle. He nodded again and then picked it up, but didn't sit down at the bench. It was already cleared and locked open. I indicated a clip sitting on the bench and told him to help himself, but he shook his head, and said he didn't care to fire the gun. I figured he may have had sore joints or some other limitation (he hadn't fired the rifle they were zeroing) so I didn't ask him a second time.

But he started explaining the operating principles behind the Garand, from the design of the clip to the motion of the action, etc... It was a pretty general overview, and I couldn't really tell if he had taken my question to "show us how it works" literally, or maybe was just eager to share his knowledge of the rifle. There wasn't any "new" information in his description, but we listened attentively until he finished, nodding as he went along.

Then something neat happened. He asked if he could adjust the sling. I said sure. He moved it out a bit, and showed us how he used to wrap it around his forearm to "solid-up" (as he put it) the connection between himself and the gun. He brought the gun from slung on his shoulder to firing position a couple of times, to demonstrate the transition. That was neat in and of itself, but then he tightened up the sling, and put the gun at "order arms," (I think it's called that) standing the gun at his side. Then, facing off toward the woods alongside the range, he showed us some close-quarters combat moves with the gun. He did a thrust or two, a couple of sweeping motions with the muzzle (with imagined bayonet), and then a move wherein he swung the gun upwards, butt-first, as if to strike under the jaw of an opponent, then quickly brought the "bayonet" back down in a stabbing action.

The moves weren't parade ground razor-sharp, but it was obvious that he was recalling training that had been drilled into him through heavy repetition. His actions were also very convincing, and it wasn't hard to imagine how this man would have appeared 40 years ago. He recited the names of the "moves," and went through them all in quick procession, 2 or 3 times. You could really picture this guy in combat gear, fighting for your freedom. It was almost eerie, and the feeling was apparently shared by my brother, who gave me a sideways glance of "Wow."

They left pretty soon after that, but as we shook hands good bye, we said we were glad to have met him, and also thanked him for his service to our country and the impromptu demonstration.

To be honest, I found it to be somewhat of a moving experience, and one my brother and I will not soon forget.

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December 21, 2006, 02:34 PM
Great story. I'm envious of the experience. Thanks for sharing it.

December 21, 2006, 02:50 PM
As I've mentioned, both of my grandfathers and some of my friends are WW2 and Korean War vets (as well as some of the Vietnam era). But while I've talked history with them and listened to their personal stories of their service, I've never had an experience like that. FWIW, I got the eerie feeling just reading your account partly because you just know they didn't just drop all that after their respective wars. I'm of the opinion that while it'd be nice to personally say "thank you" to every vet, we really cannot thank them enough, much less repay the debt we owe them. All we can really do is learn from them and pick up where they left off when/if our times come.

Dirk Pitt
December 21, 2006, 03:08 PM
Colt - I too had an experience like that but with my own Dad. He was a WWII vet (North Africa, Sicily and Italy). We went to the range and he was shooting his Springfield '03. He bought it after the war for $40 at a local store. We were shooting from the bench at the 100 yard mark. The paper targets were out to that distance but the range had steel targets all the way out to 800 yds going up the side of hill.

I remember him glassing the 800 yd target with the binos, and then he got up stood slightly to the rear of the bench and did the same thing with sling as you mentioned. He put 5 rds in the rifle and flipped up the ladder sight. He cinched up his position and proceeded to fire. The first one was a miss it landed about 5 - 10 yds in front. Then he muttered something " I've got you now" and proceeded to GONG that target 4 times with the remaining 4 rds. Remember this with IRON SIGHTS at 800 yds ! I was impressed beyond belief, he was upset that he missed the first one. This was done with a GI rifle no special anything using Mil Surp M2 ball ammo.

There were other shooters trying to hit that same thing from the bench with scoped guns and spotting scopes in all kinds of hot wiz bang wild cat rounds and one would occasionally hit it. My dad was not trying to show anyone up, he was not that kind of person. He was in the ROTC before the war and did a lot of shooting with an '03 at that time. He taught me everything I know but still I don't hold a candle to that.

To this day I remember that scene very vividly in my mind, some of the very best memories I have are of me and my dad at the range. Sadly he passed in 1993 but I have passed the stories and images of Grandpa now to my son, who loves to shoot also.

