On Veterans Day, contributing writer Rosie Rebel posts a reminiscence on the life and times of her WWII Veteran grandfather. Through the values he brought to his military service and the experience he took from it, he impacted three generations. Rosie honors his service and what he shared about history’s unfolding with his family.
Below is her account and snip of a voice recording of the family listening to him speak of his D-Day service and experience at Omaha Beach.
“Keep Up the Good Fight”
By Rosie Rebel
This Veteran’s Day, I’d like to spend the day honoring one soldier in particular, my Grandfather. This week marks seven years since his passing. At his funeral, my mother read a passage from the book of Timothy:
“I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I remained faithful.”
It is said that everyone is fighting a great battle. Growing up, as far as I could see, nobody fought for life quite like my Grandfather. Fighting wasn’t something he left on the battlefield. Until his dying day, he fought for his family, for a better country, for a better World, for a for a better life, for his health, and to always improve himself. What greater lesson could be taught by a soldier, to a civilian: No matter how hard it gets, always fight for life. Every human being is faced with incredible obstacles in their lifetime, ones that beat us down so hard that we can either roll over and die, or we give everything we have in us to fight for our lives.
I’ve never seen the battlefield, but surely I’ve lived through battles. For one, I was raised in the middle of a domestic war. There was little time for love, or guidance in my childhood, because all of my parent’s energy was spent on their brutal divorce. It wasn’t until I read a book about war that I could begin to understand my parent’s anger.
In Homer’s Illiad I came to see how Achilles could only follow his anger. When someone is so consumed with anger and pain, there’s no room for reason, or even a rational thought. And aren’t we all guilty of being slaves to our emotions at times?
As it went, the two people who I loved more than anything (my parents) spent every moment adding fuel to the fire, trying to destroy each other. I still remember what it felt like going outside while my parents fought. I was worried that the neighbors would hear things beings smashed, and screams filled with rage echoing from my house.
The only thing that saved me as a little girl, was visiting my Grandparents.
In my entire life, I’ve never seen two human beings love each other more than my Grandparents did. If it weren’t for their example of love during this time, I don’t know what my life would look like now. They showed us what love looked like when it wasn’t being used as a weapon, and how secure it felt having an unbreakable love by our side. Outside our World may have been burning, but at my Grandparents’ we found comfort and refuge. They always had graham crackers, and hot cocoa ready for us. We’d sit in the kitchen, and would talk for hours. We’d curl up in bed with them, and listen to stories about their lives, and how my Grandfather fought in World War II.
They grew up in a much different World. My Grandfather was a first-generation, American citizen born to Puerto Rican immigrants, and was always extremely proud to be an American. A child of the Great Depression, he learned early on in his life, the value of hard work. As a teenager in Brooklyn, he enlisted in FDR’S Civilian Conservation Corps where he spent his days working to build and improve public spaces such as State Parks.
Eager to serve his country during World War II, he dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Army in 1943. After completing basic training, he was on a train heading west, to fight in the Pacific when his unit stopped in Ohio, and his orders changed. This stop in Ohio changed his life. He met, and fell in love with “his other half.” My Grandmother had just left her small, blue-eyed town in Pennsylvania, and was working in Ohio when she saw the first pair of brown eyes she’d ever seen in her life. It was love at first sight.
When she saw him coming towards her, “he took her breath away.” They fell madly in love, but the future was uncertain. On his way to war, my Grandfather told her that he wouldn’t marry her, out of fear that she would become a widow. Their romance was cut short, when he was sent to the British Isles to train for D-Day.
Not even old enough to drink alcohol, my Grandfather arrived in the second wave at Omaha Beach on D-Day. He described the event as pure mayhem; the men around him were shaking, crying, and throwing up. When the doors to the vessel dropped, my grandfather saw that the water was red with blood. They landed under heavy gun-fire. With hardly anything to take cover behind, Allied soldiers were getting gunned down from a nearby concrete pillbox. He survived the Normandy invasion with a back-pack full of bullet holes. While he talked about the war a lot over the years, I have one recording of him talking about the War.
These are the remaining things I know about his time in World War II.
He was in General Patton’s Third Army when the Allied troops liberated France from Germany. After D-Day he joined the Seventh Armored Division. He fought and was surrounded in the Battle of the Bulge. His division helped to drive the Germans back into Germany while taking back the roads and bridges. In Germany, he liberated a concentration camp, where they found emaciated human beings, stripped of their dignity. There they helped to de-louse, and feed survivors of the Holocaust who were too weak to feed themselves.
I have one letter from the Office of the Commanding General that explains how important his division was to the success of World War II:
…You can be proud of the 7th Armored Division as you return to your home or to your new assignment. You can speak with justifiable pride when they ask you with what outfit you fought the war…you came ashore with the Division over the Omaha…you will remember how the 7th Armored spearheaded the Third Army drive across France– how it slammed into Chartres with all guns blazing, forced a crossing of the Seine at Tilly, captured Chateau Theirry, and sped on to drive the Krauts out of Verdun and seize the bridges across the Marne intact, a remarkable advance of 60 miles in 19 hours…Then came Saint Vith (Battle Of The Bulge). If you were there…you will never forget how the 7th Armored hung on to that vital road center for six days…It was then that Eisenhower telegraphed us his personal congratulations…And so V-E Day found us on the shores of the Baltic after traveling 1,959 miles from the Normandy beaches on the English Channel. En route we had taken 113,041 German prisoners besides killing or wounding untold numbers of others. German tanks, vehicles, SP’s and material of all sorts littered many of the roads over which the 7th Armored stormed. It was a magnificent job impossible of accomplishment had not every officer and man performed with courage and determination. Now as you leave the division, I want to express my personal appreciation for what you have done to help make such a glorious record for the 7th…If you should see me in the another theatre of war or after you have returned to civilian life. Please come up and identify yourself because I will never forget or cease to admire the men who served with the fighting 7th Armored.
