Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Preacher, Come On, Eat Your Supper With Us

My wife asked me to move some boxes the other night.  I knew what was in them - things I've been meaning to return to other people - things that are headed home soon.   One of the boxes broke and I ended up collecting a few of its contents from the basement floor.  I was struck pretty hard by them, in no small part because various versions of Lucero's "The War" has been in heavy rotation on my iPod.   The song is about an American soldier's journey from enlistment to deployment in England in 1943, subsequent trip across western Europe in 1944 and 1945, and the mental weight of going back home after watching so many friends perish.

Never talk about those first days
Lots of friends left behind

But I made it all the way across France

And I fought at the Maginot line

Rode a tank into Belgium

Like them better than the French
Like my daddy, thirty years before
I did my time in a trench

Please hit "play" on either version and keep scrolling. 

And so, amongst so many other things, I found these photos.  I didn't scan them, photoshop them (OK I cropped the borders) or even use a flash.  In fact, my wife had already scanned all of them in high-def a few years ago.  On this night, though, I just sat down and flipped through them.  Trying to understand what my Grandpa was going through mentally and emotionally in these photos was tough.  I laid them down on my black laptop and just took the pictures.  I felt like it was important in that moment to record it - not only those photos but what I was feeling - and so a less than Smithsonian-level photo preservation is what I have for you.

Wedding Day - Easter Sunday, 1940

Army Boot Camp Graduation, 1942. No unit insignia.

Airborne or Signal Corps Platoon Class, early 1943

Glamour shots! 1943. What's that on his hat?

A little closer?

Glider Corps of the 101st Airborne Division.
A ticket to a bumpy landing in Normandy's pastures at 2:30am, June 6, 1944.

Little Brother Wally got in on the action too - he became a Marine.
The brothers both volunteered - despite the fact that their family
had become Americans just a few decades prior.

Wally was a goofball (and one of my favorite guys of all time),
but he also suffered through basically every major battle of
the Pacific Theatre in World War II.  His Marine nickname was
"Short Stack."  Ha ha.

Cathedral of Notre Dame, Spring 1945.
Grandpa had already been wounded at Market Garden (bullet)
and again while marching through the snow in Bastogne (mine shrapnel).

Roman aqueduct somewhere in western Europe.  Spring 1945.

101st Airborne field encampment, somewhere in Germany, Spring 1945.

I don't understand what the point of this pasted-photo-situation is,
but it's cute.  My grandparents.

"WELCOME HOME BILL," December 1945

There he is! Notice the snow - Grandpa's unit of the 101st was one of the  many
who remained in theatre for quite a while after Germany's surrender.

Down in the easy chair....but...something's missing.

There we go! 

My grandfather loved a good story but rarely spoke of the war.   He lived it, and I guess he thought there was no reason in re-living it.  That being said, he died sixty years - nearly to the day - after his return from Europe.  I cannot imagine such darkness. I cannot imagine that it wasn't so easily captured by photography - for everything seems to be captured by camera these days.  I can't imagine having to come back from that into a world that has no idea all that you've done, and all that's been done to you.  It is impressive.

RIP William "Bill" Henry Mantay, 1914-2006
RIP Adele Mantay, 1918-2009
RIP Walter "Wally" Mantay, 1920-2009
RIP Herman Ergard Mantay, 1904-1982
RIP Emma Mantay, 1910-1992


BrookfieldAngler said...

Great post!

Adam W. said...

Thanks for sharing -- though different than your usual post, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

My grandfather was also in the US Army during WWII, serving in the 42nd Infantry Division -- better known as the Rainbow Division (the unit that liberated some 30K prisoners in the concentration camp at Dachau.)

He passed away nearly a decade ago, but my memories of him are largely similar to yours as far as the war is concerned: was proud of his service, his medals, etc., but never specifically talked about exactly what he did or witnessed. Which makes my own personal discovery of his units' accomplishments, etc. all the more interesting.

cofisher said...

Very enjoyable post. I did a much shorter version with my dad, also a WW II vet. Good job.

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