Chesterton Tribune

Two veterans remember

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By KEVIN NEVERS

Quincy, Ill., on the Mississippi River, Christmas Eve Eve, 1943: An old man—an old soldier—sick in body, envious perhaps of the youth of the boys being called to service, recalls his own youth in the West, puts pencil to paper, writes a letter to a lad himself weeks away from active duty.

while laying in bed my Thoughts brough me back to old Scouting Days of 50 years a go Them were the happy days when I would receive orders from General Custer to out and get the lay of the land and find out what Sitting Bull and his tribe where doing

And the old man spins a tale for a young man probably in need of a good one.

* * *

Chesterton, three days ago: An old man—also an old soldier—sits in his kitchen and recalls that letter and the family friend who wrote it.

“Old Bill Gallagher, he was a hod carrier for bricklayers on the Chicago Lakefront. And he was a professional boxer. I don’t think he ever made much money but he got in a lot of fights. He died with a bullet near his heart. Too close to be removed in those days. Bill and my grandfather, Jim Nicoll, fought in the Spanish-American War together. When the Maine exploded in the Havana harbor, Old Bill swam out to it and took the flag. My family had that flag for years. Don’t know what happened to it.”

And Paul Martin tells his own story.

* * *

Well one dark and Stormy night my Self and Mickey The Goose took a Ride to Timber weed park just as you enter the foot hills in South Dakota we came upon a Band of Sioux Indians mickey was a bout to gut shoot an old man a fraid of his horse but I had to stay him as the Sioux Indians out numbered us 20 to one

* * *

Martin—working as a draftsman at U.S. Steel’s armor plate mill in Gary—had received two six-month deferments before the U.S. Army finally took a particular interest in him, in February 1943, and assigned him to Camp Swift in Texas for basic infantry training. There Martin took a U.S. Air Corps entrance exam. “They asked me if I could copy a drawing from a manual on this big blackboard. I said ‘I don’t know but I’ll try.’ There was this box of pastel chalk, every color you could think of. Oh man, Michaelangelo couldn’t have done any better, I don’t think.” Next stop: Amarillo, for more tests and flight simulation. Then on to Alva, Okla., where Martin began to train as a fighter pilot.

But don’t ever make book on your billet in the Army.

“I never got close to any fighter plane. The day before we were to solo, the War Department announced that all who had infantry training were automatically back in the infantry. I was transferred to the 86th Blackhawk Division, Rifle Company E, 324nd Regiment.”

Where Martin was made a truck driver.

And sent to Campu San Luis Obsipo, Calif., to receive amphibious training from the Marine Corps in advance of the expected invasion of mainland Japan.

Learning, as Martin put it, to be “raw meat.”

* * *

I gave orders to Mickey the Goose to leave for the Black Hills and I told him to scout a round while I staid in the foot hills to find out how many Indians where in camp after a few days at waiting for Mickey the Goose to report to me I got tired and pulled stakes me and my old Horse Wing [garbled] well after a few nights ride I landed in the Hills I had to lay low for a day or so hoping to see the goose but But no Goose was in sight So I left my hiding place and scouted a round and Just as I was a bout to give up Mickey the Goose for lost who do you think came a long The one and only one Jim Brigers we sat down at our camp fire and we had a quite a chat of other days gone by

* * *

December 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, Hitler’s last hurrah. With things suddenly dicey on the Western Front, the War Department whipsawed Martin once again. “We were secretly sent to Camp Myles Standish, near Boston, and in February we joined a convoy of 60 ships. German subs were sighted (they said) and depth charges were fired. But none of the convoy was torpedoed.” In March the Blackhawks docked safely in LeHavre.

Later that month the 86th relieved the 8th Infantry Division on the west bank of the Rhine, trading artilery salvos with the Germans on the east bank, until in mid-April—after spearheading the attack on the Ruhr Pocket—the Blackhawks joined Patton’s Third Army in its drive into southern Germany.

Martin droll: “The Blackhawks took their share of casualties.”

* * *

when all of a suddent we heard an awffull out cry for help Bridgers and my self jumped in to the tumble weeds and snaked our way on our hands and knees to where the out cry came from and ye Gods there was poor mickey the goose Striped to the Belly Button tied fast to stake and 2000 Indians a round him doing snake dance before Burning him a live Jim Bridgers and my self where dumfounded and did not know what to do at the moment

* * *

“I drove a truck. I put 7,500 miles on that truck, driving men up to the front and prisoners back to the rear. Then, all of a sudden, the war was over. When we could drive with the lights on, it was such a pleasure. We could see the 500-pound bomb craters we’d been missing. I ended up in Salzburg. Visited Berchtesgaden, saw Hitler’s house. It was pretty nice. I saw Goering’s house too. That’s where I found this statue of a court jester, made of jewels. I took it and I hid it and then some other guy stole it. I never knew who it was but one day I saw some guy on a truck with this court jester between his knees. Would’ve made a nice souvenir.”

* * *

and Just as the Indians where a bout to scalp mickey the goose and burn him a live a long came Buffalo Bill with 3 barrels of Rum whiskey I snaked my way over to where Buffalo Bill was and gave him orders to turn the Barrels loose and let them roal into the Sioux camp and he did

* * *

Martin got whipsawed one last time. “The 86th was the first infantry division sent home. But after a 30-day pass, we were shipped to the Philippines. They told us if the war was over by the time we got there, they’d turn the boat around. They didn’t turn the boat around. Rifle Company E was sent to Corrigidor Island to guard Japanese POWs used to clean the Malinta Tunnel of debris and dead bodies.”

Martin received his discharge in February 1946.

* * *

and when the Indians saw the Tanglefoot they made a bee line for the snake oil and with there tomahawks busted the heads in and drank so freely all we had to do was walk a long and tap them on the [garbled] and free poar mickey the goose on the way Back to our Reservation we meet up with General Custer and he asked us a Bout the lay of the land when I told him I saw Sitting Bull and 4000 of his Braves where on the war path and I advised him not to take to the Hills untill he got more help and What do you think that Brave General did he up and gave orders to his men to fight to the last man

* * *

“Outside of four broken ribs and frost-bitten toes, I’m grateful most friends and myself returned to our proud but worried parents and friends. I saw a lot. I had a good life after too, my wife and I.”

* * *

Gallagher, still sick and failing, wrote two more letters to Martin, in 1944.

The other day I went to the post office and tried to enlist as a pilot but the officer in charge told me I was to old and Said I did not have enough flying hours to my credt I got hot and told him as a Bird in the Guard House for 60 days that ought to be Plenty of Hours and with a smile he said I will write to the President and see to it with out fail that you receive the medal of honor for being the first old american with two legs in the grave that tried to enlist and take to the air So as a veteran of the Spanish and World Wor No 1 I am verry sorry I am so old that I cannot serve my contry in the Battle of all wars

 

Posted 11/11/2010