Robert W. Hasbrouck
Major General, U.S. Army Commanding
To sum up his experiences, or even imagine what he’s been through would be impossible. I know that for the rest of his life, the images of war haunted him in his dreams. He’s even pulled my Grandmother under the bed, yelling that they were going “to strike the area.” On the World War II directory, his time during the War is summed up in two sentences. His record lists that he fought in the following campaigns: Ardennes, Normandy, Central Europe, Rhineland, Northern France and Holland. He was engaged in “continuous battle, day and night, for over 11 months.”
Returning to civilian life, my grandfather continued to fight for a better life. In my Grandmother, he found a life at home worth fighting for. Throughout the war, he carried her picture, letters, along with a cross that protected him. Coming home on the Queen Mary, the soldiers were met with parades on the streets of New York.
One phone call from my Grandfather to say he was home, and my Grandmother packed her suitcase and headed to New York, where the two began their lives together. Until they married, she took a room at the St. George Hotel in Brooklyn, where the two would go dancing to big bands like Benny Goodman. Until they were married, all of their dates were chaperoned by one of my Grandfather’s sisters. They put a fifty cent down payment on my grandmother’s wedding ring, and soon the two were married at City Hall.
My Grandparents didn’t have an easy life together. Both of their mothers did not approve of their marriage. My Grandmother’s mother did not like the fact that my Grandfather was a Hispanic, Catholic, city slicker. While, my Grandfather’s mother disapproved of a white, protestant woman.
During that time, interracial couples were still frowned upon by society. Nevertheless, the two fought for their love, and proved them all wrong. From what I understand, the first place they lived in was overrun with cockroaches. So they moved to New Jersey in hopes of saving enough money to buy a house with the G.I. Bill. But even after fighting in the war, my Grandfather believed that because he was Hispanic, he faced discrimination. When my mother was in high school, he changed his last name to an Anglo Saxon surname, Clarke. My Grandparents worked, and raised three kids, and were finally able to buy a house in the 1970s. A place where my Grandfather hoped his grandkids, would love to come and visit.
Visits with my Grandparents were the best times of my childhood. I cherished our time together, and felt lucky to be a descendant of their love. There I was encouraged, and told to work hard, to go school, and drilled with the importance of having an education, and dreams of a better life. Well into his eighties, my Grandfather kept science and math books around to keep his mind sharp. Long after he retired, he decided that he wanted to finish what he started before the War. He studied to try, and pass his GED test, so that he could finally receive his high school diploma.
Even after having worked his whole life, and having long retired, it was important to him to finish something he started so long ago. Most people wouldn’t bother. But I think his determination so late in life shows you what kind of man he was.
He always fought for a better life. He would tell me the same,” Keep up the good fight.” He lived by this example. He exercised well into his eighties, fighting diabetes. Several times, he had surgeries that could have taken his life. He had to learn to walk with a cane after having his toes amputated. He fought so hard to stay healthy, and to live for his family. I watched my Grandmother take his blood sugar, tend his wounds, and record everything he ate. When she’d walk by, he’d grab her and kiss her, and tell her how beautiful she was.
Towards the end of his years, I started living my own life. I began to conquer some of my own fears by doing comedy. I started to travel the World. My Dad and I took a father-daughter trip to Normandy. I saw Omaha Beach where my Grandfather arrived on D-Day. I saw the pillbox where the Germans shot at him from. But other than that, you wouldn’t even know that such a great battle was fought there. Life goes on. Little kids were building sandcastles, and splashing around in the Ocean.
Then we visited the American cemetery. We were greeted with words that read, “Silence and Respect.” There were thousands of crosses, and stars of David that faced west towards the United States. None of names were printed on the front, so that upon first glance, they were all equal in their sacrifice when you looked at them. I was overwhelmed by seeing how many people lost their lives there on the shores of France, in hopes of a better World. I wished that I could live a life worthy of the sacrifices made on this land.
Later, I went back to college to finish the Associates degree that I started ten years earlier. The first time I made the Dean’s List, I mailed my certificate, and wrote, “Grandpa, look at me go!” My Grandmother told me that before he died, he said that “I would be the one to conquer my ideas.” He knew that I was a creature of inspiration with many ideas to conquer. Not long after my Grandfather died, I graduated with honors and was accepted to Columbia University.
I thought of him all the time, and wished that I could tell him about my adventures, and all about the things I was learning. I thought of him on the day I graduated, when my Grandma said, “Grandpa would be so proud of you.” I missed him on my Wedding Day, when I looked out, and saw only my Grandmother. Sadly, in the last few years of her life, she gave up, and couldn’t find anything in life worth living for without him. It broke my heart to see her that way.
Since then, I’ve been trying to make a way. I try to hold onto their love. To carry it with me through the dark times. I have incredible talents, but at the same time I face great odds, and have incredible demons to overcome. As I go forward on my path, and as a married woman, I want to carry the love of my Grandparents as I proudly wear my Grandmother’s wedding ring on my finger. For the rest of my life, I want to keep up the good fight. I want to work hard, using the gifts God gave me.
Because of my Grandfather, I want to wake up every morning, and choose life, over defeat. It is so important to remember these sacrifices on Veteran’s Day, but also to strive to love one another, and to live with purpose every single day. It is our duty to make this World better, by being the best versions of ourselves that we can be. Until the day comes when I close my eyes for the last time, I want to be sure that I fought the good fight, and have given it my all.
About Rosie Rebel: Rosie is a comedian, and a singer song writer. Her most current work can be found by visiting her creative work websites below: www.RosieRebel.Net https://soundcloud.com/