Why We Fight: #DDay75

 

Grandpa was an RAF fighter shot down over Nazi-occupied France and was held for four years as a Prisoner of War in a German internment labor camp, the best of the three options if you had to choose. Think North Korea. Other’s were not so relatively lucky. While he was surrounded by hunger and death, the constant rumors that the Vichy Government would hand over Jewish POW’s to the Gestapo were true. Many were transported to a nearby internment camp (Drancy) before being sent to the Third Reich’s concentration camps or extermination camps, mostly in Germany or Poland.

Training before entering WW2

From 1939 to 1945 (from a build up in 1936) on average 10,000 innocent people were killed daily. Families were ripped apart, women and girls were beaten and raped, men and boys were tortured, and many served as guinea pigs in horrendous and grotesque experiments by Nazi doctors. For those not shot, electrocuted, or gassed many died from malnutrition, disease and being worked to death. 

Dad, a pre-teen living in the poverty-stricken, bombed out East End of London survived the German Blitz by sleeping in the London Tube for 71 nights while facing daily fights and black eyes defending himself at school simply because he was Jewish. Even as England’s bravest were fighting the evil regime, many in Britain didn’t know of the horror show across the channel. Eventually, like many other youths, Dad was put on a train to the Midlands where he spent the rest of his formative years in Northampton, England. By the time he was a Cadet, the war had ended.

A few months after the liberation, Grandpa came home to face the demons in his dreams nightly, while during the day not able to provide in any meaningful way for his family. Rations and poverty caused my Father and most his age to be constantly hungry. The dummy boxes of fake oranges in the shop windows that showed artist renderings of the orange groves of California served as Dad’s earliest motivation to work hard so he could one day live among those trees and sunshine.

My Grandpa never spoke of the war. The daily horror he lived for four years was internalized and forever stamped on his consciousness. Like so many men, the war forever changed him. Some called him “shell shocked”, the early equivalent of PTSD.

He was a very quiet man, barely speaking to anyone. The only outlet for any communication was painting furniture, something he would do to bring in enough money to feed his only child and wife. He eventually started to paint pieces in Japanese themes, such as black lacquer armoirs and desks and sold them to local hotels for their lobbies. His reputation started to grow and some of his furniture, created over 60 years ago, remained in high-end hotels throughout London for decades, such as The Churchill at Marble Arch. 

Chain-smoking and painting is how I barely remember him before he died of lung cancer at the early age of 57. According to Dad, Grandpa only came out of his shell when he saw his grandson, me. He would hobble around with me on his back, loudly announcing to nobody in particular he was selling coal. “Sack of Coallll!”

Not sure whether my glimpses of memory are real or just remnants of stories from my Dad, but I do remember feeling so very loved by him. He knew that as so many family lines around him had ended, I was going to carry on the family name, and his only Son, my Father, would eventually have four children.

Dad passed 10 years ago this Summer, but his and Grandpa’s legacy lives on in his nine grandchildren.

From the Battle’s of the Bulge, Stalingrad, Berlin, and others, there are countless families who have stories of their brave loved ones that somehow, against the immense odds, stopped the 20th century’s most monumental threat from overtaking Europe and forever changing the course of human history.

Let us take a moment to not only remember, but to share with the younger generation the incredible sacrifice of the men and women of the greatest generation. 

 

Published in History
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There are 19 comments.

  1. Columbo Member

    “Let us take a moment to not only remember, but to share with the younger generation the incredible sacrifice of the men and women of the greatest generation.” 

    • #1
    • June 5, 2019, at 2:01 PM PDT
    • 15 likes
  2. Dr. Bastiat Member

    Remarkable. Beautiful.

    Thank you.

    • #2
    • June 5, 2019, at 2:59 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  3. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Edit: I removed the concentration camp video and replaced with the picture of his early training.

    • #3
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:11 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Thank you for sharing your family with us, Dave. I can’t imagine the pain your grandfather carried with him, and I’m touched by the image of his carrying his “sack of coal.” He must have loved you deeply. It’s a sweet memory of him for you to always keep with you.

    • #4
    • June 5, 2019, at 4:26 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  5. Vance Richards Member

    Thanks for sharing . . . and that furniture is amazing too.

    • #5
    • June 5, 2019, at 5:09 PM PDT
    • 7 likes
  6. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Thank you for sharing your family with us, Dave. I can’t imagine the pain your grandfather carried with him, and I’m touched by the image of his carrying his “sack of coal.” He must have loved you deeply. It’s a sweet memory of him for you to always keep with you.

    Thanks Susan. I would be remiss if not to mention the spouses left at home to fend for themselves. The nightly air raids and running her young son down to the Tube must have been terrifying for my Grandmother.

