What did you do in the war, Grandpa?For a class project, I am compiling the individual stories of service members in World War II. This is complicated by the fact, of course, that we have recently...

What did you do in the war, Grandpa?For a class project, I am compiling the individual stories of service members in World War II. This is complicated by the fact, of course, that we have recently lost so many vets from that time period. If you wouldn't mind, share a brief story about your relative's involvement in the war. It will also be helpful if you include their name, rank, branch of service and where they were stationed. Fist name and last initial also works if you prefer. Thanks in advance, and this is for a paper, not for publication, just FYI.
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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Continued from my previous post ...

With everyone still suffering the effects of the spoiled Christmas turkey, two days later they boarded the S. S. Empire Javelin to travel across the English Channel to Le Havre, France on their way to the Battle of the Bulge, which had already begun.  The Germans knew more troops were coming, and they were ready and waiting for the Fifteenth Army.

Master Sergeant John Henel will now and forever say that a cigarette saved his life.  It was nighttime on December 28, 1944.  The S. S. Empire Javelin was scooting calmly across the English Channel.  John went out on deck because he desperately needed a smoke, and the captain wasn’t too keen about him smoking below deck.  Right as he was taking a drag, a German submarine, watching malevolently below the water, torpedoed the S. S. Empire Javelin.  John was thrown from his feet with unspeakable force, not even knowing what hit him.  One moment he was having a smoke and the next he was lying there on the deck, bruised.  All of his buddies, those he fought so hard to remain with, were killed.  Four hundred and seventy were lost when the torpedo hit the hold where the soldiers slept soundly within.  But reality wouldn’t hit until later.  With John’s cigarette thrown far from him with the force of the torpedo, he focused his energy on being rescued.

The rescue effort was led by a fast French warship called a corvette.  The swells of the ocean were stories high as the French corvette was along side the sinking Javelin.  Soldiers jumped from the boat as a swell brought the corvette to the same height as the Javelin.  Many men were crushed between the boats and rescued with broken limbs.  Others fell in the water between the corvette and the Javelin, and drowned.  In twenty minutes time, the crew watched as their ship sank before their eyes.  The German submarine had torpedoed it yet again.

On December 29, 1944 the Fifteenth Army collapsed on “The Beach” at Le Havre, France.  The Red Cross, unaware of the recent tragedy, was a full mile away and the disheartened soldiers, wounded in body and spirit, were made to walk the mile for aid.  Suddenly, in the midst of their mile walk, the troops were startled by German fighter planes flying overhead!  The troops, still sick from the spoiled turkey, hid in the trenches.  Late on that same night they arrived at what they would call “Pneumonia Palace” in Harfleur, France.  From the trenches to this?  An abandoned building with no heat in the dead of winter?  It didn’t matter.  With their bodies dehydrated and shaking, the troops first realized the truth of their situation.  They got down on their knees and prayed.  That’s when it hit them:  that close connection that all soldiers, past and present, share.  The sadness of losing friends in such a devastating blast.  The joy of being alive.

While trying hard to deal with these conflicting feelings, another member of the Fifteenth Army, J. C. Hazen, Jr., immortalized the experience through his original drawings.  Finally, the Fifteenth Army received reinforcements from their counterpart still stationed in the United States.  They were housed elsewhere by those in France and even by the friendliest in Belgium before they found themselves in the Ruhr Pocket in the Battle of the Bulge.  The snow was as high as their waists.  But the Germans were defeated.  And the troops were shipped home where Master Sergeant John Henel was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroic and meritorious achievement and service in combat.

Concluded in the next post ...

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Oh, I am SO excited to share my Grandfather's legacy! Thank you for asking.  I wrote this on a bunch of dinner napkins when visiting my grandfather just a few months before his death.  I am SO glad I did so!  Sorry for the length.  I'll have to split it into a few posts.  Feel free to edit as needed!  Here is his story:

The Tribulation and the Triumph of the Fifteenth Army:

The World War II Account of Master Sergeant John Henel

One wonders whether the men drafted into the Fifteenth Army ever contemplated the significance of the eight ball, for it would be forever considered their symbol.  In the game of pool, the player who inadvertently pockets the eight ball before pocketing the others immediately loses the game.  And if you are “behind the eight ball” in slang terms you are “in a very unfavorable position,” considered to be “incredibly unlucky,” and forever deemed “a loser.”  With that symbol in mind, here follows the story of the Fifteenth Army and the story of my grandfather.


