Bless The Echoes Of Those Boys

Eisenhower National Historic Site

The following is a story I penned for some local newspapers back in the fall of 2009. It’s the story of Harry Adams, an Army Veteran who served in World War 2. Harry passed in 2016, but his life, and the difference he made, will never be forgotten by this humble writer.

Thank you, Harry.

It has been more than sixty four years since the ultimate sacrifice of the Allied forces helped to forge a nation’s new mandate while ridding the world of a ruthless tyrant. Harry Adams doesn’t have much use for rhetorical definitions though, being that he lived the most expansive war in the history of the world from the front lines.

The eighty seven year old Adams owns a much more human perspective,
speaking the moments of that time with his eyes and bringing it into clear focus as we sit at his dining room table. The Lititz High School graduate had worked his way into a plum job at Armstrong while at the same time preparing for a possible call to duty. “I started out working in a shoe factory, a summer job . . . I made twenty five cents an hour. And then I doubled that when I went to work at the chocolate factory. So when I got a job with Armstrong making sixty nine cents an hour? I had it made!”

This good life was interrupted when Adams was called into the war by President Roosevelt. There were no draft numbers to pull for a twenty year old, according to Adams. “We just reported for duty when we were told.” So he did. He began his training as an army medic in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He then moved across Texas before finally being stationed at Fort Hood. It has been seven decades worth of calendar since he shipped out across the Atlantic via French ocean liner with ten thousand troops strong and landed in Glasgow.

His recall is lockstep in nature. “We were told not to worry, that the ship would be able to outrun u-boats,” He laughs. “We were under General Hodges’ command when we got to Europe, and it wasn’t until we arrived in England that we found out we were going to be fighting under General Patton. “I remember him coming out to speak to us when we arrived (in England). He told us we were going to keep the German army on the run. He said they couldn’t shoot if they had their backs to us . . . and he was right about that.”

As a medic in Patton’s Third Army, Adams quickly learned the relentless pace of the legendary commander as they devoured targets before their bombers could even arrive to provide cover. They moved at a breakneck pace that would earn Adams a Silver Star for having marched and fought through five campaigns- From Normandy through the Rhineland and up through the mountains of Ardennes into Central Europe. The march into the Bulge was hard and unforgiving. The troops lived on K Rations which Adams refers to as “Cracker Jack Boxes” which consisted of canned meats, cheeses, hard biscuits and cigarettes. They couldn’t build fires since this carried the risk of giving away their position to the Germans so they borrowed invention through necessity by heating their food on the manifolds of their Jeeps. Showers were an infrequent luxury, as was a good night’s sleep.

Winter was a grim odyssey of hard snows and excruciating cold snaps where frostbite and hypothermia accompanied the troops across the rugged, unforgiving terrain. Adams says the survival skills they adopted helped to borrow a modicum of comfort. “You couldn’t get warm, it was impossible. We had our uniforms and a blanket and that was all we had. So we made something out of anything we found. We became good at scavenging. And let me tell you, those silk parachutes . . . they were warm.”

There were close calls, such as the time his Captain tabbed him for a reconnaissance mission of a nearby village. The thought was to bring along a medic in the event the small group of men found any wounded soldiers. He decided against the need for Adams before walking into a nest of gunners. Adams met them later on at a hospital. The driver had been taken out. The Captain was shot in the back and the Colonel had lost his forearm in the firefight. “Another time we were moving through a town that hadn’t been liberated. We had no idea until a Colonel told us we had to get out of there, fast.”

And then there were the sober testaments to the mission they had each undertaken. He will never forget coming upon a camp with no idea as to what awaited him on the other side. He presents me with the pictures he brought back; grainy black and white photos out of hell. They are pictures from the Dachau concentration camp. One picture shows a couple of skeletal survivors standing next to a wooden cart piled high with the dead. There is one picture I can’t figure out. It appears to be a huge mound of sawdust, several feet high. I learn they are cremated remains. “I know there are people who say the Holocaust never happened, I say look at these pictures and then tell me it never happened.”

