Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Balloon Bombs....a Reprise

This post first appeared here at History Is Elementary in May,2007.


Look at my title.



Separated each word means something very different and the concepts they represent are on opposite ends of the desirable and undesirable spectrum depending on the situation.

Of course, when you place the words together the concept they represent (water balloons) can also reside on opposite ends of the desirable and undesirable spectrum. Having a balloon bomb fall on you when you least expect it is not a desirable situation. Watching a water balloon drench someone you are upset with can be a great thing. Playing with water balloons on a hot summer day is a very desirable situation for many, however, believe me when I state being appointed as the adult who gets the honor of filling 200 water balloons for a field day event is not a desirable situation

Today’s 13 list doesn’t deal with just bombs, or just balloons, or even balloon bombs filled with water. The balloon bombs that are my subject today were meant to be weapons of war.

1. Balloon bombs were also known as fire bombs and were weapons used by the Japanese during World War II.

2. The balloons were filled with hydrogen and launched from the east coast of the Japanese island of Honshu. Some records indicate over 9,000 balloons were launched.

3. It was hoped that air currents would carry the balloon bombs across the Pacific to North America.

4. The Japanese were not the only country to use balloon bombs. The British used them against Germany for a time.

5. The bombs were found all over the western United States including Arizona, Idaho, and Iowa. Some even found their way to Mexico.

6. A balloon bomb was located as late as 1955 and it was still combustible. In 1992, a balloon was located, but it was no longer able to explode.

7. America had no prior warning that balloon bombs had been launched against them. Citizens did begin to notice the balloons and explosions were heard from California to Alaska.

8. Eventually more and more evidence mounted that proved something was going on. People witnessed something strange sailing to the ground in Wyoming. When it exploded shrapnel was left behind.

9. Scraps of “Washi” paper (made from mulberry bushes) were found in Los Angeles and in other places. The paper was used to construct the balloons.

10. The U.S. Navy found a balloon floating in the ocean. Later, an Army fighter plane managed to push a balloon towards the ground where it landed intact. Finally, officials could examine what had been launched against us more closely.

11. The American public finally learned about the balloons. The Newsweek issue dated January 1, 1945 contained an article regarding the balloons which the Office of Censorship asked to be removed from public view. The government’s strategy was if there was no information in the press the Japanese would have no information regarding how successful their balloon launch had been.

12. Authorities were really concerned, however, and feared that more balloons might eventually reach American soil. There was some thought that the Japanese had been working on a biological weapon and officials were afraid the balloon bombs might be a first step towards a biological launch.

13. Te event which resulted in the balloon bombs being launched against the United States was the Jimmy Doolittle raid against Tokyo. Doolittle’s raid, of course, was in reaction to Pearl Harbor.

Sadly, a balloon bomb did kill four people. You can find the story here.

A great informational article can be found here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

End of the Year Goodbyes

This morning I noticed on Facebook (yes, Elementaryhistoryteacher has a profile, but it's under an assumed name) several of my former students were commenting they just had one more week of school. Fellow educators were also giddy at the thought the school year is almost over.

Can’t say that I blame them.

In May, 2006 I was posting concerning end of the year awards and a letter that ALL of my students receive at the end of the year. I provide the full text of the letter and encourage other teachers to use it if they so desire.

I finally managed to get our team awards done yesterday and gave them to my team members so they could verify signatures, etc. I typed up awards for all As all year in each academic area, and most improved in each homeroom. The front office prepared our certificates for all As all year, all As and Bs all year, and perfect attendance----the usual, you know. As a team we decided to give our awards tomorrow so if there is some sort of mistake it can be corrected in time to give a new certificate to a student. As of 3:30 p.m. we still did not have our certificates the office was going to prepare. I hope we get them tomorrow morning.

My plan is to give out awards, have students place them in their book bags, clean out desks, and take up textbooks. I’ll have the students help me clean out files, inventory and reorganize my classroom library, dust, sweep, and step-and-fetch. We clean in my classroom at least once every nine weeks and the little darlins’ love it. I wonder if they are this helpful at home? Never mind, I’m a mom. I know the answer.