Early in 1944, John Henel was drafted into the First Army.  The first part of his story centers around John’s fight to stay with his buddies through to the Second Army.  He wasn’t even afraid to ask his superior to keep them together.  The result of moving to the Second Army was heaven:  soldiers eating eggs light over easy and falling asleep to the light laughter and music of ladies dancing.  It was from there to the Fourth and then the Eighth Army in which John moved all the way up from private to Master Sergeant:  a noncommissioned officer of high rank in charge of moving troops, food, and shelter.  He was moved around from army to army, a group of approximately one thousand men, until he wound up first in General Patent’s army and then in the Fifteenth Army.


As a Master Sergeant in the Fifteenth Army, John noticed that the snooty, commissioned officers had five full trucks of booze only for their personal “officer’s mess.”  That just wouldn’t do, so John, taking full advantage of his rank as Master Sergeant, moved them and unloaded the “extra” fifth truck in the wine cellar of where he chose his men to stay.  That night, Master Sergeant John Henel had a very brief, but very poignant discussion with his men.  “Every night you will get one bottle of wine with dinner.  Drink it.  Sell it.  Bathe in it.  But if I have one problem with any of you, this little escapade is over!”  Of course, the soldiers never gave him a lick of trouble.  They wanted their wine.


After extensive training in Texas at Fort Sam Houston and New York at Fort Slocum, the soldiers were ready to be deployed to Europe to join the fight.  On November 15, 1944 Master Sergeant John Henel and his men boarded the S. S. Aquatania en route to Scotland with a menu that, again, left the enlisted men wanting.  The officers ate fish while the enlisted men ate baloney.  From there they marched to England and set up the base of the Fifteenth Army.  By November 24, 1944 they were at Doddington Hall in Cheshire England, but by Christmas they had moved their camp to Southampton, England which was affectionately called “Camp Beastly” because of the digestive horror story that ensued.  The entire shipment of Christmas turkey was spoiled.  Every single man was violently vomiting and having diarrhea at the same time both at “Camp Beastly” and on the train to the Southampton dock.  A Christmas present worse than coal.  What a horrible mess!  All of the soldiers stripped down to the bare minimum and threw soiled clothes away.  They kept clothes clean by simply taking them off.

Continued in the next post ...

bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My father, John W. Kelly, served with the IV (4th) Infantry Division ("The Ivy Division") throughout Europe following its arrival at D-Day. He was a corporal (he turned down sergeant's stripes several times, claiming that German sharpshooters targeted sergeants) and served as an infantryman and in service company as a truck driver. He was shot in the back by a sniper during the Battle of the Bulge while he was changing a flat tire on his truck. It just missed his spinal column and left a huge "bulge" in his back. He suffered back pain from the wound throughout his life. The IV Division served under Patton for a time and my father also served under Gen. Teddy Roosevelt Jr., son of the former president and a cousin of FDR, who heroically led his men on the beaches of Normandy despite a severe heart condition. Roosevelt died of a heart attack several weeks later. The IV Division was the first American group to cross the Rhine River and were recognized as one of the hardest fighting infantry groups in the European theatre. My father, who died in 1997, kept up with many of his old comrades via reunions. One of my greatest thrills was returning with him for the 25th anniversary of D-Day in Normandy in 1969 with the IV Division reunion group. The ceremonies on the beaches were memorable, and thousands of French civilians showed up to drive the ex-soldiers wherever they wanted to go. One of my dad's friends had the driver return to the exact spot (in Cherbourg, I believe) where his arm had been shot off. We ended up in a beautiful little cafe, where the driver bought us all the Calvados (an apple brandy my dad fell in love with while a soldier) we could drink.

