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The 11th day of the 11th month

I called Dad today and asked if they were doing anything special for Armistice/Veterans Day at the old folks home, and he told me that he had been trying to remember what he was doing 65 years ago today. Then he proceeded to tell me this story, one he hasn't told me before. I thought it was so awesome I should share it with you all. Despite our tumultuous, violent, and difficult relationship my whole life, I really do love my dad. (For those who don't know, my dad is a decorated WWII vet who drove a truck in a tank battalion, often behind enemy lines.) This was just before the Battle of the Bulge.

"What was I doing 65 years ago today, Veterans Day, 1944.

About seven p.m. that day, I drove onto a bunch of bushes in a forested area and parked my truck near Epinal, France. I had just finished a three-day drive from Marseille, France.

It was snowing when we left Marseille on the ninth. I was towing an armored trailer with a ton of anti-tank mines, about 50 of them, plus a standard load of seven and a half tons of tank ammunition on a two and half ton-rated GMC truck. I was the next to last truck in a hundred-truck convoy. There was about half an inch of snow on the road.

To prevent any one truck catching fire and setting another truck on fire (from potential bombs or artillery), we kept a fifty-yard interval between vehicles. Being the next to last truck in the convoy, I either had my throttle to the floorboard or was braking to maintain the fifty-yard interval. It was not a boring drive. I do not remember when I slept that night.

The next day I noticed two things while driving through French towns. You have never seen the ad, but Pall Mall cigarettes had an ad showing how much longer Pall Mall cigarettes were than other cigarettes. It showed two cigarettes being held between a thumb and forefinger, showing how much longer the Pall Mall was. In one French town a GI was holding two cigarette packs up, one a Pall Mall, for a Frenchman, apparently to get more in a trade. I got laughing so hard I almost drove off the road. The other thing I noticed was French women putting flowers around the fountains in the town square -- at first I thought they were celebrating Armistice Day on the tenth, but then I realized they were getting ready for the eleventh.

Later that morning, I came around a forested curve and found the convoy completely stopped. I slammed on my brakes to stop. The last truck, driven by a guy named Weinstein, hit me. 'Damn it, Weinstein, this was no time to play.' Weinstein had hit me fairly hard but I did not have time to stop. The convoy took off, so I did. In the next town, I wondered why the civilians were moving away from the edge of the sidewalk. Outside of town, Weinstein pulled even with me and yelled to stop. I did. The impact from when he'd hit me was so hard that it bent the trailer tongue, and the trailer was now riding two feet to the right of my truck and on the sidewalk of the narrow French streets. Weinstein was chewing me out for stopping so fast when Lt. Darr came back and listened for a moment, then asked Weinstein how he could have hit me with a fifty-yard interval. End of discussion.

That night when we pulled into a French cavalry post, I made a sharp right turn and broke off the tongue. Our wrecker (we had two) picked it up in the morning, only to lose the trailer 500 feet down a mountainside, but that is another story.

I often thought about a decision I had made in Marseilles to carry the 50 mine fuses under the front seat of my truck instead of in the box on the front of the trailer that got bent from the impact. I thought the truck interior would give the fuses a gentler ride. [Seriously, imagine if he'd had the fuses in the trailer. I am gobsmacked, but he just laughs.]

On Nov 12, 1944, we woke up to find 40 of our 42 trucks stuck in the mud. My truck was the only one with a winch that was not stuck. The bushes had floated me. It took three days to unstick the trucks."

-------

Ladies and gentleman, my dad. He did not earn the nickname Suicide Kid for nothing -- once he took a bet from a co-driver that he couldn't get down an ice and snow covered mountainside road without using his hands. He let the truck bounce from inside on the mountain wall to the icy barriers on the steep open edges that had built up from the piles of snow.

This is a picture of him on the back of his truck. You can't see it well, but the writing on top of the truck back, above the grid, says Suicide Kid. He's wearing about three or four layers of clothing because it's shortly after the Bulge and was paralyzingly cold.



Dad comes from a long line of military men and women (his mother was a field nurse in WWI), and a few years ago, we went back to Kuna, Idaho, where most of his family is from, and visited graves at the cemetery. A lot of things in the town are named for members of Dad's family, because the town was created by my great-grandfather. This is my great-uncle Cy's grave -- as you can see, he was quite old when he passed. Even after being gassed severely in WWI and shot, he still lived to a ripe old age, and was quite a character.

Comments

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ixchel55
Nov. 12th, 2009 01:21 am (UTC)
What a wonderful story. My dad was just barely too young to see action. He joined up at 18 but never got out of the States.

