Sunday, April 28, 2013

Utah Beach by Robert West

 My company’s (the 562nd Railhead Company) first bivouac area in France was in an orchard on a hill overlooking the English Channel.  In ordinary times it would have been a beautiful, peaceful setting, but not this day.  It was D Day. June 6th 1944.  the day that all peaceful nations were waiting for.  The greatest amphibious assault in history to the free people of Europe from the tyranny of the Axis powers of Germany and Italy had n.  From here one could see the LST 500 that had been home to us for seven days, and had waded ashore from a few hours before.  We were lucky; the beachhead had been secured by this time. Our luck did not last long.  We were introduced to the first of many German artillery and mortar attacks. There was no place on the beach head to “get” to escape this deadly fire. 
    About five that afternoon we began our march to the little orchard that was to be our home for several weeks.  We did not enjoy its beauty.   Seven of our buddies were no longer with us.  Three had been killed, four wounded and evacuated to a hospital ship.  We now knew the horrors of war. 
     My foxhole buddy, “Smitty” and I were enjoying a smoke while sitting on a pile of dirt beside our newly dug foxholes when we noticed an elderly couple trudging up the steep trail to the orchard.  Each of them was carrying a metal bucket and had a back pack.   We stood up to greet them.  I intended to give her a hand shake.  Before I could extend my hand she threw her arms me around me, pulled me close and gave me the French style of welcome – a kiss on both cheeks, not once but twice.  To this day I don’t know if I was embarrassed or repulsed by this action.   I do remember pushing her away from me rather hard.  Then I saw her face.  Even after sixty three years whenever I remember D day, the image of her face comes to mind.  It was old and wrinkled framed in a dirty scarf that covered hair.  Her blue eyes were misted over from the tears that ran down her cheeks.  The only way I can describe her toothless smile is by calling it a smile of pure joy and happiness.   Her whole face radiated these feelings.  I could not help myself.  I pulled her to me and I gave her the American style of greetings a hug and pats on the back.
     The buckets they carried were filled with milk.  Smitty and I were given a ladle of it to drink.  It was the first fresh milk we had since we left the States.  Oh how we enjoyed it! There were many things we were short of on the first few days on the beach, although cigarettes, Hershey bars and gum were plentiful.  We loaded our new friends with these items.  We indicated to them we would take them to the area where they could share the milk with our buddies.  About his time a jeep arrived with our commanding officer and first sergeant.  When the officer saw the civilians he asked me “What in the hell are those people doing here.”  I offered him a ladle of milk and replied “Sir these good people are treating our company to a drink of milk!”  I still get mad when I think of what happened next. He yanked the ladle out of my hand and heaved it down the hill as far as he could.  He then kicked the buckets over spilling the milk, giving an extra boot so they tumbled further down the hill.  He then ordered the people to leave and never come back.  I glanced at their faces.  Looks of astonishment and hurt replaced the happy smiles.  They slowly turned and made their way to the path.   He then shouted to us, “What the matter with you crazy idiots? Don’t you know that milk might be poisoned?”   I thought to myself, you are the idiot these good people had been under the control of the Germans for many years and existed under cruel treatment. We were their liberators and the only thing they had to welcome us with was fresh milk.  To this day I dislike this man intensely.  I did get a small amount of revenge several weeks later. 
     What a long day June 4th was!  Actually is started before dusk the evening before when our LST lifted its anchor that started our great adventure.  There was little sleep for any of us.   We were also on double daylight savings time which made the day seem even longer. I was looking forward to going to bed even if it was just two slightly damp GI woolen blankets on the hard, cold, ground inside a two man pup tent.
     I don’t think I was in bed five minutes before I heard the sound of approaching air craft.  I wasn’t really concerned, after all the allies owned the air space.  How wrong I was.  All hell broke loose.  Bombs began falling; fighter planes began strafing the area time after time.  Smitty and I managed to roll into our fox holes.  I remember thinking to myself I wish I had dug it little deeper.  I don’t know how many planes attacked us, or how long it lasted, but it seemed like an eternity.
        Sleep was impossible the rest of the night.  By dawn most of were up wanderings around the area and reliving the day and night before.  We were further saddened when we learned one more buddy had been killed and two wounded and evacuated.
     The field kitchen would not be set up for several days.  We would survive on C, K and D rations.  Not tasty, but were very nutritious. I was sitting on the edge of my fox hole finishing my K ration breakfast when the company runner informed me I was to report to the commanding officer. (The very person who had called us idiots) My first thought was that I was going to be court-martialed for the milk drinking incident.  While I was reporting to and saluting him I noticed he was reading my service record. “Corporal West I see you are a good typist.”’  “I would say only average Sir.” “My company clerk was wounded last night.  How would you like to take his place?”  Just the thought of being around this man twenty four hours a day made me sick. Although I knew it probably would do no good I replied “Thank you sir, but I would like to stay with my friends.” I was right, it did no good and I became company clerk.  Lordy! Lordy! What had I done to deserve this? 
    There were only two things I liked about my new job.  The living and sleeping conditions were much better. The large C.P (command post) tent was far superior for comfort than the small two man pup tents the rest of the troops used.  I was issued a canvas cot, much   more comfortable than the co hard ground. My second joy was that I had access to a Jeep to deliver reports to battalion headquarters. On my second trip there I discovered the home of the elderly French friends.  On almost every trip I stopped and visited taking them some sort of treat. As we got more and different rations the gifts became came better.   
     Telephone communications on the beach were very unreliable.   One minute they were very clear, the next minute garbled with so much static it was impossible to understand everything.    One evening the phone rang. I answered it with “562nd Railhead Company, Corporal West speaking   how I may help you?”  You can imagine my surprise when the answer was.   “Corporal, this is General George Patten. Would you please inform your commanding officer I would like to talk with him.  Tell him it is very important.”  I quickly replied, “Yes sir, right away.’ The officers slept in an eight man squad tent a few yards behind the CP.  On the way to this tent I came up with an idea how I might get revenge on the getting him in trouble.  I called though the closed flap off the tent.  “Captain you are wanted on the telephone.”  “Who is calling?”  With a white lie I answered “I don’t know sir, I ask twice but the line was so garbled I couldn’t understand what he said.  I was sitting on the edge of my cot when he entered his office. He answered the phone with “This is Captain Black.  I hope you have a good reason for calling me.”  In an instant I saw his arrogant face change to a surprised and shocked one. In a very nervous voice he answered several questions with “Yes sir, no sir and I’ll take care it sir. Then he answered a question with “I don’t know sir.”  Patten’s famous temper came forth.  With a voice so filled with anger I could hear every word he was saying from where I was sitting.  “CAPTAIN, I HAVE JUST TAKEN OF COMMAND OF THE THIRD ARMY.   OFFICERS UNDER MY COMMAND DO NOT THINK, THEY KNOW.  DO I MAKE MYSELF PERFECTLY CLEAR?  After a weak yes sir the general hung up.  Captain Black sat at his desk with a stunned look.  I had gotten away with my trickery.  To be on the safe side I ask “Who was that sir?”  “”General Patten.  The third army is going on the attack tomorrow.  I want you to inform the platoon sergeants to wake their men at 0500.  We have to break camp and be ready to leave by 10:00 hundred hours. The sergeants were not needed.  We were awakened at dawn by the hundreds of aircraft OVERHEAD ton their way to St Lo to destroy defenses, fortifications and troops.  It was the beginning of General Patten’s lightning like thrust through France. The beginning of the end of the axis powers.                                          