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My Uncle Walter was in the Korean War. He was born in the 1920s, and died probably eight years ago. He was in the Army, but I cannot give you his rank. I know he was overseas, and I believe he saw action. (I know, too, that my grandmother prayed A LOT.) When he was buried, there was someone there from the military: they played taps and provided a military honor guard, gifting my aunto with an American flag that had covered his casket.

I can tell you also that my husband's father, Frank, was a ball-turret gunner in World War II. This was a horrific assignment. This gunner was "encapsulated" on the belly of the plane (in a clear "pod") with a gun, and it was his job to take out enemy planes. Because it was from this location that the enemy suffered so many losses, it was the first place on the plane they tried to hit. (To get a better idea, you should read the poem, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell. It is short, powerful and enlightening. Go to...  http://homepages.wmich.edu/~cooneys/poems/jarrell.turret.html)

His dad came home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, before they really knew much if anything about it. He self-medicated with alcohol. The experience ruined his life, as he was never able to recover from the effects of sitting in the turret, knowing he was a target. He was just another sad casualty of war, even though he came home: he was "wounded" for life.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My grandfather was Clifford I. Dobler.  He was a Lieutenant (1st Lt by the end of the war) in the Navy.  He was stationed first in Seattle and was lucky enough to spend much of the war there.  He was a lawyer for the Navy while in Seattle and then shipped out on a Liberty Ship towards the end of the war.  He made it as far as Iwo Jima on one voyage (after the fighting was over) and then to the Philippines, where he was when the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  He was lucky enough to never be engaged by any enemy forces and to come away with nothing more than a bit of deafness because of all the gunnery practice.

He had a brother, Gilbert Dobler, whose rank I sadly do not know.  He was in the Navy and survived the sinking of Lexington in the Battle of the Coral Sea.

I would also point out (for my own sake even though it's not really anything to do with your paper) that some of my Filipino relatives were involved in the war.  Two examples: my grandfather was tortured and imprisoned by the Japanese for his alleged (no one knows the truth of the matter) involvement with resistance forces.  He died in 1947 in large part from health problems connected to his treatment.  My granduncle, Macario Revilieza, died on the Bataan Death March.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Continued (and concluded) from the last post ...

Yes, the Fifteenth Army often found itself “behind the eight ball.”  Many soldiers were lost to German torpedoes.  The others were debilitated by sickness.  The Fifteenth Army was constantly under siege by German submarines and planes.  Even Mother Nature’s harsh winter seemed to be against them.  But, one forgets, the Germans lost World War II.  My grandfather returned home.  Hundreds of men had learned the great value of life, the most precious gift of all.  And, of course, my grandfather’s men always had their bottle of wine with dinner.  I ask you, were these men unlucky?  Certainly not.  I leave you with the idea, the inordinate possibility, that the new generation, the children of the late twentieth century, have learned a different meaning behind the eight ball.  They know of a toy called the “Lucky Eight Ball” which, after being shaken, tells a favorable future.  Was that toy inspired by my grandfather’s Fifteenth Army?  Perhaps.  And, for me, the granddaughter of Master Sergeant John Henel, the Fifteenth Army will forever be represented by the newest symbol of serendipity:  the very lucky eight ball.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My father served in the Pacific theater (and brought back a green leather stuffed overly large military chair from no one really knows where why or how...). While there, he was wounded and contracted a fungus that bothered him until his death and for which he was ever after on medication. His wound and the fungus was bad enough that he was sent back to the States and never re-entered action. He would never talk about what he went through. The one story he did tell was that he saw his best friend, who was nineteen (like he was too) and standing beside him, get blown to bits. He said he had never ceased to have nightmares from it. He also said he continued all his life to have moments during which he felt overwhelmed by emotionalism and unable to think rationally: post-war trauma stress syndrome. Of course, he knew about the last because people he was confusing and paining by his sudden inexplicable change in attitudes and statements told him about the changes that came over him, not because he had awareness of them himself.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My grandfather, Jack Albert Dillahunt, was a Major in the Army during World War II, and shipped out from Fort Ord in 1942 as a surgeon with the Medical Corps.  He was stationed in Hawaii for a time, and went ashore at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines with MacArthur's troops (I have a great picture of MacArthur being driven in front of my Grandpa's camera in a sea of mud).  He worked as a surgeon at aid stations and hospitals for the remainder of the war.  We didn't find his diary or learn most of his World War II stories until after his death.  In one entry, he tells of a Japanese air raid on their base in the Philippines.  He heard the siren, heard the engine and the bomb, dove into a foxhole, heard the explosion....and never saw the plane at all.  It was as close to combat experience as he ever came, and he never fired his gun during the whole conflict.

