Fanfare for the Common Soldier

Something for the weekend.  Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland.  Composed seventy years ago, it was Copland’s reaction to the US entering World War II.  Watching the video above, a salute to the soldiers of World War II, brought back memories from 36 years ago for me.

Back in the summer of 1976 I was on vacation between my freshman and sophomore years at the University of Illinois.  My father ran the steel shears at a truck body plant in Paris, Illinois.  They were hiring summer help and I got a job working on the factory floor.  Although I liked the idea of earning money, I was less than enthused by the job.  The factory floor was not air-conditioned, and the summer was hot.  Additionally I had never worked in a factory before, had no experience with heavy machinery and did not know what to expect.

I was placed under the supervision of a regular worker at the plant.  He looked like he was a thousand years old to me at the time, but I realize now that he was younger than than I am now at age 55.  I would assist him at a press in which we would manhandle heavy sheets of steel and use the press to bend them into various shapes.  Before we began he pointed to a little box and said that if I lost a finger or a part of a finger as a result of the press, I should toss it in the box and proceed with the job.  Thus I was introduced to his macabre sense of humor.

I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but he was engaged in a rough and ready form of instruction.  He had to take a completely green kid, and teach me various tasks, all the while keeping up with the jobs the press was assigned.  He did it pretty skillfully, and I learned.  I never got to like the job, but I learned how to do it.  I also learned to grudgingly respect my mentor.  He obviously wasn’t well read, but he was handy with machinery, and under his tutelage I learned how to operate the press without losing one of my digits, or costing him one of his.  He kept me out of trouble at the factory, and included me in his conversations with his fellow veteran workers.  All in all I probably learned more that summer of future value for me in life, than I learned from any of my courses in college.

One day during the half hour we had for lunch, I asked him if he had served in World War II.  I was in Army ROTC at the University, and I had a keen interest in military history.  He told me that he had been an infantryman in the Army and that he had participated in Operation Torch.

We are close to the 70th anniversary of Operation Torch, the landings of which began on November 8, 1942 in French North Africa controlled by the Vichy government.  These landings by British and American troops would seize Morocco and Algeria and allow the Allies to attack Rommel’s Afrika Korps in a pincer movement, between American and British troops from the west and the British Eighth Army moving from the east from Egypt after the British victory over the Afrika Korps at El Alamein, which concluded on November 4, 1942.

Operation Torch was the largest American amphibious operation up to that time and taught valuable lessons as to improvements needed for future landings.

I was impressed that my fellow factory worker had taken part as a young man in such a momentous event.  He on the other hand did not make much of it, a reaction similar to what I have found with most World War II veterans.  They had a job to do for the country, they did it, and then they came home, took off their uniforms and went on with their lives.  Normally they didn’t talk much about the War unless they were with fellow veterans.  If asked they would talk about it, but it obviously was not foremost in their minds.

At the end of my summer, my mentor and I went our separate ways.  When my father died in 1991, he was part of the American Legion honor guard.  We chatted a bit.  I learned that he was retired, and he learned that I was married and an attorney.  That was the last time I saw him.

Of the over 16,000,000 Americans who put on their country’s uniform during World War II, about one and a half million are still alive.  The median age for World War II veterans is 87.  850 of them die on average each day.  Soon World War II will pass from the living memory of the men  who fought it.  I hope my mentor is still alive and in good health, and when the 70th anniversary of Operation Torch rolls around in November, I hope someone will remember to give him a salute for a job well done.

11 Responses to Fanfare for the Common Soldier

  • Could we catalogue their memoirs? online or otherwise

  • Many such projects Mary, fortunately, are underway.

  • We can use their inspiration today, 9/29 (Feast of the Guardian Angels) through 10/7( Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary) as a people praying and fasting for help in waging the spiritual war with the Novena for Religious Liberty. Just doing our jobs given at our Baptism.

    religiousliberties.org/novena/

  • Five years in the U.S. Navy Fleet as a boiler technician gave me a better education than any Ph.D. at Harvard could have ever given.

  • Mac,

    Have you read Rick Atkinson’s – An Army at Dawn. It covers the North Africa Campaign?

    Sadly, (mainly for us, We Hope they’re in Heaven) all my WWII vet uncles, and both Korea vets, have gone to their rewards.

    Here’s a sailor’s story. Uncle (machinists mate in a Pacific Navy liberty ship engine room) was kind of wild in his youth. He left to attend his brother’s wedding and was late returning and so missed the Liberty ship sailing. He was punished with an AWOL “Captain’s Mast” (Article 15 for USAF) fined and lost stripes. He finished the war and was honorably discharged. The ship he missed was the USS Mount Hood.