One of the things I give out to all of my students is my final farewell letter to them. I’ve taught siblings of my students and invariably someone will say, “Oh, my sister still has her letter.” One young man told me last year that his mom keeps my letter in his older brother’s file with all of his awards.

The first year I taught I tried to hand the letter out and then read it aloud. I ended up crying, they ended up crying, and I don’t have to tell you how young people can become very dramatic. So I usually fold the letter in half and write their name on the paper. I hand them out and instruct everyone not to open their letter until everyone has theirs. Once everyone opens their letter together and begins to read I try to busy myself in a hurry. I put things away, I straighten papers, or I simply walk back and forth acting like I’m doing something. Invariably I catch a few girls and even boys wipe a tear away. Some of my strong, young men will put their heads down and wipe their eyes out of view. Luckily no one tries to hug me or I think I would just die.

As of this month several hundred students have received my letter. Here is what it says:

Dear Students:

At the end of my first year teaching I wanted to bring the year to a close by writing a note to my students. This letter has become a tradition---every student who has passed through my classroom has received this letter as my farewell. It is amazing to me that 380 students have received this letter so far. Please take the advice I give you to heart, and never forget that I care about your success.

The following is a poem written by Shel Silverstein---I thought it was appropriate for this point in your lives. Mr. Silverstein wrote:

All the woulda-coulda-shouldas
Layin’ in the Sun,
Talkin’ ‘bout the things-

They woulda-coulda-shoulda done…
But those woulda-coulda-shouldas
All ran away and hid
From one little did.

During your last year of elementary school followed by middle school and high school concentrate on doing things that will have a positive effect on your lives. Choose your friends wisely, listen to your parents and teachers, and do the very best you possibly can in everything you attempt.

On your final day of high school don’t look back on the things you would have done, could have done, or should have done. My hope is that you will look back on a fine, long list of accomplishments that happened because you aimed high, took chances, lived up to your potential, and most importantly you did something.

I will always consider myself to be your teacher. I hope you will stay in touch through the coming years to let me share in your success.

With fond memories of each of you, I remain,


Ah, another year almost over.........

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Millard Fillmore was a Know Nothing

This article first appeared here in March, 2006.

I write the following sentence on the board: Millard Fillmore was a know nothing. I ask students to tell me what the sentence means.

“Well…..somebody isn’t too smart,” a student volunteers.

Another comment is added. “That guy, Mil-, Mil-. That Mil- guy doesn’t know nothing.” I ignore the grammatical error. At this point it will just confuse them.

I try to turn students in another direction. “What are nouns?”

Someone regurgitates “Words that name people, places, ideas, and things.”

I counter with, “What’s our strategy to find nouns?” Several seconds go by. I hold up my board marker and point to it. Several hands go up.

“We look for noun markers like the words a, an, and the.”

“Good, take a look at the sentence again. What do you see?”

“Know nothing is a noun. It has an “a” in front of it.”

“Yes. So is Millard Fillmore stupid?”

“No, somebody is calling him a name.”

“What else do you notice about the words “Know” and “Nothing”?

After several tries someone tells me that the words are capitalized. I counter with a “So what?”

A show of hands. I choose someone. “Know-Nothing is a name for something.”

“Yes, but a name for what?”

I end our little language arts episode by telling students that Millard Fillmore was our 13th president and he was a member of a group called the Know-Nothings. I tell students their goal during the lesson is to determine how Fillmore became a Know-Nothing and what the group represented.

Millard Fillmore was a fine example of the American Dream. He grew up on a farm in the Fingerlakes region of New York. He attended a one room schoolhouse. By fifteen he was apprenticed to a clothes dresser. He worked hard and by 1823 was admitted to the bar. He got involved in politics and worked his way up through the ranks by serving as a New York legislator and later became a member of Congress. He was elected vice president to serve with Zachary Taylor in 1848.

As vice president Fillmore presided over the Senate. He remained fairly closed mouth concerning his position on the Compromise of 1850 aka the Kansas-Nebraska Act, but privately told President Taylor that if the vote was tied he would vote in favor of the bill.

Taylor died unexpectedly and Fillmore became the thirteenth president. The new administration had conciliatory views concerning the main issue dividing the country at the time----slavery----which was a 180 degree turn from the previous administration.