pacorz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My father was born in Budapest, and he served with the Russians in Siberia during WWII. He never talked about the fighting, but sometimes he would tell stories about what Siberia was like in the winter. I remember him saying that when you went outside you had to be careful to breathe through your nose, because the extreme cold would cause your teeth to contract so fast that a tooth with a filling in it would crack.

He also said that in the winter they never shut off the tanks, trucks, or anything that burned diesel, because the fuel would jell in the fuel tanks. He told how once a tank stalled, and they had to coat the outside of the fuel tank and lines with fuel and light it on fire to generate enough heat to thaw the diesel enough to restart the engine.

kiwi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My grandfather, Donald McNaught, worked for ICI (International Chemicals Incorporated) and his job was considered too important for him to enlist in WW2. He went to his grave insisting that he worked on making paint, but talking about it always made him sad and as a family we suspected there was involvement in chemical weapons or chemical defenses. His brother, Arnold McNaught, was captured by the Japanese. He owed his life to the support of the Red Cross, and both of my grandparents devoted all of their time to the charity well into their eighties.

Donald was in the Home Guard, and loved 'Dad's Army' the TV show as he felt it was very reminiscent of his experiences.

literaturenerd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While I do not have anything to share in regards to the posted questions (my family all entered the military after WWII), I would like to state that I love reading about the strong history that the eNotes members and editors share. Not only do all of us have a passion for education, it seems that many of you also share a common bond that would have gone unknown without this post.

Thank you very much "alexkirk" for posting this discussion.

In light of the tenth anniversary of 911, I wish to send out my thanks to all of the men and women who have kept America a free country.

God bless you all and your future.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

My grandfather, who is still alive, laughs about his role in WWII. He was first secretary to the third secretary of Lord Mountbatten in India in the last days of the Raj. His name is John Hathaway. What I always remember his telling me is the way that once the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, suddenly there was no paperwork, as everyone was just waiting for the war to end. I am a Brit, so he worked for the British army.

I am here to say the same as #5...

Although I do have family that served in the war (one was even killed), I don't know all of what they did.

Thank you--anyone who has served in America's wars. Past or Present!

God Bless You!

alexkirk | Student
Thanks for the really good posts everyone! Just what I was looking for and very interesting stories.
frizzyperm | Student

My grandfather, who is still alive, laughs about his role in WWII. He was first secretary to the third secretary of Lord Mountbatten in India in the last days of the Raj. His name is John Hathaway. What I always remember his telling me is the way that once the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, suddenly there was no paperwork, as everyone was just waiting for the war to end. I am a Brit, so he worked for the British army.

He was the chief assistant to the assistant chief. A plum job. ;-)

frizzyperm | Student

My dad was a little boy in London during WWII. His parents were stationed in the Middle East (now Iran) as colonial administrators and he was sent to 50-week boarding school in Wimbledon, London. What he remembers about the war is that boys who had fathers serving in the military were always really scared during school assembly in the morning.


Because at the end of assembly the headmaster would sometimes say, "Jeremy Wittingham (or whoever) please report to the headmasters office straight away." and that boy would have to go to the headmaster to discover that his father had been killed in action. Shockingly, apart from telling the boy that his father was dead, very little was done to help them adjust.

(And he used to listen/watch in terror to the sirens and the dog fights and the bombers in 1941 as Hitler tried to bomb London into surrender. To this day my eighty-two year old father continues to believe that the Germans are a despicable people who you simply can't trust to behave properly. And this evening, three hours ago, he still refused to accept that they are normal people.)

Oh well, they did mess up his childhood.