Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: "The War Was in Color"

my grandfather Sgt. Harold J. Christian, 1942

My grandfather Sergeant Harold J. Christian served during World War II in the Army's 10th Armored Division, Company B, 3rd Tank Battalion. The 10th Armored was known as the "Tiger Division." He was a tank commander and was wounded on December 19 or 20, 1944 (documents vary) in Noville, Belgium. He received several decorations and citations, including the Purple Heart.

My grandfather never spoke of his war experiences prior to his death in the early '80s. I often wonder should he have lived longer, if he would have shared them in time. Recently Pedro and I watched an emotional mini-series based on true life stories from the war, and one veteran who was interviewed stated that it took him 35 years to speak about his story.

Before leaving for Chile I interviewed my grandmother about many of her life experiences, including life during the war. She and my grandfather were married during one of his brief leaves from training, in the living room of a pastor's home with only the pastor and his dog for witnesses. I asked about a reception and she shook her head and replied, "Not during the war. No one had any money for that sort of thing." But there was not a twinge of regret in her voice, only pride and love for her Harold (she was a one-man woman who never remarried.)

Recently I did some research on my grandfather's division and these paragraphs stood out to me from an article on Wikipedia:

Combat Command B was dispatched directly to Bastogne by Patton on 17 December 1944. At that time, the 101st Airborne Division was on respite in France; Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division was the only combat unit defending Bastogne at the time. For over eight hours CCB held Bastogne alone, against eight German Divisions.

The 10th Armored Tigers played key roles in several of the war's greatest battles, including Combat Command B's gallant defense of Bastogne. Years after the war, General Anthony McAuliffe praised the men of the Tiger Division, noting that, "In my opinion, Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division was never properly credited with their important role in the Bastogne battle."
The dates and location coincide with my grandfather's injuries, leading me to believe he was wounded in the first days of the Bastogne battle. The more I learn of the history of "The Greatest Generation" the more I am humbled by their courage and sacrifice. Harold Christian was a simple man, raised in poverty as a coal miner's son (he went into the mines to work at age 14 after his father was killed inside.) Yet when war came he answered the call and put his life on the line for his nation and for his family.

We may never know the details of his story, but in my book he will always be a hero.

-Memorial Day, 2011
The War Was in Color
by Sean Wohltman

I see you've found a box of my things -
Infantries, tanks and smoldering airplane wings.
These old pictures are cool. Tell me some stories
Was it like the old war movies?
Sit down son. Let me fill you in

Where to begin? Let's start with the end
This black and white photo don't capture the skin
From the flash of a gun to a soldier who's done
Trust me grandson
The war was in color

From shipyard to sea, From factory to sky
From rivet to rifle, from boot camp to battle cry
I wore the mask up high on a daylight run
That held my face in its clammy hand
Crawled over coconut logs and corpses in the coral sand

Where to begin? Let's start with the end
This black and white photo don't capture the skin
From the shock of a shell or the memory of smell
If red is for Hell
The war was in color

I held the canvas bag over the railing
The dead released, with the ship still sailing,
Out of our hands and into the swallowing sea
I felt the crossfire stitching up soldiers
Into a blanket of dead, and as the night grows colder
In a window back home, a Blue Star is traded for Gold.

Where to begin? Let's start with the end
This black and white photo don't capture the skin
When metal is churned. And bodies are burned
Victory earned
The War was in color

Now I lay in my grave at age 21
Long before you were born
Before I bore a son
What good did it do?
Well hopefully for you
A world without war
A life full of color

Where to begin? Let's start with the end
This black and white photo never captured my skin
Once it was torn from an enemy thorn
Straight through the core
The war was in color


Anonymous said...

Thank you, for keeping your grandfather's name and heritaqe alive for future generations. He loved his grandchildren very much and would have so much enjoyed getting to know his great grandchildren. In his own quiet way he certainly influenced the lives of many people and I praise God for him and am so thankful that he was my dad.
Love, your dad!

panim said...

Aww, Dad's comment made me cry. I am so proud of Grandpop and miss him so much!

Terri Fisher said...

What an awesome tribute to a great man. How I wish our husbands could have gotten to know our grandfather. I think they would have enjoyed one another's company. Thanks for keeping his memory alive!

Becky said...

I think that many veterans didn't talk of their experience. I know that my grandfather didn't, nor did my husband's father and uncle (all were WWII vets). But I know that my grandmother and aunt didn't want them to talk about it. (Not sure about my mother-in-law) They are all gone now, so can't ask.

Leonice Bartlett said...

I know that you wrote this a few years back, but I believe it is the first time I have read it. As always, it is very well written. It sounds like he was a wonderful man. I have spoken with many veterans over the years, most do not care to tell their stories. Many times I asked them to come and speak to my history or government classes. Most have declined saying that it is too difficult. They may share with those that also served. I am familiar with your grandfather's military unit. My mind go right to the battle maps from my classroom. Both of my grandfather's served in "The Great War "or "the War to End all Wars". My Dad's father served in the Army Corps of Engineers my mom's served with the Marines he was among the first in and the last out. He spend a great deal of time in the trenches. He was awarded a French military medal . He also was awarded a silver star. He never claimed either medal. He felt that he did not deserve them when he lost so many friends. My mom said he very rarely spoke of his experiences and would never march in any parades. He said he did all the marching he was going to do when he served. He Marched across Europe, in boots that were too big. The military did not issue boots small enough for his feet. He had to stuff rags or newspapers inside. I only know these men through their letters home to their families. I am so thankful they were saved. Neither of my grandfather's married before the war and both died long before I was born. We owe a great debt to so many to fought for our freedom. Please God please bring healing to our land !