Sorry, I know I kinda went down memory lane here but the shooting I saw that day showed me what a rifleman is supposed to be.

December 21, 2006, 03:13 PM

Sorry, I know I kinda went down memory lane here but the shooting I saw that day showed me what a rifleman is supposed to be.

Not at all. Thanks for sharing your interesting experience. I bet that was a sight to see.

High Planes Drifter
December 21, 2006, 03:20 PM
Dirk Pitt, tell us about the looks on the faces of the other folks at the range that day. They probably looked like :what: That must have been priceless to see someone hit a steel gong at 800 yards open with open sights !

December 21, 2006, 03:21 PM
Great stories! Does anyone have any pictures or video depicting this sling technique?

December 21, 2006, 03:27 PM
Does anyone have any pictures or video depicting this sling technique?

Don't have any pictures, but I can describe it:

If the rifle is horizontally in front of you, facing to the left, you would put your arm through the sling, palm facing down. When your arm is "in" almost up to the elbow, turn your palm to the right, facing toward the trigger of the rifle, then bend your arm at the elbow, away from the trigger, letting the sling pass over your hand. Then point your hand upwards, and slipping it between the sling and the fore-end stock, grab the stock.

At that point, the sling should be wrapped tightly around your forearm (with proper adjustment) and you should feel "locked" to the rifle.

December 21, 2006, 03:29 PM
Great stories fellas, I am also a proud owner of a couple M-1's,and the one i shoot is an exellent shooter. Ive hit the 200m gongs through the sights,but 800 yards! 4 times........ THAT is a GREAT shot!:)

Dirk Pitt
December 21, 2006, 03:31 PM
High planes Drifter - Yeah, the looks on the other folks faces were priceless. I remember one guy wanting to know what kind of "loads" my dad was using. Until he saw the plain brown box showing M2 ball on it. Then he said "Oh, that crap" ! This is the same guy with the 20X scope who couldn't hit it!:banghead: That I did not get. Overall everyone was in the "WOW" catergory. My brother got that rifle :mad: when my dad passed, darn it.

December 21, 2006, 03:31 PM
Dirk Pitt Do you know the unit your father was in?
I ask because my father was in the 34th Infantry Division 151st Field Artillery Battalion. Most likely in a lot of the places you father was.

December 21, 2006, 03:35 PM
Thanks,cool experience.
I will jump in here with one of mine.
Local gunsmith/gun store run by a couple of mid 30s guys. Many times an older gentleman would be helping out/hanging out,I always took him to be a relative somehow but I am not sure. Many times there was several other older guys hanging out bsing also.
These other guys were one day talking about vacations and travel and they asked this old gent where he flew into when he went to Europe. "I never flew into Europe" silence.....
Then they pushed him some more...."We know you have been all over Europe,what port did your ship land at?" " My ship never landed me at any port" silence.....
Then one of the bigmouths " how in the hell did you get there? Well? Or were you bull****ting us about Europe" silence again.......
" I been all over Europe, I walked ashore on Omaha June 6 1944......I was very lucky,I was second wave........those poor SOBs in the first wave....

Dirk Pitt
December 21, 2006, 03:35 PM
M Dig - Dad was in the 19th engineers. He always said trying to build a bridge has another whole level of difficulty when someone is shooting at you. He did talk about Kasserine pass and what a disaster that was. The only time in his entire Army career he volunteered for anything and unfortunatley is was for burial detail after that event.

December 21, 2006, 03:37 PM
That was an enormously cool story. I especially like it when our elders, who sacrificed so much for us, get a chance to stand tall and be proud.

December 21, 2006, 03:42 PM
That's a great story, one you won't soon forget I'm sure. What an experience.

Old habits die hard. I had an experience somewhat like that with my dad at an early age that made a big impression on me. Must've been probably 1978 or so. I had just gotten my first bb gun for Christmas, a Red Ryder. We set up a target in the back yard and dad showed me how to shoot it. I took some shots and did okay. We then set up 5 or 6 tin cans, and dad said "let me try". Shooting from the hip at about 15 yds he proceeds to knock down all the cans (taking more than one shot on one or two of them, to be fair). I couldn't believe it.

At that point, Dad was about 10 years removed from the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines and had only fired a deer rifle a few times since then. I guess 1.5 tours in Vietnam had ingrained that ability in him. Amazing.

