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Grateful for freedom

In September 1944, my father, at 20 years of age, enlisted into the U

Grateful for freedom

     In September 1944, my father, at 20 years of age, enlisted into the U.S. Army. Knowing well such a move at the time he made it, would land him in the midst of battle. Just two short months later he found himself in Belgium with a battery of the 372nd FA Bn. of the 99th Infantry Division.

     Perhaps before he arrived he had grand visions of charging over a hill chasing frightened and fleeing Nazis. He may have never envisioned the war in its horrible reality. Had he a clue of the human suffering and lost buddies in his future and of how it feels to actually kill another human being he may not have traded his warm bed for a frozen battlefield. He may not have traded the feeling of being surrounded by loving family and friends for the fear of dying in a foreign land from an unseen bullet in the dark of the night.

     With Christmas only days away, I wonder if amongst the exploding shells and whizzing bullets he had time to wish for something better? Or was the terror so urgent he had only the time to think of how he could stay alive? Was he indifferent for his own life? Was his biggest fear that of letting his buddies down? Did he keep on fighting for them because he knew they were fighting for him?

     Did these front line soldiers ask themselves, "Why am I here?" When their feet were blue and their stomachs empty, did they second guess themselves? With exploding shells aimed at them providing the only light across snow-filled fields did they think, "I would trade my very soul if only to be back home"? Maybe they did.

     But given a real opportunity to do so I think most would have only accepted on the condition that their fighting brothers could come with them. Given a choice between leaving the hell of battle alone, and staying at any cost with their fellows, I think all would have stayed.

     For these men, eating a cold K-ration in a quiet place without fear of instant death must have been at the outer limits of hope. If fatigue were to give them just a few moments of sleep and in that sleep they were to dream. And the dream was nothing more than that of a hot, steaming shower, maybe just for a second the pain would have left their wet, frozen feet. And in that second they may have imagined the sensation of their own body heat. If so, they would awaken feeling blessed. Of course, in the next second an exploding shell would make that feeling as distant a memory as the shores of home.

     I will venture to say that none of the men who made it back home considered themselves heroes. Instead they may think of themselves as lucky - as fortunate for not being 20 yards this way or that when a shell, bullet, or bayonet took the life of one of their brothers.

     I wonder how, in that living hell, every man did not go instantly insane? What kept them from digging a hole and covering themselves up? Or putting a gun to their own head, knowing it could all be over in an instant?

     I am so thankful I was born at a time which did not require of me what their time required of them. I find myself thanking God that it was so. But first I must thank all the men who crushed Hitler's dream, and in particular my father and his fighting brothers of the 99th. If the men who fought in any war are the gauge of the difference between being brave or not, I hope that I may never know. Thank you men, for my freedom - even to write this note.

Robert S. Roche Jr.

9578 Sims B-12

El Paso TX 79925

Memories of father are shared

     I wanted to thank you for printing the letter I sent concerning my father, Robert S. Roche, A/372. A very kind gentleman by the name of Frank J. Hatfield sent me a letter which I received on Dec. 18, 1999, that day being one week before Christmas and just three days before my birthday. Without doubt it is the most meaningful gift I could have hoped to receive.

     Hatfield explained how he and my father, along with 1,200 other men trained in Van Dorn MS, prior to going into battle. He told me of one soldier being killed and my father, along with several others, being wounded from the muzzle-blast of a 155mm howitzer while they were involved in a training exercise. He added that my father had worked himself up to section chief of a crew of men who would fight the nazis with the 155mm howitzer. I am so proud to learn my father at such a young age, was chosen for that task.

     Through the Checkerboard and men like Frank Hatfield, I have an opportunity to learn things about my father. For that I am ever grateful. I shall never take for granted what you men of the 99th along with my father have done for me and mine.

Robert S. Roche Jr.