My Uncle Johnny was a WWII veteran, having served in Europe. Like many men who were in combat, he never spoke much about this time of his life. I’d like to know more, but everyone in my family who was alive at that time is no longer here. What has survived is a uniform, a Nazi warplane map he likely smuggled out from somewhere, and a powder compact he got somewhere in Europe as a gift for his sister (my mother). The uniform is in excellent condition, and there is this well-preserved photo of him in it. The compact is faded, with the once vibrant painting of the Eiffel Tower mostly gone. I remember it from my childhood – looking at it sitting on my mother’s bureau and thinking it was one of the most beautiful, sophisticated things I’d ever seen.
Recently my sister gave me a photo-album of pictures Johnny took while enlisted; something I did not know even existed. These photos, however, create more questions than they answer. My sister believes he did some kind of work as a photographer in the army, whereas I’d always heard he did something involving repair and painting of planes and equipment, which led to his future career as a self-employed auto body repairman. Most of the photos in the album have nothing written on or beside them indicating subjects, photographer, dates or place.
Through a little internet sleuthing I was able to look up the meaning of some of the insignia on Johnny’s uniform. From this I learned that he was a corporal, was a communications specialist (perhaps confirming my sister’s recollections), he received an army good conduct ribbon in addition to the E.A.M.E ribbon for service (European, African, Middle Eastern) that has three stars attached, indicating he served in three campaigns in the European Theater. He also received an honorable discharge, as confirmed by the patch with the gold embroidered eagle in a circle.
Chances are we’ll never know much more about our Uncle Johnny’s military service, but we know he was a good guy, full of joviality regardless of what calamities he’d seen as a young man. When I was younger, it never occurred to me to be proud of him for what he did during the war, whatever it may have been, but I was always proud to have him as my uncle.