December 21, 2006, 04:29 PM
Dirk, To a man every Vet I ever spoke with that was involved in the Italian Campaign said it was brutal. My father included.
I have often been of the opinion that it is the most overlooked portion of WWII. From Salerno to Livornio the Italian Campaign was terrible and gruesome.
Dad once said that in order to get reprovisioned a GI had to throw his gear in the nearest river so the quatermaster was obligated to give them replacments. He aslo spoke of needing to pilfer gear from the fallen. One of the few times I saw him close to tears.
As to Basic Training and Infantry Tactics never leaving you I can attest that even as a Peace Time Veteran some of those lessons are never forgotton.

Dirk Pitt
December 21, 2006, 05:05 PM
M Dig
My Dad spoke of many of the same things regarding Italy. He watched Monte Casino get the He!! blown out of it. Being in the engineers he marveled at the advanced German Equipment. Not just weapons, but the demoltions (things a engineer would appreicate) and other things they had. He tended to speak of North Africa more, and how much he hated that place. You would cook in the day and freeze at night.

He told me once on how there was such a problem with fleas and everyone had them. He was so tired of them he took a 5 gallon can of gasoline and went off by himself and stripped down. And yep you guessed it he took a bath in GASOLINE !:what: He said it burned his privates and he stunk for days but he did not have any fleas! It's amazing he stated they had more gas than water. You would normaly get (hopefully) 1 qt a day and even that you wanted to ration because you did not know if you were getting any tomorrow. He had alot to say about the locals which is not very pleasant and I will leave out here, suffice it to say he did not like them. AT ALL.

December 21, 2006, 05:06 PM
One of my great uncles... Daddy's father's brother... he was in North Africa and Italy as a mechanic. I don't know his story nearly as well as the others, but at his wake earlier this year, I saw a photo of him and another guy sitting in a U.S. Jeep with a whole lot of rubble around and the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the background. His brother, my Grandpa, drove heavy trucks and had pictures from France and Belgium... one of those was of the pyramid at the Waterloo battlefield while others are of captured German hardware on display in Paris.

December 21, 2006, 05:59 PM
Sounds like a great experience, and it's good to hear that the guy was still in good enough shape, and 'out and about'. :)

December 21, 2006, 06:25 PM
I'm of the opinion that while it'd be nice to personally say "thank you" to every vet, we really cannot thank them enough, much less repay the debt we owe them. All we can really do is learn from them and pick up where they left off when/if our times come.

Couldn't agree more. Great story!

December 21, 2006, 07:09 PM
Earlier this year, I had a vet encounter of my own. I wrote it up on my wife's blog. It's not long. Reproduced below. The sentiment is as true today as when I wrote it.

Home of the Brave

It’s Sunday.

Against my better judgement, I often do my grocery shopping on Sunday — especially in the evening. And today is such a day. So, with a little sigh, I set off to lay in the week’s supplies.

After the usual hour (okay, two hours) I’m just about done, the short list handed to me by my wife having been translated into a cart full of stuff over which I can barely see.

As I headed back to the dairy section to grab a gallon of Chateau de Cow 2006, I encountered an older fellow in one of those motorized shopping cart chair things. I looked at the shelves which clearly rose to heights beyond his grasp.

"Anything I can get for you?"

"Oh, no, I’ve got my cottage cheese — but thanks for asking."

A couple of turns later, we were in the coffee aisle. He asked if I could help him find a particular kind of iced tea. No problem. Glad to help.

Then I noticed his hat. Paratrooper. I noticed the mission badges.

"Tell me, where did you serve?"

"Oh, all over the Pacific." He proceeded to list the islands and countries where he’d seen action. He spoke in the matter-of-fact tone of someone who had just been doing a job. He told me of his days in the Philippines and in Japan. He grew animated and the light in his eyes danced.

I told him that my wife’s father had served in the Pacific and that mine had served in Europe.

And I added, "Thanks for doing that. We owe you a lot."

He smiled and became a little flustered. "It was just a job they gave me, so I did it."

"Well, thanks. I’m happy you were there."

We went to the next aisle and I helped him get the vegetable spray for low-cal frying.

I bid him good night and checked out with my mountain of groceries.

He’s old now, but the pride is still there.

For many of us, so is the gratitude.

Thanks, guys. We owe you.

