Sunday, October 6, 2013

Remembering Sissie

As readers of this blog know, I often find (at estate sales) items left by members of the "Greatest Generation," the men and women who served during World War II.   Sometimes I can learn the provenance behind the items I find; other times, their origin is a mystery.

In talking with family members at the sales, I often hear them say, "Dad never talked much about his experiences in the war, unless he was with other people who'd served.  He said unless we'd been there, we just couldn't understand."

That makes me wonder:  How did the people who came under fire keep their composure, their sense of direction, their sense of humor -- their sanity?

There must be several answers, and they are probably different for each serviceman or woman.  One answer might be that, even in a time of war, there are small instances of "normal" life that transcend the horror of battle, that give perspective and humor, grace and hope, to the men and women fighting for their country.  

I found a couple of scrapbooks at an estate sale this week, and I think perhaps the items carefully pasted and taped inside provide us with some insight.

Corporal Schultz, who assembled the scrapbooks, had been a member of the 165th Infantry Regiment during World War II.   I looked up the 165th on the Internet and found a page devoted to them:

The 165th Infantry Regiment, originally the famous 69th New York Infantry or the “Fighting Irish” traces its roots all the way back to 1775. The first elements of the Regiment fought throughout the Revolutionary War and later became Company A of the 69th New York Infantry. 

Since its inception, the 69th served in the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, the Mexican Border dispute of 1916, World War I, and World War II. The long legacy of the 69th, and then the 165th has earned the Regiment fifty-two battle rings on its flag, more than any other United States Army Regiment.... 

During World War II the 165th contained 12 companies, all of which were recruited solely from New York City.

The website noted that the 165th served in the South Pacific during World War II.  Apparently Corporal Schultz was a member of the 27th Division:

...Following a lengthy period of maneuvers and training, the 27th was ordered to California in December following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.... The first elements of the Division boarded ships bound for Hawaii on February 27th 1942, the first Infantry Division to leave the states following Pearl Harbor.

The Division remained on Hawaii for a number of months....  On November 20th 1942, the 27th Infantry Division embarked on its first combat assignment, the capture of the coral atoll of Makin. ...Units from the 27th Division also occupied the Majuro atoll on February 1st 1944 and successfully assaulted Eniwetok Island on February 19th of the same year. In June 1944, the Division landed on Saipan, where its regiments fought together for the first time as a full Division. Following Saipan the Division was rested and reinforced at Espirtu Santo for seven months before any further operations. 

On April 12th, 1945 the Division landed on Okinawa, where it would remain until September when it was sent to Japan briefly for garrison duty. The Division was mustered out in late December of the same year. 

Since its arrival in the Pacific, the 27th Infantry Division had suffered 1,512 killed in action, 4,980 wounded in action and 332 who later succumbed to their wounds.

I flipped through the pages of the scrapbooks.  Most of what Corporal Schultz saved were newspaper clippings about the war, cartoons (he was particularly fond of "The Sad Sack")...

Some greeting cards he sent his wife during the war...

But my attention was caught by a picture of a mother dog and her puppies.  Schultz had written the dog's name carefully under one of the photos with his fountain pen:

A few pages later, there was another photo, this time of three soldiers each holding a puppy or two:

More newspaper clippings, more pictures.  And tucked inside one of the scrapbooks was a copy of an Army newsletter, the Galla Vanter, from January 1945.  

Inside, along with inspirational messages, jokes and sports reports, was an obituary:

I like to think that having Sissie and her eternal litter of puppies, helped the fighting men deal with the stress of battle.  As author Andrew Carroll wrote in Grace Under Fire:

...I discovered, like most who have lost faith at some point in their lives, that [God] never stops sending us messages of hope.  Sometimes we're just unable or unwilling to see them.

Somewhere on the South Pacific island of Espiritu Santo, there may still be a small grave with a marker that reads:

Dog -- In Name Only

The Greatest Generation is passing away, and with it their memories.  So on their behalf we say thank you, Sissie, for helping keep a few of them entertained and uplifted during their most difficult and challenging times.  


Thanks to the website of the New York State Military Museum, I was able to research the history of the 165th for this blog post:

No comments:

Post a Comment