OTOH both of my mom's brothers were marines in the South Pacific and both fought on Guadalcanal (the younger one in the first wave, the older in the second). I heard quite a few stories from them over the years.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
OMG, I'll bet. THe Pacific theatre seems even more fraught and terrifying than Europe!
deejay
Nov. 12th, 2009 01:44 am (UTC)
Cool.
varina8
Nov. 12th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)
Great story. Your dad sounds like a heck of a guy, and I love the picture of him on his truck. Makes me think of snapshots of my uncles and great uncles (my dad's age and physical condition kept him out of the military). Most of my male cousins did a stint in one branch of the service or another. Now my oldest nephew is in the Navy. He turned 30 today, somewhere out at sea.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:46 am (UTC)
That seems like such a sad way to celebrate your big three-oh! I hope that he at least was able to have some kind of celebration.
destina
Nov. 12th, 2009 02:15 am (UTC)
I am so loving people sharing pics and stories today. The detail in your dad's story is so wonderful; those stories need to be shared, because so many of them are being lost every day.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:47 am (UTC)
I know, it's really cool that this year seemed to inspire so many people! I had never really done it before but talking to dad made me think I should do it every year.
klia
Nov. 12th, 2009 03:11 am (UTC)
Thanks for sharing your dad's story! I keep imagining him as one of those ice road truckers, now.


gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
Totally! He really could have been an ice road trucker, too -- one time when we had a terrible blizzard here, he drove me to work (I had been stranded at their house) for two days on steep ice-covered hills in a van with an auto transmission, nothing that was good for driving in that kind of stuff. Snow kept piling up over ice, and we had to go up and down severely steep hills, and he never lost his cool even when the van was going nowhere it should go. I was terrified the whole time but he was just, "Well, we have to make the best of it."
keiko_kirin
Nov. 12th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this!
mlyn
Nov. 12th, 2009 03:30 am (UTC)
Great story and photos. Thanks for sharing them.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:49 am (UTC)
You're welcome!
morgandawn
Nov. 12th, 2009 07:29 am (UTC)
I love this story. thank you for sharing it.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I loved hearing it!
copracat
Nov. 12th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)
Your dad! "But that is another story." I bet it is.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:50 am (UTC)
I know, he's a riot! Someday I'm going to get him to write all of these "another stories" down.
trepkos
Nov. 12th, 2009 08:04 am (UTC)
That's a great picture and a great story - but look at those boots! They're so thin!
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:52 am (UTC)
I know -- he was wearing three pairs of wool socks, he said, that he scrounged from a supply clerk, and he was still dangerously close to frostbite.
thisisbone
Nov. 12th, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
Thanks for sharing this story! My dad was in the same area at the same time -- he was about twenty miles from "The Front" at the Ardennes Forest, protecting aviation fuel on the grounds of a chateau. Every morning, he and another LT drove to the front to see if it had shifted overnight. If the enemy came within five miles of the chateau, they were to detonate the fuel -- 2.5 MILLION GALLONS of it. Can you imagine? It would have lit the sky to London. One night, a German night-fighter plane shot at a train running along the track at the edge of the fuel dump. The pilot missed both the fuel and the train, but a cannon round went through a tree and lodged deeply enough in one of the gasoline drums for it to stick, but not far enough to blow it up. My dad pried the round out and still has it today. The Major in charge went bonkers, apparently, at the too-close call. He was relieved of his command shortly thereafter, and my dad, though only a first lieutenant and therefore junior to some of the other officers, was appointed Squadron Commander "at the discretion of the president."

He was 24 years old.
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:53 am (UTC)
Isn't it just amazing when you think of stories like that, how they are SO YOUNG when they did these things? I just... I mean, I think of myself at that age and if I had almost had 2.5 million gallons of fuel detonated near me I think I would have run into the forest in a panic and never been seen again. They were KIDS. And yet they did these incredible things.
viverra_libro
Nov. 13th, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
Thank you for making this post; it was truly lovely to read on Veterans' day.
dualbunny
Nov. 13th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)
Very cool story--thank you for sharing it with us. :)
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:54 am (UTC)
You're welcome! I'm really glad people enjoyed it!
elynross
Nov. 13th, 2009 04:27 am (UTC)
That is an awesome story. And you never mentioned there's Ross in your background! \o/
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:56 am (UTC)
There is lots of Ross! My dad's mom came from a family of 12 children, so there were quite a few of those particular Rosses floating around the western US. And would you believe my middle name is Ellen? ;-) A lot of times when I have to give a last name for something like a reservation, I give Ross because no one can figure out the regular one, and I'm used to it since so many of my cousins are Rosses.
cy_girl
Nov. 13th, 2009 09:49 pm (UTC)
Wow - thanks for sharing that!
gwyn_r
Nov. 16th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Yay, thank you for reading!
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