Monday, November 3, 2014

A Dad and a Hero

This paper from my father’s military file tells the story of something he did in March 1945.  (I will tell the story of the burn marks on his records in another post.)

The paper reads as follows:

“First Lieutenant Robert M. Wallin, 0538229, 120th Infantry Regiment, United States Army, is awarded the Bronze Star for heroic achievement in action on 26 March 1945, in Germany.  Although enemy fire was so intense that it killed one man and wounded eight others, Lieutenant Wallin and his comrades left their sheltered positions and exposed themselves to enemy fire to evacuate three of the men to the rear where they received medical attention.  By his heroic action, Lieutenant Wallin aided in saving the lives of his comrades.
[Entered military service from Illinois.]
L.S. Hobbs, Major General – U.S. Army Commanding”

The amazing thing is this:  Dad had just spent five months in a military hospital recovering from serious injuries sustained on the front lines the previous October.  So it’s certainly not like he thought he was invincible…  And how could he?  He had seen more horror and death by this time than anyone should have to see—stories he told me late at night when I was growing up…  Stories of comrades dying in ways I can only hope their families never knew.  Dad’s very first day in combat, his closest friend in the unit was blown up and dismembered, and Dad had to gather the pieces and lay them with the man’s dog tags.

According to my father, stories like what happened the day he got the Bronze Star weren’t that rare.  What was rare was having a superior officer see or find out what happened, and then take the time to write it up.  Just from the few stories Dad told me late at night, I know of at least two other times where he was in this much danger.

One of them was a situation similar to this one.  Dad (a platoon leader) told me that one of his men was badly wounded during a battle.  Dad crawled across a field to the man, and realized right away that if he had run across the field standing up, he probably wouldn’t have lived to tell the story.  He had a struggle of conscience as to what to do…  The man had both a broken arm and a broken leg, so he would have to be carried back across the field, through enemy fire—and it looked like the man outweighed Dad by fifty pounds.

Dad asked the man, “Do you have a family?” and the man answered, “Yeah, a wife and three kids.”  Dad told me he remembered saying to himself something like, “Oh, crap!”—knowing what it was he thought he should do, but not wanting to do it.  But he hoisted the man onto his shoulders and staggered back across the field.  Both of them made it back alive.

In the case of the Bronze Star story, it was Dad and several comrades who evacuated three men.  We’ve all heard the motto of “no man left behind,” but it’s still incredible that young soldiers can summon up such courage in the face of such danger. 

If my father and his comrades hadn’t made it back to their “sheltered positions” alive that day, I wouldn’t be here today.  But because they did, three other men went home to quite possibly have children of their own as well—perhaps even someone who is reading this story today.

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