December 21, 2006, 07:19 PM
A bunch of inspiring stories here!

To any veterans reading this, thanks. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel and I cannot fathom the sacrifices that have been made for freedom.

December 21, 2006, 08:48 PM
My father joined the US Navy when he was only 16 during WWII. He never wanted to talk about the war but he did tell me he was stationed in the South Pacific on the USS Aldebaran AF.10 The Aldebaran was a Store Ship, one of the two food supply ships for the South Pacific Fleet. One of the few stories my Dad did share with me was to recall the being along side the USS Franklin (CV13) when it was hit off the coast of Japan, February 19th, 1945. My Father told me is best buddy who was only 18 at the time went to bed after that day with a full head of jet black hair and woke up in the morning all grey.

The only time I ever saw any of my Father's military skills was in the Mountains of NY State at a friends home. Several of the friends of the host were shooting, my Dad and I were watching. I was only about 8 at the time. This guy turned towards us with the rifle in his hand. As he did my Dad brought his hand from down near his hip, lifted the barrel straight up, palmed the head stock, twisted his wrist and disarmed the jerk who pointed a weapon at his son. As he ripped the gun from the jerks hands he swung the butt up to the guys head, stopping just before striking him. It happened so fast the guy froze with his eyes bugging out of his head as my Dad told him, "If he ever pointed a gun at anyone ever again, the next time I wouldn't stop."

Now that I'm almost 50 and my Dad has been gone since 1981 I find myself wishing I had pressed him to tell me more of his stories so that I could pass them on to his Grandsons. I lost him way too soon, not that there is ever enough time with the ones you love.

God Bless our Veterans from "The War To End All Wars" and the second "War To End All Wars." They all deserve out respect and gratitude but please don't forget, the men and women of today’s military are just as brave and dedicated as the ones who have come before them. They are the guardians of our freedom and the stories of tomorrow. God Bless them all!

December 22, 2006, 12:12 AM
My Father was in the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines in WWII. He was on Bougainville, Guam and Iwo Jima.
When I got my Garand, I brought it home to show him. Once he had it in his hands he got to talking. It was like getting sword fighting lessons from King Arthur. He told me how on Guam, he fired his M1 until the handguards cought on fire and it was cooking off as fast as he could aim it. He had a buddy reach over his shoulder and load it and all he did was hang on and aim. That was one of the very few times he actually talked about combat, most of his stories were about everything BUT combat.

To all the Veterans, thank you and well done!

December 22, 2006, 06:49 AM
We were taught to wrap our arm into the sling in Navy boot camp (1969). I've only a couple rifles with slings, but when I shoot them free standing, that's how I do it.

December 22, 2006, 07:10 AM
Proper mounting and use of the leather sling on the 1903 and M-1 rifle


1911 guy
December 22, 2006, 07:34 AM
Those of you who have heard first hand stories of the horrors of the Italian campaign, someone mentioned Salerno in particular, have had a rare experience. My Grandfather was a veteran of Salerno and the one thing he always mentioned was the casualty rate. It was exceedingly high. To have met a survivor and heard the tales of deeds done for freedoms sake is a rare honor.

My Garandpa passed away in 2000, at the age of 83. Those of you who have family left, cherish them. Look them in the eye and tell them I said "Welcome Home".

Whitewolf 508
December 22, 2006, 09:49 AM
My father taught me the sling technique with an '03 Springfield that my great uncle had in the barn. Dad was with the 32nd Infantry in New Guinea and the Philippines. He was in G@ and helped arrange General Yama****a's surrender. Yama****a was one of the few Japanese executed for war crimes. My father said that he got the honor of holding the General's ancestral sword. He was quite impressed. That was not the sword that was surrendered. It probably ended up in the same place as all the gold that the Japanese plundered from the Phillipines(and has never been found)

By the way,that '03 had been around. Uncle Rob had been with Pershing and brought the rife back from the expedition that tried to catch Pancho Villa. He also

December 22, 2006, 10:07 AM

I've got a funny tightness in my throat and there seems to be something wrong with my screen; its sort of blurry.

