How World War II impacted my uncles


Opinion: Columns

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John Stanger

Both of my uncles enlisted in the army in January, 1942. They were both in their early 30s, and my grandparents were not pleased, but my uncles felt it was their duty to serve.

When Gene completed basic training, he and his outfit shipped off to North Africa where they fought both the Vichy French and the Germans.

Gene told me he would always remember the beautiful pastel colors of the buildings in French North Africa. He said the buildings shone when struck by the sun.

After North Africa, Gene and his outfit were shipped to Sicily and next to France. He told me two stories of when he was in France.

One day when his outfit was marching on a road in the French countryside, his commanding officer ordered the men to hit the dirt because he saw a machine gun protruding from an upper barn window.

The machine gunner opened fire, and one of Gene's fellow soldiers threw a hand grenade that hit the roof of the barn and exploded.

The machine gunner jumped from the window, broke his leg and surrendered, as did two other German soldiers. Gene spoke German, so he was able to interrogate the prisoners.

Many of the German officers spoke English to some degree, but he was really surprised when one of the officers spoke with a Boston accent. The prisoner said he had lived in Boston for many years before the war, and when he visited Germany in 1939, he was drafted. Gene believed the soldier was an infiltrator, so he turned him over to the military police.

After basic training, my uncle Hubert was shipped first to Australia and then to India. He also told of a couple of incidents.

While he was stationed in India, he saw a mongoose fighting a cobra on the edge of the airfield where he was stationed. The airfield was subject to continual air raids by Japanese planes, he related, and when these planes were overhead, the American, British and Indian gunners kept up a steady and devastating fire until the bombers retreated. The gunners fired from open, unprotected emplacements

Hubert was next sent to the Pacific Theater where he participated in three offensive landings. His last stop as a soldier was Saipan where a Japanese sniper's bullet just missed his head.

My grandmother had a photo of Hubert guarding the Enola Gay a few days before this plane dropped an atomic bomb on Japan.

Both Gene and Hubert returned to the United States shortly before Christmas, 1945. They returned to their jobs and came to live with us in 1949.

Hubert married in 1951 and moved to Rogers Park, but Gene lived with us until his death in 1961.

My mother told me that before the war, her brothers were happy-go-lucky guys.

I knew them as serious-minded, quiet men.

They were kind to me, played ball with me and took me places, but once in a while, they would sit and stare straight ahead, and my grandfather told me that they were replaying scenes in their minds that no person should ever see.

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