May 30, 2016

My dad's army story, for this Memorial Day

Dad always said he had a "good" war. This is what he meant.

He enlisted at 18 in January 1945. His mother went with him to the ferry to NJ and waved goodbye. He spent three days at Fort Dix (?), where he was issued a uniform and dog tags. The army sent his clothes back to his parents in the Bronx. He beat them to the haircut and had already had his hair cut militarily short.

Dad then went to Florida for basic training for six weeks, where he learned to master peeling potatoes. He was given a seven day leave before shipping out, but it took 2 days to travel by troop train from Florida to New York City, so he only had 5 days of leave.

He sailed to Le Havre where he was posted to the Army Corps of Engineers. Because of his experience with his father's seltzer delivery business, he spent his service driving trucks, including a 22-wheel rig. He drove from Le Havre over the mountains and south to Rouen and Marseilles; to Belgium and Holland, where he saw the famous fields of tulips; into Germany; and went to England for a special job for Eisenhower. After that trip he was thrilled to be personally thanked by General Eisenhower. He saw the concentration camp in Strasbourg.

He once ran out of gas somewhere in France. Having learned a little bit of French, he hiked back to the closest village, where he made a telephone call. He said to the operator  “Le militaire American.” The operator didn’t understand his accent, so he repeated  “Le militaire American.” Eventually they connected him and the Army came by with more gas.

Dad attended an Army buddy’s wedding to a French girl. At the dinner after the ceremony, they ate soup, a main dish, and served the salad at the end! He was very surprised by this custom.

His cousin Eva’s daughter came to Europe on a war bride ship and looked for him in Le Havre, but he was posted to Paris at the time. So she gave his buddies all the fresh milk and fresh food she had access to, and they all got sick. They had very little fresh food and were used to eating mostly powdered, dehydrated and canned items.

The Germans had sunk a freighter in the harbor at Le Havre to prevent any more Americans from arriving. When the tide was in, you could only see a main pole. When the tide went out, you could see the whole ship.

Dad said something about being in the Army was the best two years of his life. He was a young man, he traveled to five countries. He never saw combat. He served his country. He was honorably discharged in 1947(?) because the Army needed his unit to clear the harbor at Le Havre after the war in Europe had ended.

My dad the soldier with his parents, taken some time before he shipped overseas during WWII.


  1. Kathe Davis5:13 PM

    A moving report on your dad, Jill. Thought-provoking to be reminded of other forms of combat than cancer.

  2. that was very useful blog, thank you for sharing it