Your wonderful story brought me a vision of my dad, a WWII combat vet showing me the manual of arms using his old Remington bolt action .22 target rifle to which he had affixed a military leather sling. This was back in the early 50's when I was a lad. He was with Co. E, 320th Regiment, 35th Infantry Division. When he returned home from the war, he never fired a gun again. Said he'd had enough killing. But, he trained me up and set up a little range in the basement where I'd use that rifle and shoot .22 shorts across the basement into the coal bin where he had made up a safe backstop.

He was a great fan of the NRA and firmly believed that the firearm training and manual of arms that the NRA taught and provided at the ranges and clubs they sponsored in those days helped American GI's be the best with firearms in the field. As a POW he related that many of the German soldiers he encountered said they respected and feared the American GI because of their ability with firearms. He died in 1999 at the age of 93. I miss him.

Thank you for conjuring up some very warm memories. Merry Christmas.

December 22, 2006, 10:32 AM
One of my uncles was in Patton's Third Army that raced to Bastogne to relieve the "Band of Brothers". He said that they didn't NEED to be "saved", just "relieved", for they had been surrounded and out of food and ammo.

I saw that uncle just a few days after I had returned home from Viet Nam, back in 1968. I told him that my next duty assignment was West Germany, and that gave him a twinkle in his eye! He dug out an old map that he had saved through the years, and there were pencil lines that showed the route that the Third Army had taken through Europe. I was fortunate to have been able to re-trace that route when I was in West Germany, ending up in Bastogne, Belgium. There is a huge memorial for all of the fallen Paratroopers in Bastogne, and there's a museum in the city....aptly named the "Nuts Museum". Back in 1968, there were STILL semi-destroyed tanks next to the roadways!

Some humor? Well, after my uncle found out that I was going to West Germany, he got really serious. "Be sure to stock up on women's nylon stockings and chocolate candy! The women will love you, and you'll get 'lucky', if you know what I mean!", he said. Uh, I didn't have the heart to tell him that a few things had changed since he had been there! On the other hand, the women STILL didn't shave their armpits!

Lastly, the father of one of my long-time friends had been issued a Reising rifle as a Marine in WW-II. In essence, it was sort of a joke, and commonly called the "Rising" gun....since the muzzle climb was so horrendous when fired in full auto (The Reising rifle was discontinued shortly after being introduced into combat, due to the control issue). Anyway, to somewhat control the muzzle climb, he said that he would un-clasp the sling at the butt, let the sling hang down in front, and step on the sling, to keep the muzzle at the same level when firing. When he finally got his hands on a BAR, he did the same thing!

God bless those warriors of WW-II! They're dying off in massive numbers! There was a news article that said that there are only 14 WW-I vets still alive!

December 22, 2006, 11:13 AM
Guy walked into the gun shop last week where I work that was getting up there in age. Looked around some, asked a few questions of this gun or that, then proceeded to buy a Colt 1911 from the case.

We got to talking, come to find out, he was stationed at Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, in the army, then did the European theatre as a pilot. He mentioned he had made the Pearl Harbor reunion recently in Hawaii.

I asked him how many men had been stationed there during the bombing and he gave me a specific number, not a generalization, but he knew to the man how many were there. Something like 120,000+ is what I remember.

Asked him how many were still alive, he stated just over 500 and they were dying at 15-20 per month according to the obits in the newsletter he received monthly.

Asked him why he was buying a 1911 and he said his house had been robbed and they stole the one he had from back in the days he had brought home from the war.

I talked to the owner of the shop, explained the above to him and asked if we couldn't give him that 1911 at cost. He agreed, and we threw in a two boxes of ammo for the gun as well at no charge.

The guy still flew planes occasionally, had over 6000 hours flight time on various planes. Said he was one of the lucky ones to still be healthy enough to get around and be active at his age.

We talked some more at the store front for a few minutes, I handed him my card and told him if he ever needed help with anything to call me. The men of ww2 are dying off at the rate of 145 or so a day now. Stories told by these men of their experiences are history and should not be lost.

Hope that guy comes into the shop again.


December 22, 2006, 11:50 AM
Great stories!!! Some of my most cherished memories are the times I spent talking to my Grandfather. He was a WWII vet and went to many places in Europe. My brother and I lived with our grandparents where we grew up in the upper peninsula of Michigan before moving to TN.

My grandfather didn't speak too much about the war, his knee was blown completely off (he received the purple heart) and his this ended up slowing him down quite a bit. He never had to use a cain or walker (he probably wouldn't have if someone told him to...lol), he just walked kinda slow.

