My Dad’s Story from the War
By Howard Hammerman
Prior to the second world war my father worked as a postal clerk in New York City. My parents married in July 1940. Before I was born in January 1943, my dad was drafted. He shipped to England, when I was three months old.
In England my dad worked in the army post office. He would have spent the war in that safe post except for the fact that he got into a fight with his commanding Sargent. He was demoted and assigned to an infantry battalion.
He landed in France a few months after D-Day and was part of the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944 to January 1945).
Here is the way he described it.
“It was cold. Most of the time we dug trenches and waited for orders. I think I shot my rifle once or twice into the darkness. I don’t think I hit anyone. Whenever the order came to move up, we would look for a tank and climb on board. That kept our feet dry and saved a few steps.
Right after New Year’s Day, somewhere in that cold wet forest we got the usual order. Eight of us climbed on top of a tank and settled in for what we thought would be a short ride. Six of my buddies got on the right side. My friend Ted and I got on the left.
All around us other tanks were advancing. Behind us, our artillery was firing. The noise was overwhelming.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, a German shell landed just a few yards to the right of the tank. The tank exploded. For a moment it looked like a mechanical drawing of a machine with each of the parts separated from the part next to it. I was thrown into the air and land on the remains of a tree, a large splinter pierced my left calf.
The six men riding on the right were blown to piece. The crew inside the tank were all dead. Besides the splinter in my leg, shrapnel, either from the shell or the tank had blown my right shoulder open. Ted was unhurt. He pulled me away before the shells inside the tank cooked off and exploded.
Ted carried me to a medical tent. There, the doctors removed some the shrapnel and pulled the wood from my leg. I was transferred to a field hospital and later, once an infection set into, to a real hospital in Paris. That was the end of my participation in the war.”
The infection that started on the battlefield led to a high fever. The medical team in France couldn’t find a way to bring it down. My dad was transferred back to England where, after six weeks, the fever finally broke. The high fever lead to Parkinson’s disease which killed him at age 69.
I first met my father in 1945 when he returned to the US. I had no idea who the strange man was and why he was sleeping in the same bed with my mother. My brother was born two years after that. My parents named him Ted.
A few years before he died in 1985, my dad, disabled by his disease told me the story I quoted above. We were at my brother’s house, sitting the back yard the day before Thanksgiving.
After the story he was quiet for a while and then said, “There was no reason why I chose the left side of that tank. Maybe I was first, maybe I was last, I can’t remember. Yet I’m here because that is what I did.”
“What did you learn from that?” I asked.
“You never know what will happen next. Take advantage of what you have now. Be good to your friends.”
An American flag covered his casket after he died.