My Dad During World War II
On Saturday, April 15, 2000, my Dad got up early in Enterprise, Alabama and drove to our house in Montgomery, Al. and arrived by 8:30 in the morning. He had arranged for someone to stay with my Mom while he came. She was unable to stay alone since she had a stroke in 1998 that left her partially paralyzed on her left side. The purpose of the trip was to meet with members of the First Infantry Division (Alabama).
My son, Jeffery, had developed a very nice website on the internet using information that I had written concerning my Dads' exploits during WWII. In doing research on the internet, I came across the website of the First Infantry Division (Alabama) and my son sent an e-mail to one of the members since their e-mail address and mailing address was on the internet. He told them that they might be interested in the website about my Dad (his grandfather).
Barry Spink was the founder of the First Infantry Division (Alabama) and he was the one that Jeffery contacted by e-mail. Barry read the site that Jeffery had developed and sent a nice comment on his guest book section regarding the site. Barry's site was also about the First Infantry Division and their goal was to acknowledge the contributions made by members of the First Infantry Division, the Big Red One, particularly those members during WWII. They perform various ceremonies and presentations at schools, military functions, veteran's events, etc. in authentic uniforms and using equipment exactly like that used during WWII. Their internet site was developed by another talented member of their unit, Warren Whitby III, and it illustrates vividly their most thoughtful and sincere goals of honoring the members of the "Big Red One" while there are still members around.
Barry and Warren arrived at my house shortly before 9:00 that morning wearing their authentic uniforms from the WWII period. Barry was wearing a back pack with canteen and knife as well as wearing the battle helmet. The knife was an original knife that could be attached to the carbine rifle which he also brought for the meeting. I was surprised how heavy the original rifle was that they had to use during the war. They listened attentively to my Dad for almost two hours soaking in every word he had to say about his experiences in the Big Red One from North Africa, through Sicily, England, D-Day and then through Europe occasionally asking questions as he reviewed his exploits. More than once, my Dad made the statement that he was not brave and that he was just doing his job.
Finally, they stood up and said they had something for my Dad. Barry proceeded to present my Dad with a plaque with a certificate of appreciation for his service and also making him an honorary member of their First Infantry Division (Alabama). Their words were so eloquently delivered and sincerely presented that my wife stated that she almost cried with the extent of their thoughtfulness. Words can not describe the feelings of myself and my family as to how appreciative we are for the efforts Barry, Warren, and their unit go to in order to honor my Dad and the other members of the First Infantry Division who fought and served our country at this pivotal point in our history. The time they spend and the expense that they go to is hard to fathom as so many people today are so self-absorbed and so totally concerned with their own interests. This was a totally refreshening moment to see men so dedicated to performing these acts of honoring others.
The plaque quotation is as follows:
Let it be known that by serving our country during a time of its greatest national peril
is hereby made an honorary member of the 1st Division (Alabama). The members of the 1st Division (Alabama) humbly accords you all our respect, admiration, and grateful thanks for your sacrifices during World War II. Given this 15th day of April two thousand.
Barry L. Spink, Commander
Warren was also very helpful in another matter concerning the German Broomhandle Mauser that my Dad had given me previously. I was concerned about having the gun in my house without knowing whether it was loaded or not. Neither myself nor my Dad remembered how to load and unload the gun and yet, Warren was familiar with it. As a matter of fact, he stated that he had one himself. He showed me how to check the pistol and we found that in fact, the gun was loaded. It did contain two bullets and therefore, would have been a deadly weapon if you had not known how to handle it safely. He also made the comment that the gun would be worth $2,000 to a collector, but of course more than that in sentimental value.
My Dad also told of some experiences that I had not heard previously. He told of a time he and Dietz, his assistant driver, were in their wrecker on the road and it was dusky dark. He stated that they saw a tank turn into the road ahead of them and they did not know if it was American or German. About the time they turned, the engine backfired and my Dad told Dietz that they would be hit, thinking they had been fired at. It turned out the tank was an American tank and it had actually turned away from them moving away. This was a definite relief to them as they continued their mission.
Another mission was related by my Dad that he said was one of the most gruesome things he had to do during the war. A half-track was blocking the road and it had to be moved. An American GI apparently had jumped under the vehicle for protection, but was killed in the process. The Lieutenent told my Dad, the vehicle had to be moved; therefore, he and Dietz went to pull the body from under the half-track. When they pulled on the legs of the GI, his boots came off with parts of the skin and it was obvious the body was badly decomposed. The Lieutenent told my Dad, the vehicle had to be moved and so he pulled it out of the way with the body still under it. My Dad said this was one of the hardest if not the hardest things he had to do during the war.
Another thing I learned from listening to Barry, Warren, and my Dad was concerning the Remagen Bridge in Germany. My Dad had previously mentioned crossing the bridge and picking up a weapons carrier and coming back across a pontoon bridge. I didn't realize until talking to them that this was because the Remagen Bridge was too narrow. It was, therefore, used one way going into Germany and the return trip had to be one way going out of Germany on the pontoon bridge.
My Dad also related about something that happened shortly after D-Day. He stated that they had his wrecker and another wrecker driven by Booth. He said he went to the left and Booth went to the right, clearing vehicles from the area. He finished his clearing before Booth and when he returned, a Frenchman came out from a nearby farm with a bottle of wine and some glasses. The farmer said, Vino! Vino! to my Dad and my Dad indicated for the farmer to try the wine first, which he did. My Dad then told the farmer to pour him some and by the time Booth returned from his mission, my Dad said he was feeling no pain, so to speak.
I received an e-mail from my sister, Susan Breed, in Enterprise, Alabama. She lives very close to my parents and she stated that my Dad did nothing, but talk about his meeting with the First Infantry Division (Alabama). She also helped him place the plaque on the wall along with other souvenirs from various sources.
