06 June 2013

D-Day, 69 Years Ago

Allow me to tell this story of one of The Greatest Generation who didn't fall in battle ... because many, many of his buddies did. And we cannot recall the war dead without considering their comrades-in-arms.
I had the honor of knowing Charlie Gretsch, a gentleman who served as an ambulance driver in WWII. He was in the D-Day landing on Normandy Beach.
"I've never been so scared in my whole life," he told me. "I thought I was gonna wet my pants. Some guys did, but we all got wet when we got out of the landing craft, so it didn't matter. The bullets sounded like mosquitos, except worse than you could imagine. Guys were getting chopped to pieces. Sometimes you couldn't even recognize 'em after they got hit."

Later, he participated in the Battle of the Bulge. "Every couple of hours, there'd be another rumor coming down the line that the Nazis had broken through, or that they'd infiltrated this unit or that one, or that we were cut off from the rest of the guys. I just kept picking up wounded guys, and driving 'em back to where they needed to go. If a Kraut wanted to shoot me, he was welcome to try. Whenever I was scared, I'd just drive a little faster," he said.
Charlie was an inspiration to me: just a normal guy who emigrated to the States as a boy, from Malta. He never finished high school, but when he got called by Uncle Sam, he went. He had a job to do, and he did it. No crying, no fuss; he just got the job done, and came back home.
"I was lucky," he said. "A lot of guys didn't make it back." But Charlie did.
He came back and married his best girl, Marcella, right after the war. Charlie worked in a factory until he retired. Marcella was a cook at an elementary school. For all that they had little education, they provided for a son who literally became a rocket scientist, working at White Sands when I met him.
When they retired, they lived in a small but tidy double-wide, in an equally-small subdivision out in the country. Charlie spent a lot of time sitting on the front porch, waving at the cars as people drove past. He always had a kind word for anyone who'd stop to talk.
We lived across the street from Charlie and Marcella for nearly 12 years. Every day after work, I'd head over & have a long talk with him. Marcella would join us eight times out of ten. He always had a funny story to tell. The few times that he mentioned the war, he'd start to shake, even after all those years.
We moved away, more than a decade ago. My in-laws would mention him, from time to time, as they had mutual friends. I always wanted to go back and see him, but there never seemed to be time to travel all that way. Then we moved to Alaska, and that was the end of that.
Charlie passed away, a few years ago. Marcella lives in a senior community now.
Rest in peace, Charlie. I'm richer for having known you.


ProudHillbilly said...

Wow. What a privilege.

Rev. Paul said...

He was a great guy, a plain-spoken man who told it the way he saw it. I miss him.

CottonLady said...

Thank you for sharing the story of Charlie. My mother may have been a nurse in one of the MASH units he delivered the injured to, she was head surgical nurse in one. She is still living, but does not talk about it much...she said it was too horrible at times.

God bless our greatest generation for their sacrifices for our freedom.


Rev. Paul said...

Please pass my most sincere "thank you" to your mother, for all she did. My dad was too young to serve then, but uncles did, and she may have helped them. (Dad served during Korea.)

Sandy said...

Rev. Paul, Thank you for sharing this wonderful post. God Bless
Charlie Gretsch.

Rev. Paul said...

Thank you, Sandy.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fine man. As they all were, and are.


Rev. Paul said...

Agreed, Guffaw; thanks.

Cathy said...

Beautiful Rev. Paul.

It brought back my dad.

Bloody Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge.

We owe so much.

Rev. Paul said...

Cathy, I hope the memories are happy ones. And you're right - a debt we can only try to repay.