Fillmore said, “God knows that I detest slavery, but it is an existing evil…and we must endure it and give it such protection as is guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Fillmore’s presidency resulted in five important bills:
*Admit California as a free state
*Settle the Texas boundary and compensate her
*Grant territorial status to New Mexico
*Place federal officers at the disposal of slaveholders seeking fugitives (Fugitive Slave Law)
*Abolish the slave trade in the District of Columbia

Northern Whigs were upset with the Fugitive Slave law. They broke with Fillmore and refused to nominate him as their party’s candidate in the election of 1852.

In 1856, Fillmore accepted the presidential nomination of the Know-Nothing or American Party. Per Wikipedia when a member of the party was asked about the group’s activities, he was supposed to reply, “I know nothing.” They were a Nativist group that feared Catholics would gain too much control of state and local governments and opposed their immigration. They wanted to use government power to push their agenda regarding a Protestant Anglo-Saxon society. They called for limits on immigration, wanted to limit political office to native-born Americans only, and called for a twenty-one year wait for immigrants to become citizens. Other extreme desires of the Know-Nothings were a limit on the sale of liquor, restrictions on public school teaching to Protestants only, and to have their version of the Protestant Bible read daily in classrooms. Though Fillmore did not win the election he did receive 22% of the vote and the Know-Nothings were eventually absorbed into the Republican Party.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

November Remembrance

This post first appeared here in November, 2006

Is it possible to love someone through another’s memory? To love and admire someone you never met, someone you will never be able to meet, someone who at the moment of their passing caused an incredible upheaval of grief and gouged an enormous chasm of longing for things that can never be, someone who a large number of people still speak of with reverence, awe, and thankfulness?

I believe it is possible.

I know it is possible.

I know it because I participate in this kind of love and admiration everyday for two vastly different Americans who left this Earth almost a year to the day from one another. My admiration for these two inviduals stems from my mother who shared her memories of them with me during my formative years where they became entertwined and linked indelibly in the murkiness where actual memory and grafted memories blend.

I was six months old on Saturday, November 24, 1962. Naturally I have no real memories of this day. What I know comes from Sister Dear who was six at the time. We had just celebrated Thanksgiving the previous Thursday. More than likely my parents had driven my sister and I to their shared hometown to visit with my Dad’s folks and then my Mom’s. Little did anyone know it would be the last time my Mom saw her mother alive. Sister Dear recollects the phone ringing that Saturday afternoon and nothing ever being the same again. She tells me now that Mother began wailing and flung herself across her bed. Sister Dear remembers simply standing and staring at Mother as she became a grieving, heaving mass of pain. When she remembers that moment she sees a collage of images of mother mixed with the piney hardwood floor of our hallway, the old radio that had been mothers as a teen now used as a phone table in the hallway, and how time seemed to stand still. Sister Dear was watching Mother’s agony as she had been told her mother had been found dead of a heart attack at the age of 62.


It was sudden. It was cruel. It was not what anyone would have expected. In writing that my Mother has left behind she states Nanny was tall and slender with broad shoulders. She had beautiful skin and dark, thick, course hair. She was a great cook and seamstress----most of the clothes my mother wore were handmade by my grandmother. She was always a cheerful person---smiling, laughing, and always hid any problems she might have---plus she always wanted to do something to help people who were less fortunate than herself.

Sister Dear speaks of our “Nanny” by describing her simply as FUN. She remembers having great times with Nanny. In every picture I have ever seen of my grandmother she is wearing a June Cleaver type dress…..shirtwaist, short sleeves, and full skirt. Sister Dear tells that Nanny would place her in the hem of her skirt and swing her back and forth. That had to be fun. Sister Dear tells of waking on warm mornings and gazing up on the wall where a picture hung of a little boy and a little girl. They were about to cross a bridge and an angel was hovering at their shoulders. She has told me this picture actually scared her. We were told as children that the boy and girl were on their way to Heaven. I remember the framed print too…….it scared me as well. Sister Dear has told me she would lie in bed the longest time and try NOT to feel sorry for the kids, but it was hard. As an adult I now understand the significance of that print. My grandmother had bore tragedy upon tragedy as young woman. Her first husband had been shot to death in front of her, and she had lost three children….one to sickness, one got ahold of some medicine that had been left out, and a baby boy had been born dead. The print that scared my sister and I so probably gave comfort to our grandmother and might have been the reason it hung in the spare bedroom.