    • #6
    • June 5, 2019, at 5:29 PM PDT
    • 9 likes
  7. Mountie Member

    My father left the University of Alabama in 1939, went to England and flew for the RAF. He turned down an opportunity to transfer to the Army Air Corp after the US got into the war. His attitude was that he started the war with these guys, he’d finish it with these guys. He met my mother when he was on leave in Sidmouth. She was a widow who had lost her husband, also a pilot, during the Battle of France. She had two children, both girls, by her first husband. They married, he brought her home to the US, adopted the girls and then they had 3 children of their own bringing the family to 5 children. I’m the youngest.

    • #7
    • June 5, 2019, at 8:45 PM PDT
    • 18 likes
  8. Mim526 Member

    Dave Sussman: The dummy boxes of fake oranges in the shop windows that showed artist renderings of the orange groves of California served as Dad’s earliest motivation to work hard so he could one day live among those trees and sunshine.

    Must have seemed a promised land.

    An extraordinary post, @davesussman. Thank you for sharing. The turning over POWs of Jewish descent to Gestapo is not a story often told. Makes those men uniquely brave to have served.

    • #8
    • June 6, 2019, at 1:43 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  9. Stad Thatcher

    Dave Sussman: Let us take a moment to not only remember, but to share with the younger generation the incredible sacrifice of the men and women of the greatest generation. 

    Done. Thank you for this post. I often wonder if our young people would step up to the line if called upon to defend our country. Sadly, too many of them don’t think it’s worth defending . . .

    • #9
    • June 6, 2019, at 5:52 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. Doug Watt Member

    Thank you Dave. Sometimes the best stories are not the histories of the grand strategies of WWII, but the stories of the men and their families that made those strategies successful.

    My dad is somewhere between 18, or 19 years-old in this photo. Before he turned 19 he had completed several war patrols in the Pacific in the Submarine Service.

    • #10
    • June 6, 2019, at 7:18 AM PDT
    • 13 likes
  11. She Thatcher
    She

    Vance Richards (View Comment):

    Thanks for sharing . . . and that furniture is amazing too.

    It’s spectacular. I’m sure your Grandpa loved you very much, Dave. What a sweet story–“sack of coall!”

    There’s also a striking resemblance. I think I could have found Grandpa without the arrow, if I studied the photo for a minute or two.

    • #11
    • June 6, 2019, at 7:36 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. She Thatcher
    She

    For Uncle Bill and Uncle Joe:

     

    • #12
    • June 6, 2019, at 8:08 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  13. Dave Carter Contributor

    Deeply moving story, Dave, and we are richer with you sharing it. And yes,…this is not only “Why We Fight,” but the sort of people who do the fighting. These were, and are, the best of us.

    • #13
    • June 6, 2019, at 8:45 AM PDT
    • 12 likes
  14. Arahant Member

    Thank you, Dave. Also thank you for the pictures of your grandfather’s work.

    • #14
    • June 6, 2019, at 10:25 AM PDT
    • 6 likes
  15. Retail Lawyer Member

    White Male Privilege. That is the first thought running through my mind when I contemplate these stories. (Modern America has really lost it.) But it is transitory. I am so grateful for what these men did!

    • #15
    • June 6, 2019, at 12:08 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Dave Sussman Contributor
    Dave Sussman Post author

    Thank you all for your comments and pictures of your family heroes. Just got back in and caught the President’s speech at Normandy. Forget the talking head politics, it was exceptional.

    Also, Mom texted me earlier after seeing this. She made sure I knew I forgot to mention that Grandpa was on the business end of a tank shelling, severely burned and hospitalized for eight months. Don’t quite understand how I could not include that originally.

    • #16
    • June 6, 2019, at 3:01 PM PDT
    • 8 likes
  17. Arahant Member

    Dave Sussman (View Comment):
    She made sure I knew I forgot to mention that Grandpa was on the business end of a tank shelling and severely burned and hospitalized for eight months.

    Does sort of make a difference.

    • #17
    • June 6, 2019, at 3:03 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  18. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    Dave Sussman: He eventually started to paint pieces in Japanese themes, such as black lacquer armoirs and desks and sold them to local hotels for their lobbies.

    The furniture is exquisite. Hopefully, you inherited a piece or two to proudly keep in the family. 

    • #18
    • June 8, 2019, at 2:55 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  19. Chris Hutchinson Coolidge

    Dave Sussman: Let us take a moment to not only remember, but to share with the younger generation the incredible sacrifice of the men and women of the greatest generation.

    Great post, Dave. It was an honor and a privilege to be able to be in Normandy this year and share the history with my children.

     

    • #19
    • June 13, 2019, at 2:13 AM PDT
    • 3 likes