Barry asked my Dad if he knew any generals during the war and my Dad did describe a General Huebener. He told about him being a General that required strict rules of conduct. A half-track was dug into a pit at a specific location after D-Day. He said that according to Huebeners' strict rules, he had to go to the position on two different occasions within a month's time and change the oil in the half-track even though it had not been moved.
He also related his story about General George S. Patton as related earlier. He told them how many of the soldiers did not like the General. A website was found on the internet that referred to Patton's speech given to the soldiers of his Third Army before D-Day on June 5, 1944. At two places in the "Speech to the Third Army", he did refer to units, such as my Dad's during this period and how they had performed previously in North Africa and Sicily. He made the statement that "every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us going." Also, later in the speech he talked specifically about units such as my Dad's in North Africa when he said, "And you should have seen those trucks on the road in Tunisia. Those trucks were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-bitching roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts. Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. These men weren't combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it and one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable."
I went down to Enterprise, Alabama to my parents home for Mother's Day on May 13, 2000. I noticed that my Dad had placed his WWII souvenirs including the plaque from the 1st Infantry Division (Alabama) on his den wall. He had also placed on the wall a commemorative cup with the 1st Infantry Division and the Big Red One inscribed on the side as well as a Big Red One shoulder patch. These were given to him this year for a birthday present. He seemed to be so very proud of the items and proud to have them on display.
I called Barry Spink to again thank him for his presentation as requested by my Dad. Barry then told me more about the upcoming opening of the D-Day Museum in New Orleans on June 6, 2000. He stated that many well-known people would be attending the event, including Steven Spielberg (Director of "Saving Private Ryan"), Tom Hanks (an actor starring in "Saving Private Ryan"), Tom Brokaw (NBC News Anchor), and Stephen Ambrose (author of many books on World War II, such as "Citizen Soldier" and "D-Day"). Steven Ambrose was the founder of the D-Day Museum and had been working on the idea of a museum for twenty years. He had accumulated a tremendous amount of artifacts from the D-Day era, as a result of conducting all his interviews for his book research. These items had been given to him by many veterans of the D-Day period. Mr. Ambrose decided upon the idea of a museum to reveal to the public these items and tell the true stories of this time in history when the whole world was changed by this one event.
New Orleans was selected as the location because of a man named Andrew Jackson Higgins who was from New Orleans. He had developed a boat for the military that could transport approximately 32 men to the shore for the invasions. His company built the boats by the thousands in WWII and helped determine the tactics used in all invasions at the time. An exact replica of the original "Higgins Boat" was built and commissioned for the display in the museum.
I talked to Barry Spink on June 19, 2000 about his trip to New Orleans for the opening of the D-Day Museum. He stated that they put them to work as soon as they arrived for the event. A park was used for the re-enactment celebrations. A large volley ball court was used and a replica of the Omaha beach was built with tank traps, barbed wire, machine gun nests, etc. added. Many battles were demonstrated during the week and demonstrations provided for the audiences. Parades were also presented many times and the public was very receptive to the efforts of everyone. One parade was shown on the news and a truck was shown with a sign on the side for the 1st Infantry Division. According to Barry his unit was marching immediately in front of this truck which was carrying several veterans from WWII who were also attending the celebrations. Barry said the trip was very enjoyable as they remained in New Orleans for almost a week. Barry asked about my Dad as to what he was doing since he met him in Montgomery.
I talked to my Dad on June 20, 2000 about these events and also about his attempts to gain admission to an assisted living facility in Elba, Alabama called Taylor Mill Oaks. He called to let me know about the "Coffee County Adult Day Care" that he had checked out and the fact that he had enrolled my Mom for three days a week on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday. They would then go to the Senior Citizen Center on Tuesday and Friday as they were currently going. My Dad stated that this would free him up to perform things that he was unable to accomplish due to having to constantly watch her, since her stroke in 1998. Normally, the charge for the service was $18 per day; however, since they live off Social Security only, they were able to have Medicare pay for the facility for my Mom. He had decided that he would not like the assisted living facility after all, even if the VA would pay for him and part of my Mom. He stated that they would try this for a while and remain in their house as long as possible.
Following several years of struggles taking care of my Mom and himself, my Dad decided they would enter the nursing home. This was very complicated to get them approved for Medicaid and they had to dispose of all their property to become qualified. Thanks to much hard work by my sister and her family, particularly my niece Becky they were finally approved. My Dad and Mom lived in the Elba Nursing Home in Elba, Alabama until he went to be with the Lord on July 26, 2003. He raised three kids and through a life of extremely hard work he taught us a work ethic that has led to each having successful careers. He was always a shining example of love for each of us kids and would always strive to help us in any way he could. All six parts have been written with much love and appreciation to my Dad and Mom for all they have done for me throughout my life.
Special Note: These stories concerning my Dad are also dedicated to my niece, Becky Adams and her two kids, Austin and Miranda, who went to be with the Lord as a result of a traffic accident on 2-25-04. My Dad all his life did love to go camping, many times with my Mom and Becky. Also, Becky was so loving and consoling to the entire family particularly sitting by my Mom at my Dad's funeral. It is this writer's hope that my Dad, Becky and the kids are having a great time camping with the Lord in his ultimate, celestial "campground". As stated in Romans 12 we should "Rejoice in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer".
Charles E. Crosby
Special Thanks: This writer would most importantly like to thank my Son, Jeff, for his many hours of research, graphic design, and special coding techniques, essential to make this site possible. His many hours of work day and night are so deeply appreciated. I was extremely disappointed when we lost the original site; however, he has restored it to an even better one than before. Thanks again!! -Dad