A guest Memorial Day post by COL (Ret) Jack Tobin, USSF.
© 2012 Jack Tobin. Used by permission.
Yesterday, I sat beside my uncle Richard, once a big man, with a ready laugh, a humble man who loved his family, his country and the Army, in that order. No, Richard was not a retired soldier, or a Medal of Honor winner; he only spent four years in the Army: January 1942 – December 1945. One of the first to enlist after Pearl Harbor, a nineteen year old skilled mechanic, the Army wanted him to be a mechanic, for once recognizing a usable skill. But Richard would have none of it, and went Infantry, and then one of the first to be in armored infantry.
Richard and his half tracks — he was a squad leader and then platoon sergeant — went all through North Africa, Sicily, and then on to England and to France/ His unit was one of Patton’s first and best. In fact, behind the first tanks into Bastogne was a beat up halftrack with “Diamond Lil IV” on its side, named for my Aunt Lillian, then the fiancée he left behind. He survived that war, came home, married Diamond Lil, and raised three kids; worked for forty years at Goodyear, and retired to Florida.
He is now a frail man, very close to death, on oxygen. I could only spend a few hours with him, but as we exchanged war stories, at Lil’s request I emptied the cigar box she had taken from his dresser, and arranged the ribbons and badges on a pillow: his Silver Star, his Bronze Star, the Purple Heart with three clusters (he waived going home when offered after the third award), the CIB, the campaign ribbons, and marksmanship badges: the expert for his favorite weapon, the BAR, and the others.
Those ribbons will be on top of the 48 star flag he carried when he left Conshocken, PA, and brought home with him. He flew it every year on May 8.VE day. Yesterday, he told Lil. “Send the flag to Jackie when I don’t need it anymore.”
As I left, he called out “Jackie” I turned and with great effort he rose on his elbow and saluted, as I returned his salute, he laid back and said with much effort “thanks for coming, Colonel”.
One day soon, maybe tomorrow, America will lose one more soldier, and we all will be a little poorer for the passing.
Didn’t mean to bore anyone, I apologize if I did, but all the way home I thought about this, and finally realized that you should know this man died, beside his family.
Don’t mourn him, for his old boss, GEN George Patton said it best: “It is foolish and wrong to mourn these men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.”
Years ago over a beer, he told me that just about all his guys were gone, and when he got to where he was going, he hoped there was a halftrack for them to get around in. I do too. -Tobin.