“The Battalion sailed from New York Harbor on August 11,1944 at 1205 hours, and after a fine smooth voyage on the SS John Ericcson, arrived at Liverpool, England on August 21…Then, suddenly getting the nod, we rolled down the Bill of Portland and onto LST’s. Trailing clouds of barrage balloons, we crossed the Channel, and by dawn of September 15, debarkation on Omaha Beach, France had been completed.”
“…The order came in mid October to move North and we marched past Paris, and across the historic fields of Northern France, through Belgium, and passed through the Dragon’s teeth of the Siegfried Line into Germany on October 31, 1944.”
“…Then, on 26 December 1944, came orders to join the fight in the “Bulge”, and after a sixty mile night march, the Battalion took positions at Ozo, Belgium and began blasting Von Runstedt’s hope with HE.”
They obediently followed orders. They didn’t know if they would come home.
They marched silently towards the enemy line with determination. Fear was not an option.
Our nation’s fabric was fortified by the strong threads of patriotism of each soldier’s steps on those foreign fields. This was their sacrifice for us.
The anonymous warriors returned home and slipped back into their civilian lives. Some married and had families. Others went back to school to finish their education under the GI Bill. They all found jobs and fulfilled their dreams in freedom’s sunlight.
Worn government issued garments were tucked away in footlockers with scratched dog tags on thin chains. Faded diaries, creased love letters, and clusters of Medals of Honor and Valor stayed hidden in the folds of the thick, dark fabric now peppered with pungent mothballs. When the trunk lid closed, so did a chapter on that part of their lives. The painful memories of the horrors of war and their guarded mental anguish from the loss of comrades were also stored away. Dark secrets from another life quietly rested.
Today, many years later and out of uniform, we don’t easily recognize these patriots as they walk among us. We rush past them at the local mall. Perhaps we sit next to them at baseball games and crowded restaurants. They don’t call attention to themselves in society as they go about their ordinary, daily lives. They are almost invisible. No notoriety is requested. They are humble. On patriotic holidays they stand tall and proud as they salute their inspiration, the red, white, and blue. I imagine that vivid mental pictures of combat deploy to the forefront of their minds as the colors pass by. And then, everything is blended in with the festivities of the present day.
For the most part, they are anonymous in the general population. Circulating among civilians, they are our silent heroes who stepped to the front of the line without being asked. Hands were not outstretched for a payback upon their return.
When I first met my father-in law, his wide grin and twinkling eyes drew me in. I felt comfortable in the presence of his gentle demeanor and kind spirit. He smiled broadly at our wedding in my hometown in upstate New York and proudly watched as his son started a new chapter in his life. He lovingly welcomed me into their family and that made me feel good.
To my adult children this ninety-one year old man is still affectionately known as “Poppy”, the grandfather who always sent them home with a cellophane wrapped pack of cheese crackers and a small toy to play with in the car. He loved to tend to his garden while puffing on vanilla scented tobacco and cultivated the most beautiful roses. On Thanksgiving, he traditionally mixed a special, strong Manhattan for me and we toasted the holiday season together. Now, he is also known as “G-Pop Pop” and freely hands out dollar bills to his great-grandchildren as they squeal with delight with their “paper money”. His gait may be slower now and his pipe is no longer lit, but his Irish eyes still twinkle as brightly as ever.
We mourned together when his son David, my husband, died. The timeline was disrupted and I could see the suffering in the creases of his face. As a father, he proudly reminisced about his son’s many accomplishments. David was the offspring of two first-generation American parents and was the first child to graduate from college as a ROTC candidate. He then went on to become a Navy flyer and continued on to law school while in the Naval Reserves. Pictures of David and his squadron in their flight suits standing next to their P-3 are proudly displayed in the dining room breakfront adjacent to the simple oak box that contains his ashes. Father and son had a special bond that I would never know, so I was left to observe and admire them from a distance. When the funeral director brought the triangular folded flag with my husband’s remains to our home, I felt proud as I clutched the cloth package tightly to my chest. Someday, the scene will be replayed for my father-in-law, as another family member will receive his symbol of courage.
I knew that my father-in-law had been in the Army, but he never spoke of his tour of duty. The only evidence for me of his military service was an occasional story about the local American Legion Hall, where he loved to attend social events with Nanny and just stop by and talk with his buddies. He probably shared a memory or two over a drink, but I never was privy to the harsh details of war. Sadly, the crowds have now thinned-out at the hall. There are only a few left who remember World War II and the sordid tales of its atrocities. Today only faint whispers echo from worn armchairs and fall on the ears of aging loved ones who truly understand. The rest of us have to rely on antiseptic, printed words posted on history book pages.
Fortunately, age promotes a curious desire to share. As the road ahead gets shorter and the one behind seems longer, we tend to be more liberal with the disclosure of our life details. Perhaps we fear that we will be forgotten when we are gone and feel an urgency to solidify our footprints.
When pressed for more information about his Army days by his surviving sons, “Poppy” dug out some pages from his war diary. Those referenced entries gave a little glimpse into the life of:
Corporal David S. Kluxen Sr.
259th Field Artillery Battalion Overseas
January 1943 – December 21, 1945.
Now I know a little bit more about this brave, kind man, the grandfather to my children and great-grandfather to my grandchildren. I look forward to the next time that I will see him. Not only will I give him a big hug and kiss, but also I will make sure to thank him for preserving the freedom that I enjoy today. I can tell him how much I appreciate his sacrifice and how proud I am of his legacy. I am grateful he decided to share his memories and I am pleased that he let me peek into a corner his life when he was far away from home and unsure if he would ever return. I am humbled by his courage. Tom Brokaw, news journalist and author called these soldiers “ The Greatest Generation”. I have to agree.
“…The movement from Ozo to Rahier was a continuous struggle with ice and snow, sliding guns, tractors, and trucks, but dawn of January 3,1945, found all guns in position and ready to fire. The snow, which was to remain with us continuously for six weeks, was now deep on the ground. A few days later, in position near Basse Bodeux, Jerry found Able battery and shelled the position extensively. The “ Battle of the Bulge” was now entering its final phase, with the enemy struggling desperately to extricate their troops from what might have become a giant trap, and always the guns of the 259th marked the route of his retreat in his own blood. Goronne, Provedroux, and across the Salm River and up to Montenau and Hepscheid, and the “ Bulge” was gone from our lines.”