May 8, 2014
Night was descending and all the soldiers around him had fallen one by one. They were picked off like targets at a carnival shooting game as the enemy sent shells whistling through the air toward the 9-man company. He steadied himself behind his machine gun and waited for the next German to dare show himself in the clearing in the trees. BOOM! A bomb explodes and sends him hurling through the air. BOOM! Another bomb explodes and returns him to the bunker he coveted for shelter. Was there help? Were there reinforcements? Would he survive?
This was the long night of May 8, 1918, your great-grandfather, Lawrence, had in World War I that awarded him a purple heart and a silver star. Lawrence held the German forces away through the evening, by himself, until his buddies came to look for the squad in the morning and rescued him. By keeping the Germans away he held the field for the allies and prevented a full attack by the Germans.
Out of drinking water, grandpa drank the only thing he could find, the water in the machine gun that was used to cool it. For his bravery, he received lead poisoning and nearly died. He was blown out of and back into the bunker several times which resulted in a back injury that plagued him the rest of his life. But despite all of this, even after Lawrence had to shoot a German who managed to make it up the hill, he still left the safety of his bunker to help the wounded enemy only to find he was too late.
Liberty, this is only one of the incredible stories in your lineage of the brave, courageous, and patriotic ancestry that you have. (I will share more in future letters.) Nothing was given to your great-grandfather. In fact, everything had been taken away from him by the time he was 16. His mother died of cancer when he was 7 and his father, George, was killed 8 years later.
George along with his two employees were going over a bridge on his thrashing machine when it fell off the bridge, pinning him against a stone wall. His middle was crushed but his only concern was that his two companions were ok and safe. “Mr. R. was accompanied by two colored men, George and William B., on the engine. When the engine went down, his assistants were thrown into the creek and miraculously escaped serious injury. Mr. R. insisted, however, that the men who were endeavoring to extricate him should help the others before doing anything for him.” (The Interior Journal – August 26, 1910)
George had made an agreement with his neighbor that if anything happened to him, the neighbor would take care of the children. When the time came, the neighbor took everything George owned, including a town store, and left the children to fend for themselves. Lawrence found himself working on the farm of a family friend for pennies and living in meager housing for 4 years. His only chance for freedom was lying about his age and enlisting in the army.
He had his father’s entrepreneurial spirit though. While in Texas chasing Pancho Villa in 1914, he did laundry for his fellow soldiers to make money. (see The Forgotten General) He was part of history, being assigned to the 2nd machine gun battalion in the “Big Red One” (see Duty First) and not only remembered seeing the Red Baron fly above them in the skies, he saw the Red Baron shot down. It is no wonder Lawrence became the most decorated WWI veteran of his town with 2 Silver Stars, a Purple Heart, a Fourragère aux couleurs de la Croix de guerre, and many victory Medals.
Several years after the war and getting married, Lawrence found himself living in the Great Depression with a wife and child. He had a job at ARMCO (American Rolling Mill Company) and would go there everyday to see if he would be able to work. The operators did their best to spread the work around so everyone got a chance to make some money. On the days Lawrence wasn’t chosen, he farmed a small plot of land allowing him to feed his family. After the Depression, when work was steady, Lawrence decided to do what he could to move ahead. With only a 4th grade education, he taught himself the slide rule (no small feat if you know what a slide rule is) and educated himself enough that he could become a supervisor. No one did this for him, not even a teacher. He did this totally on his own.
Liberty, don’t let anyone ever tell you that you don’t have the right to speak or to have an opinion because you are “privileged”. Your ancestors have put their blood, sweat, and tears into this country for your God given right to do just that. They deserve our respect, not our disdain. Know your heritage, know your rich, spiritual inheritance and never, ever be ashamed of it.
That’s my 2 cents.
A HERO'S STORY