Once up Sister Dear would walk into the front room and find a big bowl of blueberries on the floor between the screen door and door jam. She’d sit on the gritty floor and munch away. It always seemed, Sister Dear says, that Nanny would just know she was up and awake. She’d turn from her chores in the garden and give a hearty good mornin’ wave, and Sister Dear's day of fun would begin by building a playhouse out of tongue and groove planks and a cardtable Nanny would provide for her. I’ve always been told Nanny loved working with plants and apparently she could get anything to grow anywhere. Sister Dear remembers Nanny always smelled deliciously of outside, sunshine, and fresh turned earth. Things could be done at Nanny’s house that could not be done at home. Nanny always allowed Sister Dear to make mud pies on the porch not with water, but with real honest to goodness buttermilk.

Sister Dear remembers Daddy holding her as they stood in front of the casket set up in the front room of my grandparent’s home, and she remembers the funeral which took place at the one room wooden church with the obligatory outhouse in the back plopped in the piney woods where three generations of my mother’s family scratched the dirt. The land for the church had at one time been part of the family farm, but my great grandfather had donated it to the church folk. Nanny was laid to rest in dirt that was home to her. Sister Dear remembers a long service, our distraught mother who we now know had been given something to keep her calm and quiet, and the long row of our grandfather’s half-sisters who were actually more in line with our mother’s age than our grandfather’s. Each dear aunt took her turn holding Sister Dear in her lap….first Dee, then Blanche, then Claudine, then Nelle, and Elizabeth and then back to Nelle, then Claudine, then Blanche, and then Dee where the whole process started over again.

Mother grieved. Years later Mother spoke of grieving hard. She often said the knowledge that she had to take care of Sister Dear and I got her through, but there were days she didn’t know if she could make it. Our grandfather grieved hard as well. Sister Dear remembers his home being fun. I remember it as dark and dusty shrine much like the Haversham bedroom in Great Expectations. Many things were left exactly like they were the day Nanny left us even down to her pin cushion which always hung on a nail in the hallway with the pins in it just like they were the last time Nanny used it. As I grew older it remained hanging on its nail fading in color with the dust eventually caking over it until it was practically rotten.

The remainder of this post can be found at American Presidents Blog Here

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Cinco de Mayo....Just What ARE We Celebrating?

This post originally ran in May, 2008. I thought it was appropriate to re-run it today…..

Ah, testing is over….Spring has sprung….and the fifth of May brings cries of Happy Cinco de Mayo, Elementaryhistoryteacher!

Students discuss how their families will invade the nearest Mexican restaurant for special deals, free beer for the adults at some establishments, and lively music.

Whoa there…I like Mexican food, music, and an occasional beer as much as the next person, but exactly what are we celebrating?

It’s lunchtime and lots of people are moving about the campus, so I send out a group of kids with clipboards in hand and ask them to take an informal survey asking any adult in the hallway, media center, lunchroom, or main office why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated. I send out another group to ask students at lunch the same question.

The two groups remaining in the classroom stay busy until our survey takers return. Fifteen minutes later the data is passed along to the groups that stayed in the room, and they get busy analyzing the answers.

What they discovered is that it doesn’t really matter whether the person is old or young, white, black, or Mexican… one in our survey group can really truly can state that they know why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated. Some think they know, but they aren’t sure. A few adults stated they thought the day was set aside to celebrate Mexican independence like the Fourth of July. Others felt that the day must commemorate a great victory of some sort.

Wrong and wrong, sort of.

Cinco de Mayo is NOT a day of independence for Mexicans….THAT day is September 16th.

Cinco de Mayo is NOT a holiday recognized by the Mexican government.

Cinco de Mayo IS a regional holiday celebrated in the area of Puebla to commemorate the Battle of Puebla. It occurred in 1862 when the Mexican forces beat back French forces, but only for a bit. A year later Mexico was totally defeated by the French, and the Hapsburgs began to rule.

