Sunday, May 24, 2009

One veteran

Rodney Gillispie had a big smile and a sometimes violent temper. He'd tell the same stories over and over, and you'd hear about Pete Richmond (not sure about spelling), the little giant of a man, and the many people he worked with over most of the 20th century in Bath County, Va.

Often, he'd tell about his service during World War II and just afterward. He'd 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 U.S. Army. He was a strong, hard-working laborer, and they made him a guard.

He was in London, and he may have been in 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' 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 got to run 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 at the nursing home many years later. 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 basket 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.

Oh, and he's still loved.


Contact: I can be reached at tgilli52@gmail.com or nc3022@yahoo.com. Also, my Twitter handle is EDITORatWORK.

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Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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