    “The Mount Hood was an ammunition ship that exploded due to unknown causes on November 10, 1944 while anchored in Seeadler Harbour at Manus Island (Admiralty Islands). The explosion killed all 295 men aboard and severely damaged 22 other ships in the harbor. The repair ship U.S.S. Mindanao was alongside Mount Hood when the explosion occurred. 82 of the Mindanao crew also died that day. 371 sailors on other ships in the harbor were injured.”

    “Greet them ever with grateful hearts.”

  • Good thing for the sense of the men from that generation.
    Our ‘PC’ men better see the results of the Community Organizer in Chief who never was PC. Confusion reigns from ‘education’ without deference.
    Saw this following in Gateway Pundit.

    Member of “Obama Boyz” Gang Arrested in Drive-By Shooting

    Posted by Jim Hoft on Friday, September 28, 2012, 10:12 PM

    A member of the “Obama Boyz” gang was arrested today and charged with two shootings in north St. Louis.
    The Post-Dispatch reported:

    A St. Louis teen who authorities say is a member of a gang called the “Obama Boyz” has been charged with two shootings on Saturday.

    Anthony Jamal Lee, 18, fired at a group of people from the window of a Grand Prix at 2:17 p.m., according to charges. A 13-year-old boy was struck in the side of his body and had to be hospitalized; a 17-year-old boy was grazed by bullets on his face and arm.

    Lee, according to authorities, then fired from his car at two passengers in another Grand Prix, grazing one of them in the back.

    One shooting occurred at the 3200 block of Oriole Avenue, and the other nearby at Harney and Beacon avenues.

    Lee, who was charged Friday in St. Louis Circuit Court, faces a mix of 10 felony counts of first-degree assault, armed criminal action and firing shots from a vehicle. Judge Theresa Burke set $100,000 cash bail.

  • “Have you read Rick Atkinson’s – An Army at Dawn. It covers the North Africa Campaign?”

    I started it but I never completed it. So many books, so littel time!

  • The youngest of 11, my father fought in Italy until they surrendered, was shipped to Germany where the Nazi’s surrendered the day after he arrived. Supposedly, he had orders to the Pacific when Japan threw in the towel. His sisters always told us, his kids, that the the Axis powers were terrified of him, so they gave up! The only survivor of the 11, he will be 95 on Tuesday, October 2nd.
    His eldest son served in Vietnam as a forward observer for a year and came home unscathed.
    His 2nd and youngest son, me, failed to get into advanced ROTC, due to a heart defect, but was healthy enough to be drafted in the last call-up prior to the lottery. The army spent 10 months trying to get approval to make me an officer, and when when that didn’t come to pass they sent me to NATO. Wonder if anyone remembers “The Fairy Godmother Dept., Dept. of the Army” from Heinlein’s “Glory Road”. She took excellent care of me.
    None of my father’s 10 grandchildren have been in the military (Deo Gratias). His great grandchildren are still to young or predict.

  • When I was newly married, and still in college I worked in a couple of assisted living facilities around 1992-94. There were a lot of residents who had been in the Great Depression, and a few at that time who were WW2 veterans. I met a guy who had been a nurse in the British Navy, and on the beach at D-Day to provide medical care. He said it was pointless, there was little they could do under the conditions, and they were mainly there for morale. He later took part in action against the Graf Spee. I met a kind and friendly Alheimer’s patient who could not remember his own name, or anything much else really, but he could remember being wounded and in a field hospital that ended up being attacked by either a plane or by artillery by the Japanese, and he would always say “I don’t know why they did that.” I met a three war veteran who had gone from being a bomber pilot in WW2 to fixing technical problems with weapons systems in the field in Vietnam, retiring as a colonel. I met a veteran who had fought in the jungle in Burma. He had Parkinson’s disease, and this can cause visual hallucinations. He would hallucinate dead Asian women, and this disturbed him greatly. I met other veterans in other work I did later. I think that all of them had been profoundly affected by their experience of war, but resolved to move on with life.

  • Truly the greatest generation of men & women.
    God bless every one of our Vets.

  • My wife and I had the honor to escort 35 WWII vets and their guest to D.C. three years ago. We had a charter and stopped off at Flight 93 site in route. The five days were full of emotion, gratitude and respect. Stories were shared, and hearts continued to receive healing from deep wounds of long ago.
    Mary and I agree….It was a blessing.
    Thank You All….our Veterans.

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