Wednesday, November 11, 2009
my grandfather, johnny thomas poole, was an accountant; he was married to my grandmother for over fifty years; he had three daughters; and he was a veteran. he served in the united states army during world war ii. he was stationed france. until his death in 2004, this was about all we knew of his service.
he was the kind of guy who did not really talk much about it. he had a couple of stock stories that he would tell when pressed, but even these were not elaborate or detailed. they were sorta little vignettes really.
one was about staying in a private house where the women who cooked for them did not speak english. apparently when the soldiers requested pancakes and sausage for breakfast, they ended up with what sounds like some version of pigs-in-a-blanket (for a man who would not eat lasagna – “cain’t stand that EYE- talian food”, but would scarf it down if it were served as “hamburger pie,” this is no small detail).
another story johnny would refer to took place around the railroad yard where he was in charge of the organization of military equipment as it came off the boats and was being loaded on railroad cars to be dispersed to units around europe. one day the yard was being bombed, and johnny dove under a railroad car for cover and dislocated his shoulder of his tennis arm. until the end of his tennis playing years (which was in his seventies), whenever he would lose a tennis game (which was not often), he would blame it on his bum shoulder. the part of the story he always highlighted was the fact that he did not realize until the bombing was over that the car he dove under was an oil tanker that would have exploded and killed him had it been hit.
that was pretty much it as far as johnny’s firsthand narrative of his time in the service. occasionally, a new time life type book on wwii would appear on the book shelf. and occasionally, i’d find a picture in said book with a building circled and some marginalia scrawled in granddad’s hand – typically a date and a brief note like: “we stayed in this building for a week” or “this hotel had clean sheets.” stuff like that.
imagine the family’s surprise upon his death in 2004 when we were going through his paperwork and found his discharge papers. my granddad - the mild mannered accountant, father or three, grandfather of seven, sunday school teacher - the one who never talked about the war, was the recipient of not one, but two bronze stars. no one in the family had ever even heard about the medals let alone ever seen them. despite a little bit of digging, we have not been able to find out much about why johnny was twice awarded the bronze star. we have been able to find out that johnny was involved in the battle of the bulge, the single largest and bloodiest battle american troops experienced in this war .
it’s been five veterans’ days since i’ve been able to call johnny up and thank him for his service.
so – to all the johnnies out there – those who came before my grandfather and those who served after – thank you for what you do for us. and thank you for how you do it.
we sleep safe in our own beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.