The little bit he did speak of sounded quite gruesome. I believe he mentioned being in France and Belgium iirc. He lost a couple of great friends that were killed in action fighting right beside him.

I distinctly remember him lighting up and coming alive when we'd talk about his time in the service. When I mentioned leaving to live in TN, he smiled really big and mentioned his short stay here before going to Europe. I'd never heard of "chiggers" before, let's just say him and some guys in his unit had a "not so good" experience with them after lying in the grass for awhile. This was a warning from him I remember to this day and always gets a smile riled up in me.

He also introduced me to shooting along with my grandmother (she was an excellent shot by the way). We'd shoot a tube fed .22 Marlin or a single shot Savage 12 gauge when I was 8 or 9.

The 2 guns I'd NEVER even consider selling even if I were starving are the 2 that were passed down to me when he passed away in 1996. He knew I loved shooting and left me with a 1948 built Winchester .32 special lever gun (rifle not carbine) and that Savage model M single shot 12 gauge. He taught me to shoot and he had taken many deer in his lifetime and not once used a scope on his rifles. He taght me how to "draw a bead" with open sights and I still remember him telling me to make sure and draw a "fine bead" when I shoot that .32 or it'll pass right over a deer's back.

Wow, what great times.

December 22, 2006, 12:14 PM
I got this published in the January 2003 issue of Army magazine:

Silver wings & a golden ager

The emergency department of a Detroit hospital was the last place I expected to learn a lesson about the Army. My own Army career during the early 1980s as a unit supply specialist in the lst Ranger Battalion was brief and uneventful. At the time, the Marines in the peacekeeping force in Lebanon were getting the heck pounded out of them. The Soviet Union was embroiled in a war with Afghanistan and the hostages held in Iran had been returned.

However, for the Army it was a time of rebuilding. The Carter years had cut the budget to the bone and President Reagan was doing his best to repair the damage that had been done. I had joined up as an alternative to joining the growing ranks of the unemployed in my native Detroit. My only real accomplishment during my enlistment was the completion of the basic parachutist course at Fort Benning, Ga. However, being in a unit like the Ranger battalion, I noticed that jump wings were as common as shoe polish. I certainly wasn't thinking much about them 10 years later.

When I was hired to work at St. John Hospital in Detroit, one of the first things I noticed was the abundance of pins and decorations with which my coworkers had adorned their identification badges. A small helicopter meant that they had loaded a patient onto a medical chopper, a stork with a baby meant that they had delivered a baby at some point. There were pins for length of employment, attending different seminars and sometimes just for decoration. It was as if each person was displaying a little of their personal information along with their names on their identification badge.

One night, while looking through a desk drawer, I happened across an old pair of jump wings. Almost on a whim I affixed them to my identification badge. The effect was profound. My coworkers wanted to know what they were. Once they found out that I had been a paratrooper, they wanted to know more. While I was always careful never to "fly under false colors" lest they believe that I was some sort of hero, it amazed me that the things that I thought were commonplace, they thought impressive. When I related to them how, on one jump, I was caught in a thermal updraft and was actually going up instead of down, they laughed in disbelief.

When I told them of night jumps, exiting the door of a C-130 into the dark night sky, they visibly shuddered.

While I still didn't think that being airborne meant all that much to the civilian world, I did take some small pride in having done something that few others had done. I didn't know that other people would notice those wings-people who did know what they were.

Among my duties in the emergency room, I was responsible for transporting patients to radiology for X-rays. I approached a tense, balding, wrinkled old man who looked as if a strong wind would blow him away. He watched as I came towards him, squinting as if to focus on me, "Where'd you get those?" he said in an abrupt and accusing voice.

"Where'd I get what?"

"The wings. Where'd you get `em?"

I smiled, "I earned em the hard way."

Visibly relaxing, he smiled back, "You were in, huh?"

"Three years, two and a half years as a paratrooper."

"I was in for two. How many jumps did you make?"

"I think between 75 and 80. 1 never really kept too close a count. How about you?"

"Seven. Five in Jump School and then I jumped into France on D-Day I got hit a couple of days later, got back to my unit just in time to jump into Holland."

"Sounds like seven was enough."

