National Flag Week is June 11-17 this year. On sunny days, our flags seem to send a message that we are strong as a country and in spite of the ills that befall us, we will survive and do so with honor.
Humor is one of the tools that our military men and women use to handle their jobs on mundane days and on days when horrific things are likely to occur.
I’d like to share with you some stories told to me by Miami Valley World War II veterans:
• Harry Ashburn, 94, Piqua: “First Live Air Raid”
It was mid-1943, and Ashburn, a corporal at the time, was stationed in a non-combat zone in the New Hebrides. His unit had prepared for an attack by the Japanese by having air raid drills, and all were feeling confident about procedures to follow if this happened.
They were between shifts when the air raid siren went off, and they heard “Boom, boom, boom.” Instructions were to run for the nearest ditch and hug the dirt. The closest was about 100 yards from the dispatch tent where Ashburn was standing. He froze. Others in his unit ran for the ditch. The men were about halfway there when one turned and yelled at him, “For God’s sake, Ash, come on.”
Ashburn unfroze and reports, “I beat all of them to the ditch.” He further indicates, “In an adjoining unit, one guy ran into a tent pole and knocked himself out; another caught his neck on a clothes line and went down. There was a third man who was waiting for a disability discharge from the Army because of a bad back, and he outran every single man in his squad. Turns out the booms were coming from our own planes.”
• Robert Tweed, 96, Troy: “Keep This Train away from Those Damned Russians”
At war’s end, Tweed was responsible for taking a trainload of about 200 displaced persons from St. Johann in Tirol to Wiener Neustadt. His orders were strict, “Do anything necessary to protect that train from the Russians. They are stealing everything that is not nailed down.”
Tweed reports that every time the train stopped, some of the refugees would jump off and disappear. Boxcars disappeared as well. As the train decreased in size down to an engine, two boxcars, and maybe 30 people, Tweed knew he needed to take action, so he moved to the engine with a submachine gun. He reports that even the Russians understood that language.
• Harry Christy, 95, Piqua: “Who Is This Strange Man Kissing My Mother?”
Christy reports , “I took the war seriously. We had a job to do, and we did it and were blessed to be able to return to our families.” It was Dec. 5, 1945, and after having been at the Battle of the Bulge and at POW camp Stalag VII-A where he was responsible for getting the prisoners home at war’s end, Christy arrived in Columbus, Ohio, via train. As he exited the train with his duffel bag, he was tired, half asleep. Christy had not seen his wife, Chrisy, and son, Tom, for a year and a half. When he spied them, he ran, grabbed his wife in a big hug and started kissing her passionately on the mouth. And little Tom, not quite two years old, probably thought, Who is this strange man kissing my mommy?
• Cyril Franz, 97, Versailles: “You Want a Cigarette and Your Name Is What?”
One of Cyril Franz’s roles at war’s end was to guard German prisoners of war. While on duty, Franz was asked for a cigarette by one of the prisoners. In World War II days, the K-rations had food, candy bars, gum, and American cigarettes. The two men tried to communicate, but with little success. Franz’s kept thinking, “This man looks enough like me to be my brother.” As they stood there smoking, they began to play a crazy game of charades. Franz soon learned the name of the German prisoner: Cyril Franz.
• Robert Tweed: “And the Men Under Your Command Did What?”
Tweed and his men were billeted in a French village where they had taken over the house of “a feisty French lady, ancient, bent, and probably didn’t weigh 90 pounds.” The woman — as Tweed puts it in his book entitled “Fifty Years Later or Nostalgia Unlimited” — “raised hell with us for coming into her house with muddy feet. This was the spring thaw, so mud was everywhere.”
The soldiers decided to teach her a little English, and she proudly went to the well for water each day, using her newly acquired skills. They taught her that “bonjour” in English was “bull(expletive)” and that “fermez la porte” in English was “shut the (expletive) door.”
To reinforce her English language skills, the soldiers began greeting her with, “Bull(expletive), Mama.” And she always returned the greeting.
One day, two American girls in a Red Cross truck knocked on the door looking for a place to warm up. Proud of her skills, Mama greeted them with, “Bull(expletive),” then “Shut the (expletive) door.”
Once Mama realized she had been tricked, she hardly spoke to the soldiers. Soon after, they went back into the line.
Close to VE Day, Tweed’s Jeep driver got roaring drunk , slipped on some loose boards serving as a walkway and fell into a cistern filled with manure. Rescued by a Sgt. Wheeler and a Sgt. Stevens, he was dragged to a pond and thrown in. Tweed says, “When my driver got as clean as Wheeler and Stevens thought he was going to get, they took him to a barn on the property, threw a blanket over him and left.”
The driver got up in the middle of the night and began to look for warmer quarters. He wandered into auxiliary housing for farm help where he told Tweed later, “He was invited by a hefty farm helper to join her in her bed. He did and … .”
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.