Guardians of The Story Number Five

Private William Mark Flanders circa 1942 after ‘Boot Camp’ at Fort Riley.

World War Two was 85 years ago. That historical event is documented with a plethora of photos and films. Even with the visuals, it seems like an awfully long time ago. We lose a precious perspective if we forget historic realities were…personal. They really happened and people lived and died through them. I have come to the age when I realized, those participants were, my Mom and Dad.

In 1941 the US was woefully unprepared to enter into a world war. The newly inaugurated conscription caught my Dad and sent him to Fort Riley Kansas for training in the Cavalry. In those days, believe it or not, the Cavalry consisted of…horses. So, Dad learned to fight on a horse. As soon as he completed basic the Army was ready to utilize a new weapon: the tank. So Dad was ordered to go back to Fort Riley and do basic training all over, this time with a tank.

Through a number of circumstances, just before being drafted, my Dad met a girl when he was traveling through South Dakota with the Civilian Conservation Corp. Who knows what attracted that young man and that High School girl to each other, reckon it was…personal.

Soldiers were being shipped out to places they had never heard of. If you were in the ‘Cav, you went to Europe to fight the Nazis. If you had a girlfriend you did what thousands did and eloped to get married. This is the only ‘official’ wedding photo of my Mom and Dad in Napoleon Ohio. (In Ohio you didn’t need a blood test or a waiting period.)
Before departure from the ‘States’ my Dad received more training to be a medic.
I would imagine it didn’t feel like a long time before my Dad was on a transport ship heading across the Atlantic Ocean to death and destruction in Europe – wondering if he could handle what lie ahead and wondering if his new bride would be ok. Similar to thousands of other GIs, Dad faced a world at war. It was not a simple event in a history book. It was personal. It was real, day to day, stuff, just figuring out how to get through each moment.
Bottom left: the patch from my Dad’s uniform. Bottom right: his medic arm band. Meanwhile at home Mom needed a ration book to purchase anything during the war.
Dad didn’t talk much about what he saw and experienced while in the war. I have thought about that often. Maybe it wasn’t fair of me to expect that he would tell his son war stories. Why would he want to revisit, even in what I thought would be a benign way, the death and destruction he saw everyday. I know at some point he did have a camera because a few photos ended up in the scrapbook my Mom created.
My Mom would scour the newspaper to find any news about where her new husband might be. She found jobs where she could to earn a little bit of money for her ‘nest egg’. All the time scared she may never see her husband again.
Dad worked hard and was good at what he did. He was promoted to an E 5, which was sergeant. When Bill Flanders showed up you knew you were going to receive top notch care.

The US came up with the idea that if a service person had been overseas for so many years and the war effort was winding down, an individual had ‘earned’ some time back home. So, a much skinnier Bill Flanders showed up in Ann Arbor to say ‘Howdy’ to his bride.

I always thought it was interesting that five years after all of those furlough visits the government had not planned for the explosion in kindergarten enrollment.

My Dad went back to Europe for the end of the active fighting. He saw first hand the destruction of a continent. He witnessed the closing and evacuation of concentration camps in Poland and other countries. He saw the kids who were now orphans running around playing next to bombed out tanks and jeeps. He saw German soldiers broken by a government who had lied to them.

It has taken me weeks to look through old photos and think about what to write about my Dad and Mom during WWII. I must admit that it was a visceral experience to see photos and think into what it must have been like. I don’t know if I could have gotten through minute by minute wondering if I would be killed. Or scared to see an Army vehicle pull up to your house and a Chaplain and one other officer walk to your door. How did Dad and Mom do it?

I’ve only caught a glimpse into how it was possible to come through an extreme situation. You had to have your buddies. I saw it at Veterans Of Foreign Wars meetings. They didn’t talk about the war much. There were simple knowing glances and occasional slaps on the back when your friend was down. And I am convinced, more than ever, that my Mom and Dad loved each other with a love that a world at war could not break.

One response to “Guardians of The Story Number Five”

  1. Well put, Gary. Our parents’ stories had
    many similarities.


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