I dropped him off for X-rays and went back to the ER. He returned several minutes later. I grabbed the various needles and whatnot that I needed to draw blood and walked up to him, "Time for me to draw labs."

"Did you see any combat?" he asked suddenly.

"No, I joined up and peace broke out all over the world. Heck, I was just a supply clerk. I don't know what I would've done if I would have had to fight."

"You would have been okay; you're a paratrooper."

After I had dropped the tubes of blood off at the lab, I came back to his side to talk. The whole time that he was there, we swapped stories about jump school. He answered my questions about his jump into Normandy and he told me of the bitter cold nights, the constant shelling and the constant fear at Bastogne. I stayed with him through my lunch break and finally transported him to his room in the main part of the hospital. It wasn't until I made it back to the ER that I realized that I had forgotten to ask his name. All that I knew was that he had been a corporal in the 101st Airborne in 1944-45.

All he knew about me was that I had been a paratrooper in the 80s. I mentally shrugged; I guess that was enough.

It was then that I had a moment of profound clarity. Those wings hadn't just decorated my uniform, but they had marked me for life.

December 22, 2006, 12:38 PM
I also used to work as a cast tech at an orthopedic office at about the same time Saving Private Ryan hit the silver screen. With all of the hip and knee replacements that came through the door, I got to hear a lot of hair-raising tales. Most of the guys that had been in the war gave their opinions of the movie. The opinions split evenly between, "I was there, I don't need to see the movie" or, "I saw it. The first 30 minutes were just like being there again. The rest was a fairy tale." and, "Someone finally got it right."

The neatest experience I had was when I was working in a wound care center. I attended the hyperbaric oxygen chambers. One old gentleman came for sores that resulted from diabetes. As I was helping him get prepared, we struck up a conversation about the service. He told me that he had been a glider pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater. For those that don't know, those glider pilots would fly "over the hump" deliver their loads and then walk back to friendly lines.

Having just read an article about those pilots, I asked him if he knew Jackie Coogan (Uncle Fester on the Addams Family TV show), as he had also been a glider pilot in that theater.

"Oh yeah, I knew him. We weren't buddies or anything, but we used to say 'hi' at the chow hall."

We talked for about a half hour before his treatment, and for an hour afterwards. He told me about the conditions on his base (" You had to hold your hand over your oatmeal bowl because the rats in the rafters would ***** and it would land in your food.") The living conditions("At night, we would have to bundle ourselves up in our sleeping bags and cover our faces so the rats wouldn't get into our bags. You could hardly sleep at night what with them running across your body all night. They had the run of the place.") and just barely touched on the missions ("I was terrified until I came to a stop. After that, it was just a matter of running and hiding.") After hearing his tale, I told him that I was thankful that men like him had served, and that I was honored to meet him.

Well, a week later, he came in for another treatment. We exchanged pleasantries and he went into the chamber. His wife took that opportunity to come up to me and ask, "What exactly did you say to him last week?"

I told her that I asked about his time in service, and that I just listened after that. I said that he was a very brave man and that I had told him that I was grateful that he had done what he had done.

She looked at me, "Last week, our kids and grandkids came over for dinner. He talked to them for four hours about his time in the war. We've been married for 45 years, and he never spoke of it the whole time we were married. The kids just sat there in silence while he told them the whole story."

I just smiled andd said, "Maybe he was just waiting for someone to ask him about it."

"Well, I want to thank you. I know it has bothered him over the years. Some nights he would wake up in a cold sweat and couldn't get back to sleep. I know that talking about it has helped."

What could I say? I was humbled and proud at the same time. From that experience (and many like it) I learned that sitting and talking to these old folks is a good way to learn about the past. To everyone on this board, I'd like to say this; if you have a relative or an acquaintance, or maybe just someone in the neighborhood that's getting on in years, get to know them. Ask questions about "their story". You never know what you'll learn. I've met fighter pilots, bomber pilots (Ed Maliszewski's quote about the B-24: "The box that the B-17 came in."), paratroopers, a "frogman" (went ashore on an island with nothing but a knife and a container to get samples of sand and soil. Had to hide from Japanese patrols.), submariners, and plain old grunts that served in every theater, battle, and campaign. They are a national treasure and their numbers are shrinking every day.

Molon Labe
December 22, 2006, 12:57 PM
I always consider it an honor to shoot side-by-side with veterans.

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