A Tribute to a Special Veteran

Monday, November 10, 2014

In honor of Veterans' Day, I thought I'd take a moment to tell you about one of the veteran's in my family.  There were a number of them, including my father-in-law, Joe, but like most men who served in WWII, Joe wasn't one to talk about war or what went on during those years.  Some things are best forgotten.  That was true even with my great uncle George.  While he didn't have many stories to tell, he did have hundreds of photos of his "time" in the service, and eventually over the course of his lifetime, some stories did get told.  I'd like to share some of them with you and introduce you this fascinating fellow.


Uncle George was my paternal grandfather's brother.  He was one of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls.  George was the next to youngest, born in 1907 in Cohoes, NY.  George was an athlete. He was a speed skater, a baseball player and until his 80's he was a great, award-winning golfer.  Like most at that time, Uncle George left school after 8th grade to go to work to help support the family.  In his mid-late twenties, he began to date Harriet Phoebe Campbell.  Harriet would become the love of George's life and would remain so for 64 1/2 yrs until his death in 2000.
1933
 
Their wedding day - 1936
George and Harriet eloped in 1936, but kept their marriage a secret for several months while they continued to live home and help support their families.  Eventually, they of course went on their own but their love story would have a difficult chapter ahead.   In June 1943 George, then 35, got drafted into the Army to serve in WWII.  He spent the next three years in the So. Pacific serving in what was referred to as the Pacific Theater.  Harriet had a good job with the State, so she kept busy working, maintaining their apartment and writing to George - every day for 3 years.  She used to proudly tell me how she never missed a day.  She'd wake up in the morning and there'd be ink stains on her sheets because she'd fallen asleep while writing to George. They would send each other photos - on the back of which were written little love notes to the other.
The men in George's unit used to tell George that he should be out there in front, since he was 'old' and had already lived his life!   I guess at 35, he was the old man to many of the kids stationed with him.  Thankfully, the war ended and George returned home safely.  He kept in touch with his army buddies and attended a reunion every year to reconnect with those 'brothers' until he was too old to make the trip.
Although George never talked much about those times, Aunt Harriet loved to tell me stories during the five years I was her caretaker.  She told of the time she sent George and his buddies a bottle of liquor.  Naturally that was against the rules....even every photo is stamped with a stamp of approval that it had been inspected and approved for mailing.....so Harriet got the idea to hollow out a loaf of Italian bread and hid the bottle inside of it.  When the bread arrived everyone wondered why a loaf of bread was so heavy!  George's buddies knew and I'm pretty sure it was the best bread they ever tasted.
Speaking of bread, the one story George did tell was about his ritual of holding his toast up to the light every morning before he ate it.  Some days he'd then scrape the toast a little before consuming it.   One day one of the newer, younger soldiers noticed this ritual and asked George what he was doing.   George responded, "you don't want to know."   The man pursued and eventually George explained that sometimes the toast might be harboring a cockroach or two - that was what George was scraping off.  The young man responded, "I thought those were raisins".   I'm thinking the young man may have been less interested in toast after that.
When Uncle George was under the care of Hospice, his chaplain, Joel, would visit and play his guitar for George.  He somehow got George to tell stories about the war.  George told Joel many stories, and one of them was about the raisin pie that they served while he was overseas.  Not long after, Joel showed up for his weekly visit - with a raisin pie he'd made for Uncle George!  Joel loved George....everyone loved George, no one more than Harriet though.
The soldiers moved from island to island in the So. Pacific.  At times, George wasn't allowed to disclose where they were.  Knowing how anxious that might have made Harriet - not knowing her husband's whereabouts - George sent Harriet a little shell from the ocean.  When it arrived, Harriet loved it, of course, because it was from George.  Upon further inspection though, inside the shell she noticed a sliver of paper peeking out.  When she used tweezers to pull it out - written on the paper was the name of the island where George was now located.  Harriet quickly pulled out her map but could not find the island.  The next day she went to the store and purchased a more detailed map and finally then she found the island.   Those surprises, letters and photos got them both through what was a very tough time but thankfully, unlike many, he made it out without harm.

George was a quiet man, soft spoken and kind hearted.  He went to work for the Watervliet Arsenal upon returning from war and worked there until he retired.  I feel so lucky to have the photos they both took, with their notes on the back of most of them, which really serve to illustrate their lives during that difficult time.  Unlike so many, George was able to pick life up where he'd left off and go on to enjoy many more happy years....until the age of 92.  On this Veterans' Day, let us all remember those who have served our country and protected us and our freedom.  They have given the greatest gift.




Uncle George (r) with Leo Durocher, his first cousin, and George's brother, Henry (l) when Leo was manager for the Houston Astro's.







          Uncle George with his nephew, my dad, showing 
off their uniforms.  My dad graduated from
 Christian Brothers' Academy.



George - the Speed Skater
George and his Sweetheart













Rest in Peace Uncle George.

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3 Comments »

3 Responses to “A Tribute to a Special Veteran”

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you Corinne! This was a love story that begged to be told! Thanks for the read!

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