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

From South to West

 The year was 1885. Grover Cleveland was President and the Depression of 1882 was over.  It was still the Gilded Age, the period following the Civil War, roughly from the end of Reconstruction in 1877 to the turn of the twentieth century.  The Gilded Age (a phrase coined by Mark Twain) was a period of widespread economic growth as the United States jumped to the lead in industrialization ahead of Britain and was rapidly expanding its economy into new areas, especially heavy industry such as factories, railroads and coal mining. But the economy of the south was lagging so people went to the north and west to seek change and a new life, my grandparents among them.

My maternal Grandmother Anna born in the south, the oldest of the four daughters born to George Washington Payne and Lucy Ann Sivils. Anna B Payne was born in Warrensburg, Missouri on March 17, 1885. There was already a family, as George’s first wife, Mary died in the fall of 1882 at the age of 22, leaving behind two little boys John age 2, and William Joseph, age 1. George married  Lucy in 1884 when Lucy was 27. The family story is that George told Lucy he was marrying her because he needed a mother for his children and that he kept a picture of Mary above the bed. I would imagine he was still grieving. There was also another child from the first marriage  Rosey May;  who according to an 1880 census in Missouri was adopted, and was quite a bit older than John and didn’t came out west with the rest of the family. Family records show that she married the younger brother of Lucy Ann in 1889 when Anna was a young child.

