Long before I knew of "Wif's" (as I called him) military service, I knew him as a gracious, welcoming, and kind individual, with a wry sense of humor. We have enjoyed many pleasant and interesting conversations throughout the forty-five years or so that I've known him.
On two recent visits, he greeted me warmly, and the time flew by as we reminisced. At one point, I examined some photos and medals displayed on the wall, and we talked about his time in the military. As platoon sergeant, he bore heavy burdens, and has some dark memories of that time. But, in his typical fashion, he also took the opportunity to poke gentle fun at the idea of himself as a "war hero." "Oh, no," he said. "it was all because I remembered my high-school German! I just told them, "Raise your arms, and you will live. I have cigarettes, food, and drink. Or, keep your guns, and you will be dead."" He said that they came to him very willingly at that point, many of them being "just kids of sixteen or so." The certificate on the wall, accompanying the Distinguished Service Cross, paints a much more frightening picture.
On another occasion, he was on a night parachute jump. The plane left Italy and headed into France, the site of the jump. He landed upside-down in a tree. Thinking he was about 30 feet up, he decided to open the auxiliary chute and climb down. At that point, he heard a private at eye level say, "Whattya doin,' Sarge?" He had come to rest in an apple tree, and only had to turn over, to be on the ground. When I mentioned that I couldn't imagine jumping out of a plane at night, with no idea what faced me at the other end, he replied modestly, "Oh, well, that was combat."
Wif's training took place in Toccoa, Georgia, with the 506th, the outfit which would come to be known in the book and film as the Band of Brothers. He freely admits that he probably would not have survived, had he continued with that unit. An officer asked him to remain behind, and continue as platoon sergeant with a new outfit, which became the 517th.
Luckily, Wif returned home, and became a devoted husband to his sweetheart, the former Phyllis Foulkes. The tender care he took of her as she became ill late in life, was another act of heroic bravery.
The greatest generation, indeed.