Often, he'd tell about his service during World War II and just afterward (he rejoined the U.S. Army for a few months after the war). He had quit school at age 16 in the fifth grade — apparently his teachers could move him along that far — so he had few talents to bring to the Army. He was a strong, hard-working laborer, and they made him a guard.
He was in London, and he talked about Paris, but he never saw much of England or France. He spent his time close to his work, which was pretty simple. Guard prisoners and look out for Nazis.
He had only one story about actual battle. He'd dug one of the many foxholes during his term overseas, and the Nazis were shooting machine guns. He was sweating bullets in his foxhole as the Germans' ammo sizzled overhead, hit something and dropped into the hole beside him.
He talked about the boat ride to England. The ship swayed to and fro, and, yes, he had trouble keeping his lunch down all the way.
Rodney actually ran into one of his brothers overseas — they were in different divisions — and they spent a few hours together.
His favorite memory of war came when they were having a singing contest. He had a strong, clear voice and loved to sing; he was quick to break into song, any time, any place. He sang the "Wabash Cannonball" and a couple of other songs for the soldiers and civilians. Just when he was pulling out with his group, he received a gift from the French woman who had put on the contest.
It was a box of fruit, sweeter than normal because it was earned with his voice. Many years later, he'd tell anyone who'd listen about the basket of fruit, and he'd happily break into the "Wabash Cannonball."
He'd also show off his medals, including a Purple Heart, and his son still has them.
He's remembered and missed every day, of course, but the memories of World War II resonate like his singing voice on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
Happy Veterans Day, Dad.
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Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie
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