Anna spent her early childhood in Missouri where her sister Nellie May was born in 1887, followed by Mary Frances in 1888 and Polly in 1889.  On April 1, 1896, when she was 11 Anna migrated by train with her family of six from the ages of 16 to 6  to Rufus, Oregon, a small town in the Columbia Gorge, 24 miles from the Dalles.  According to the family story, Anna said, “We got off the train at Rufus, OR and Uncle Frank met us with a big wagon. Our dad was so disappointed said if he had the money he would have gone back to Missouri.”

Six years later at the age of l7 Anna met and married Thomas Job Simon in Rutledge, OR on March 23, 1902. Thomas was 23.  The young couple made their home in Oregon where their first son, Ira Virgil was born December 20, 1902 in Grass Valley and their second son, Alva Ivan was born in Brooks five years later on October 29, 1907.

Homesteading in Canada

In 1911 Thomas and Anna moved from Oregon to the prairies of Alberta, Canada to try their hand at acquiring some land and livelihood. The nearest city was Calgary. According to the Dominion Lands Act, which was similar to the United States Homestead Act, family or person over 18 years of age could acquire 160 acres of land free, (except for a small registration fee.) Any male farmer who agreed to cultivate at least 40 acres and build a permanent dwelling on it within three years qualified. The term was “proving up the homestead.”  The Simons became Canadian citizens in 1914.

According to what my grandmother told my mother, life on the prairie for the next few years were hard on Anna. As a young mother she missed her family and felt isolated living so far away from civilization.  In a census in 1916 they lived in near Bow River in Cypress County, Alberta.  Thomas was gone a lot, working with his team of horses for neighbors.  Anna took in school teachers as boarders.  At one point she cared for a little boy whose name was Teddy. In those days it was common for parents to board their children at friends and neighbors so they could travel elsewhere and earn money. After two years Anna became attached to Teddy and was sad when his parents came to get him. When her mother Lucy died in Oregon in June of 1917 Anna was unable to attend her funeral because of the expense and the distance.  Anna nearly died of typhoid fever in the mid 1900’s. Anna gave birth to their first daughter, Nellie Harriet, in February of 1918. There were 11 years between Nellie and her brother Ivan.

Anna B Simon, 1904
Age 19

Thomas and Anna

House in Canada:

Anna, Ira and Ivan, Alberta Canada

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dance, Dance, I’m Lord of the Dance?

By Bob West
Aug. 2001

My dislike for dancing began at the age of 5, when we were living in Post Falls, Idaho. At least once a month my parents attended a dance at the Grange Hall. There was no money for a babysitter so I was forced to go with them. It wasn’t much fun for a kid of my age to have to sit all those hours and watch his parents make fools of themselves.

After we moved to Palouse, Dad joined the American Legion. They held their meetings in a building on West Main Street, originally built as a hospital by Dr. Hein in the early 1900s. Upon his retirement, the building became the community center for the city. Once a month the Legion held a potluck dinner meeting followed by an evening of dancing, music being furnished by three members of the club. Once again I had to suffer through an evening of dance. There were several boys and girls there to play with, but sooner or later our parents complained of the noise we made and we had to sit the rest of the evening. We boys agreed the dancing was the most stupid thing in the whole world. Some of the girls actually danced with each other! I always knew girls were crazy, this was definite proof. I made up my mind I was never, ever going to learn to dance.

In the spring of 1941 I was dating a cute sophomore girl. I knew she was expecting me to ask her to the social event of the year – the Junior Prom. This event, of course, involved dancing, of which I still had a low opinion and had never learned how. Against my better judgment, I asked her to be my partner. What a terrible mistake that was! This had to be the longest, most horrible night of my young life. She had completely filled her dance card and I had to dance every dance. As much as I suffered, I know the girls suffered more through my feeble attempt at dancing. Would this evening ever end? Thank Heaven at the stroke of midnight the band played “Goodnight Sweetheart, Until We Meet Tomorrow”; signaling the evening was finally over. Alas! There was no tomorrow for us. She would never go out with me again. She never told me why, but I knew it was because of my lack of skill on the dance floor.
The following spring I fell in love with another sophomore girl. Then came prom time. Did I dare run the risk of losing another girlfriend by asking her? On the other hand, I might lose her if I didn’t. A ‘damned if I do and damned if I don’t’ situation. I knew that this romance was very strong and could endure anything. So I took a chance and asked her.

