Gas Pains

Tom grew up in Milwaukee, bartended in Wauwatosa in the '70s and moved here in 1984.

Commentary, observations and musings about the outdoors, life in general and maybe Tosa politics and personalities will be the order of the day. He savors a lively debate as much as terrific cooking.

Small War Memorial

Memorial Day, Normandy Invasion, 9th Infantry Division, If Only The Dead Could Talk

The notebook is only two and a quarter by four inches in size.  On the cover is the following: 






Always Ready on Every Front

And at the bottom in the cramped handwriting of a twenty year-old GI - Pfc. Howard H. Gaertner

Most of my regular readers know that my pop landed at Utah Beach in Normandy France as an infantry replacement.  He was a machine gunner and he survived the battle of the hedgerows, the breakout, the dash with Patton's armor across northern France.  The 9th Division was the first allied unit to liberate Belgium.  And my pop was wounded by German mortar fire in the Meuse River crossing in September 1944.  For dad the war was over.

Dog-eared and water-stained with the fabric binding fraying it looks like my discovery went through the war.  No kidding.  It did go through the war.  And it has occurred to me that something as mundane and nondescript has rather slim odds of surviving to the present day.  Having done so it probably belongs in a museum or an archive of some sort.

I discovered this little time capsule cleaning out some of my late dad's files last winter  Most likely every last person whose name is enclosed in this tiny notebook is dead.  And while it cannot literally speak to me it is a medium through which I think the dead can communicate.  Between you and me if only the dead could talk there wouldn't be so much guesswork involved.

Not surprisingly there are addresses contained herein.  Most from Milwaukee but four from Wauwatosa.  Stickney, Harwood, Beverly and North Avenue addresses to be exact.  There are also APO addresses for dad's closest Cathedral High School pals who were drafted and scattered to the European and Pacific theaters of operation.  There are a couple of addresses for those of the feminine persuasion too.  Girlfriends?  I can only speculate.  Imagine the content of letters home that were mailed to the listed addressees.

In dad's neat handwriting are directions to Paris locales - including Metro instructions.

I do know that dad had a furlough in Paris after he was released from a British hospital and sent back to continent Europe.

The most valuable section of the paper time capsule happens to be pages of names and addresses from all locales across the USA.

My guess is these are his buddies.  They're not in dad's hand so perhaps it was pass the notebook around and everyone enters their name and address?  No phone numbers are listed. The ZIP Code wasn't invented yet.  I wonder what became of these young men?  GIs in a foreign land.  Did they return home alive?  Go to college on the GI Bill?  Marry and raise a family?  Experience the joy of grandchildren? If only the dead could talk.

My pop's unit suffered horrific casualty rates.  His combat experience didn't last four months before he was wounded and out of action.  He wasn't killed which makes him a lucky one.  Many of his compadres were not so lucky.  I was reminded of this a couple of years ago when I visited the American Cemetery in Normandy overlooking the Omaha beachhead.

Today is Memorial Day.  The day we remember those who have died in the service of our country.  It's not just a day to grill-out and tip back a frosty beer.  This recently discovered piece of history is in its own way a war memorial - albiet small.  And I am reminded of those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

Hope you do too...

American Cemetery - Omaha Beach

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