The day began to be celebrated by Mexicans living in the United States to celebrate resistance to French rule in Mexico.

Should the fifth of May be such a big deal?

This editorial form the New York Times examines a little of the history and discusses why you might be ordering a Corona this afternoon or tonight.

Over the years Cinco de Mayo has become an informal holiday to recognize and appreciate Mexican culture here in the United States, and after our survey and research into the matter it was decided that learning more about a culture and celebrating it a bit isn’t such a bad thing, but perhaps we all need to know what we are celebrating before biting into that chalupa or asking for another Corona.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Uncle Robert and the Timberwolves

This post first appeared here at History Is Elementary in November, 2006 as a tribute to my Uncle Robert West for Veteran’s Day. His war story like so many others was almost never told. Like so many men who fought during World War II they all did heroic things, but wanted to just merely fade into the background once they returned, but my Uncle Robert could never fade anywhere…

So….meet my Uncle Robert and then tell me what you think:

This post is probably my longest yet. Yes, I know…..many of my posts are rather wordy. I even thought about cutting this one down a bit or even making it two posts instead of one. I decided I wouldn’t. To delete any part of it would be a disservice to the men of the 104th and to my Uncle Robert. I don’t think Uncle Robert’s story can be told without sharing details about the Timberwolves and their brave contribution to our victory over the Nazis.

I remember my Uncle Robert as a quiet, sweet soul. For many years I spent at least one week….sometimes two…. every year at his house. I remember a regimented man who maintained a schedule of getting up, going to work, dinner, a little television, his Bible, and then off to bed. I never heard him raise his voice even though I know he was a firm yet loving disciplinarian with his children. There was just something about Uncle Robert that made you want to please him. You never wanted to let him down by allowing him see you talk in church or by doing anything else you knew he would disapprove of. I remember early on summer mornings I would wake up in his home and lay there and listen as I heard the hushed tones of Uncle Robert and Aunt Claudine while they shared a quick breakfast together before he was off to work. Their private time together made me feel safe and secure.

As I was growing up I knew he was in the Army during World War II but until the last few years I didn’t know to what extent he served. Through his children I learned as I was growing up a little about Uncle Robert’s service. He made sure his children knew that World War II was necessary and that soldiers had fought to keep America free. He told them interesting stories about the war and his participation in it. Some of the stories were good, many were sad, but all were heroic.

The West family sent four sons off to war at the same time though their paths never crossed while they were in Europe. Uncle Robert was a Staff Sergeant in G Company, 104th Division, 414th Infantry, of the United States Army that landed in Cherbourg, France on September 7, 1944. They were the first American division to arrive on French soil without having first stopped in England. The 104th travelled to Europe via the USS Lejeune, the USS George Washington, the SS Ocean Mail, and the USAT Cristobal.

Once on European shores it is possible Uncle Robert along with other members of the 104th participated in the ‘Red Ball Express’, a circular 24-hour-a-day truck supply route from the invasion beaches to the front which had been in operation for some time before their arrival. My research indicates the 104th filled a support role for a few days before taking up defensive positions in the vicinity of Wuustwezel, Belgium on October 23, 1944.

The 104th was to relieve the British 49th Division and join the First British Corps, First Canadian Army. They were the first regiment of the American Army to relieve an allied unit on the Western Front, as well as the first American Regiment to fight under the control of an Allied Army.

Fellow soldier, Bob Bilinsky recollects that “G Company moved onto a dirt lane and then into an open area which seemed to stretch forever towards what we assumed to be the German positions.” As the Scottish soldiers they were to replace hopped happily out of their foxholes the soldiers of G Company were to take their place. Bilinsky recounts many of the Americans were “amazed at the complete disdain [the Scotts] seemed to have for the fact they presented an easy target for Germans gunfire! Suddenly it happened! The silence was shattered! Not by gunfire but by the loud strains of the Scottish bagpiper as the unit marched away in a swaying but perfect cadence to the pulsating beat of the music.” Bilinsky advised that “more than a few of us smiled” and “perhaps members of G Company owe that bagpiper a ‘Thank You’ for helping [them] lose just a little of the nervous edge [they] had built up on [their] first assignment for front line duty.” I can just imagine how my uncle (a mere country boy from the North Georgia foothills) must have jumped as the Scottish bagpipes began their initial whining. I’m sure; however, he was ready to cheer along with the other men of G Company as the cadence became a dual anthem of the Scots’ relief at leaving the foxhole and one of breaking the tension of an untested pack of wolves.