I had one way to dance. With my right arm around my partner’s waist and hers around mine, we would step-step-step-hop around the perimeter of the dance floor. About every third trip we would cut diagonally across the floor, make a 90-degree turn to the opposite corner. In other words, we were O-ing and X-ing around and across the gym floor. I was right, our romance survived, but I was sure it could not survive another night like this. It did. We attended the harvest ball on the WSC campus that fall. It was much like the prom but was held in a much larger building, Bohler Gym, requiring making much larger Os and Xs. Since our relationship endured these two horrible nights, I thought it would last into eternity. This time I was wrong. I entered the army the next January About a year later I was crushed when I received a “Dear John” letter. I don’t blame this breakup because of poor dancing. It was the result of the opposite meaning of the old proverb, “Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder.”

I was discharged at Ft. Lewis in Jan. 1946. On the train ride home from the coast I told myself I was going to date every pretty girl in my old hometown. I certainly wasn’t going to fall for the first girl I dated. (I did, however, and married her in September 1947.) I had my heart broken once before by local lass and I certainly didn’t want to go through that again. On the first Friday I was home, my cousin Don Batten asked me to go to a basketball game with his girlfriend and a girl he had picked out for me. Frances was my date. I remembered her as a tall, skinny 13-year-old teenager. Boy, was I ever surprised! She had grown into a very beautiful young lady with a winning and witty personality. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had fallen for her hook, line and sinker. By May we were going steady. One day she popped the question. No, she didn’t propose to me, she asked me to be her date for the prom.

Another DIID and DIID situation. Without telling her I was the world’s worst dancer, I accepted. I was conceited enough to think the honor of having me be her escort would overcome my only fault. I was a young, handsome, brave, highly decorated (good conduct medal!) veteran of World War II. I had plenty of money to spend on her, and a high paying job ($200 a month working for my dad) and best of all we would be arriving at the ball in my recently purchased 1941 Chevrolet convertible. What more could a young lady want? I soon found out. After the third round of hopping around the dance floor, she told me if I didn’t improve my dancing she would never date me. I knew she meant it, so I asked her to teach me. She was an excellent instructor and I soon learned. This was my beginning of my love for dancing.
We began our dancing at the large round hall at Riverside Park near Potlatch. It was here our longtime friendship began with Perry and Dixie, who like us, loved to dance. We danced to the music of well-known western stars, T. Texas Tyler, Tex Ritter and Marty Robbins. Our favorite band was a local band directed by Ken Holway, music instructor for the school for many years. Members were his son Tom, Don Billings (Elizabeth Schell’s brother) and Dick Eicher, who became a star basketball player at E.W.S.C.
Joyce Walser was the songbird of the group. Ohhhh, how she could sing! All the band members, including Ken, were either students or graduates of Palouse High School. Other favorite dancing places were the Log Cabin in Potlatch and the “Y” Inn, now the Lone Jack Steak House. We spent many Saturday nights jukebox dancing in the Legion Club above the City Hall.

We enjoyed several years square dancing with my lifelong friend Eugene Schell and his wife Elizabeth. We joined two square dance clubs and danced at least twice a week. We took time out for the birth of our son, intending to return later, but we never did. The Schells enjoyed dancing and teaching western dancing until his untimely death in 1989. He became one of the more popular callers in the Inland Empire.
Later on we returned to what we fondly call our “Honky Tonk Days”. Over the years our favorite dancing places have disappeared. The Round Hall suffered severe flood damage and was torn down. The Log Cabin closed its doors to the public and the “Y” Inn is now a restaurant. These closings limited our dancing to an occasional dance at one of the two taverns in town and two social events the Palouse Lions held every year. Things got worse. One tavern closed and the other one seldom had live music. Membership in the Lions Club dropped and the parties were no longer self-supporting, so bands were no longer hired.

At the last Lions Club dinner and dance party, I realized Father Time was hinting to me it was about time to retire my dancing shoes. I hated to admit it, but it was. For many years I danced nearly every dance of every set. The only ones sat out were the extra slow ones. These were the dances the “I hate to dance” men danced their duty dances. I hated the intermissions; they were cutting into my valuable dancing time. At closing time, I begged for just one more song. My favorite song was “I Could Have Danced All Night.” At this last dance I danced most of the pieces for several sets but I was enjoying the once-hated breaks. A little before 11 p.m. I asked Frances if she was ready to go home. She nodded yes. We sneaked out the back door. I didn’t want to admit that I was getting too old to cut the mustard anymore.

We had in our group of friends one of these duty dancers. Toward the end of the evening as I brought his wife back to the table, he would slowly shake his head back and forth and say to me, “You crazy old fool, one of these days you are going to drop dead on the dance floor.”
Could be. Nice way to go!