The Timberwolves soon had no reason to doubt their abilities. Once in Holland Uncle Robert and the men of the 104th began a series of 195 days of continuous combat with the Battle of the Dikes through Holland. My uncle told his children tales about crawling on his stomach, probing the ground inch by inch with a knife in order to search for landmines. At one point during battle, he was separated from his company for three days and survived by scrounging what food he could wherever he could find it; but just before MIA papers were to be sent home, he was reunited with his group.

Once they were finished with Holland the Timberwolves began a march through Germany savagely attacking the enemy. Relief was given to the First Division and they joined up with the U.S. Seventh Corps, First U.S. Army near Aachen, Germany in November.

The Timberwolves gained a reputation of an unflinching and ceaseless barrage of night attacks that terrified the Germans. Stolberg was taken as well as Eschweiler on November 21st. As they crossed the Siegfried line and Inde River near Inden in early December, 1944, a German radio broadcast reported ‘the most terrible and ferocious battle in the history of all wars.’ Many Germans called the fighting of the 104th ‘unfair’. The December 6th issue of Stars and Stripes stated, “Inden---there we stuck it out for four days under the heaviest artillery concentration ever experienced by American troops [approximately sixty shells a minute].” On December 9, 1944 the Army Times stated, “Correspondents predict that the coming battle of the Roer will see the bloodiest fight yet experienced on the Western Front.”

I’m fairly certain that Uncle Robert received his Bronze Star for his actions along the Roer River area because the date it was awarded coincides with the 104th’s location at that time. The citation states, “for heroic achievement in connection with military operations in Germany on December 12, 1944 when, during a heavy enemy counter attack, he directed the fire of his weapons until the attack was repulsed and the enemy was driven off with heavy losses.”

He also received a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. A bomb hit close by him, and a large piece of flat metal hit his leg. He was told that if it had hit edgeways, it would have cut off his leg. His knee swelled so badly that he couldn’t get his pant leg on. He was sent to a medical unit where he remained for four weeks, but then was sent back to the front line.

That’s what Timberwolves did. They didn’t give up. They were tough. Nothing in Hell can stop the Timberwolves was their battle cry, and they proved it day after day as they slogged through Europe.

It is no surprise the Timberwolves had a larger than life reputation. Their training in Oregon and other places comprised mostly of night attacks….something the Germans did not like to do. They trained in the rain and mud in order to overrun the enemy at night and mop up operations during the day. Uncle Robert would have been highly trained in night sounds so that split second decisions could be made regarding identification of the sound and reaction. Twenty-five mile night marches were common practices during training. “Battles were town by town and river by river,” said Harold Kennedy, a Timberwolf soldier. Another soldier remarked, “We surprised [the Germans] so many times.”

Timberwolf commander, Terry Allen, called the spirit of Timberwolf training as ‘Get smart and get tough’. He called their battle tactics ‘continuous pressure and aggressive night attacks.’

Lucherberg was held by the Timberwolves from enemy counterattacks and all strongholds west of the Roer River were captured by December 23rd. For the next two months through February 23, 1945 the 104th defended the area they had won around Duren and Merken. They also saw action taking Huchem-Stammeln, Birkesdorf, and North Duren. By March they were entering Cologne. Afterwards they crossed the Rhine at Hoffef on March 22, 1945.

An offensive began against the Ruhr Pocket which was an area where over 300,000 Germans were surrounded, and finally a 375-mile sweep into the Mulde River brought them to the heart of Germany. Timberwolf Tracks (page 346) states, “Since 25 March the (104th) Division had advanced 375 miles, had captured 19,152 prisoners, had played a vital role in trapping the 335,000 German troops in the Ruhr pocket, and another 65,000 Nazis in the Harz Mountains.” Yes, the 104th was taking care of business and living up to the expections of their leaders.

They finally met up with the Red Army at Pretzsch on April 26, 1945. When they lost contact with the enemy on May 5 the brave men of the 104th Division had completed 195 consecutive days of combat.

Uncle Robert and his fellow soldiers fought ate, slept in mud, snow, and hail. They watched buddies fall by the wayside. My uncle often told his children about seeing comrades throw down their weapons and stand in the line of fire as a way of committing suicide even though he begged them to get down. He became a Christian during his early tour of Europe and his family believes it was his relationship with God that kept him strong and able to withstand the horrible experiences he had to endure. Many of his memories were painful for him. I even remember my own mother telling me not to bring up the war, a favorite subject of mine, to Uncle Robert. If he wanted to talk about it he would do it on his own. I’m glad that he spoke of it with his children. Uncle Robert always stated you didn’t need to dwell on the bad times too much, but should always look to the future with God’s help.

One of the stories that was nearest and dearest to Uncle Robert’s heart was the one about a young private who was a very good soldier but when he learned he was to be sent on one particularly dangerous mission he begged Uncle Robert not to send him. Uncle Robert was the Staff Sergeant which meant he had control over the assignments. Can you imagine the pain he must have felt knowing he was sending men out to die? That has to have an effect on you as it happens over and over and over for 195 days without a break. The young private cried and begged desperately not to be sent. He said to my uncle, “I know if I go in today, I will not come out alive. If I go, I know I will die today.” For some reason that we will never know, that young soldier was more afraid on that day than any other. Uncle Robert had the authority to send someone else, but instead put his own name on the mission list.

Uncle Robert went in the young private’s place.

Many years later tears would form in Uncle Robert’s eyes as he told his children about the young soldier. Unfortunately the passage of time had clouded his mind and he could not remember the young soldier’s name. At some point the family decided to try and find the soldier. There had been a a letter near the end of the war that was sent to my uncle’s mother stating that Uncle Robert had saved the private’s life, but it had long since been misplaced. Contact was made with many of the members of G Company asking if anyone remembered the story, but not a soul did. Uncle Robert could recall lots of names, but the name of the private with whom he shared such a personal bond was lost.

One afternoon in 1997, Uncle Robert was telling war tales again. He repeated the story about the young private. Suddenly he said, “His name was ……,” he said calmly. Everyone looked at each other in disbelief. As easily as the boy’s name had slipped from Uncle Robert’s mind many years ago, it had just as easily slipped back in.

That very afternoon in the mailbox was a new G Company newsletter. My aunt anxiously opened it and began reading all the latest news from the men to my uncle. At the end of the letter was a simple note from the wife of the young private informing Company G members that he had passed away, “after having gone through some hard times with cancer.”

You cannot go through an experience like that with someone and not have a bond with them. Uncle Robert never saw the private again after the war, but he knew the private credited him with saving his life. Uncle Robert’s daughter, Rena, likes to think that all of that time Uncle Robert thought about the private the Lord was actually using her father’s thoughts and prayers to to help the private through his battle with cancer. It was NOT just a coincidence that Uncle Robert remembered the private’s name on the very day he discovered the private had died of cancer. The private was finally at peace and Uncle Robert was too….since he remembered the name that had long evaded him.

It would seem that even though it took a lifetime…..the private finally repaid his debt to my uncle.

Uncle Robert is gone now. His family keeps his memory and his military service alive by sending in information to the local paper and submitting items for the church bulletin. Many of the personal details in this piece are taken from a piece of writing my cousins wrote. I want to thank my Aunt Claudine and her children---Tony, Gail, and Rena for allowing me to share Uncle Robert’s story.

Many people including the remaining Timberwolves themselves attempt to keep the brave service to their county out in the forefront with books and websites. The main site for the Timberwolves can be found here. A book called Timberwolves: The Story of the 104th can be ordered here.

A picture of G Company can be found here along with a handwritten note indicating the placement of each man. If the notes are correct Uncle Robert is in the picture to the right and counting from right to left he is the sixth soldier in the second row. The private who Uncle Robert replaced in battle is also in the picture according to the handwritten notes.

You can find out why I’m reposting previous articles HERE.