There is one other picture I have to ask him about. It is of the twenty two year old Adams being flanked by Generals Patton and Dwight D. Eisenhower. He tells me it was taken at the tail end of the war when his company was marching through Luxembourg. “I remember telling one of the fellas I was going to get my picture taken with them and he didn’t think I had the nerve to ask.” Adams says. “As it turned out, Patton was in a good mood. He told Eisenhower to ‘let the kid stand in the middle’. Later on when I was in Germany I sent that picture to General Eisenhower’s headquarters, requesting his signature and I received a letter from his secretary.” It is a typewritten response from Lt. Kay Summersby dated September 20, 1945 and it includes the autographed photos from the future President of the United States. Adams would later procure Patton’s signature for his photograph after meeting his niece, who worked for the Red Cross.

His voice still cracks at the thought of those bombers overhead. He can still smell the death of those prison camps. His eyes still tear when he recalls the long days and endless nights. His selfless dedication across thirty eight months in Europe leaves its impression on each and every American who puts him or herself in harms way. But Harry Adams doesn’t consider himself special. “I’m no hero . . .” He says simply. There is a proper reply to this statement, and it would lean to the contrary. Because he is most certainly just that; a hero. They all are. Not in the past tense, but in the strongest sense of our best hopes. The better understanding of our national identity comes from the link these voices of a greater generation have gifted us with. But I figure that a retort would sound contrived, and there is no time for clichés as we sit in his dining room surrounded by the memories of the men he stood with and the time he stood within. Adams repeats his belief as the sun sets on a late fall afternoon, and as with everything else, he does so firmly and with little hesitation.

I owe him the silence of this moment. I owe him a lot more than that, actually.

We all do.

97 thoughts on “Bless The Echoes Of Those Boys

  1. B,

    This is you at your most beautiful writing. There is a reason you were asked to write this. (And I’m glad you heeded Susannah’s suggestion.) You’ve shown Mr. Adams the respect he deserves in a proper way. No more words necessary as there is nothing that needs to be added.

    Q

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cincy

      Never. Every veteran I’ve interviewed is the same way. From veterans of WW2 to Korea to Vietnam to the Gulf. They’re dedicated, selfless and they believe in service. It’s truly a humbling experience to spend time in their presence.

      Thank you good sir. How thoughtful.

      Like

  2. Thank you for sharing this story.

    The most striking element of so many who served at that time is their humility. They had a job to do and that’s what they did. So few of them think of themselves as heroes or anything other than men (and women) who did their job, followed orders, and achieved incredible things.

    Whenever I watch a movie about war, or read a book on the subject, whether it is a historical war or a more recent one, I marvel at what the soldiers go through and that they keep pushing forward, regardless of the hunger, the cold, the hurt, the fright. They just keep going, and I simply do not understand how they can do that.

    It’s a marvel and a wonder, and a thing we should never, ever forget.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Humility is what’s needed right now since it seems to be extinct like good etiquette and the eagle. As much as war films upset me, I watch them always amazed knowing, whatever they show, you know it was much worse. The opening of Saving Private Ryan for instance. I recall Ed Burns saying, even though it was merely a movie, it was positively horrible. Something to that effect.

      I so wish I knew my dad’s story, but alas, grateful to now know Mr. Adams’s.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Humility and grace, love and forgiveness, patience and understanding. All in such short supply these days.

        The opening of Saving Private Ryan, and so many other sequences in that movie are positively riveting. And as you say, still not as bad as it is in reality for many soldiers.

        My dad joined the Air Force in 1951 and retired 20 years later. He never had to participate in any of the wars — too late for Korea and not actively flying by the time Vietnam heated up. He was a B-52 navigator, so while he never saw war up close, he did fly alerts regularly throughout his service.

        Liked by 2 people

    • A marvel, a wonder, a duty unimaginable. All of it and so much more.

      Their sense of duty is one of those things that has always amazed me. The men I’ve interviewed over the years, they never wavered.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What else do you have hidden? It’s like a diamond you forgot about. I’m all for being humble but, how apt was this on such a day that clearly affects you too.

    God bless Mr. Adams. Funny how that name brays, to quote General MacArthur, Duty, Honor, Country.
    SB

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Dear Marco,

    I agree with Dale. This is some of your most stunning writing. I don’t know that I have anything to add to the prior comments, other than to agree. What a privilege for you to interview such a hero. Thank you for passing on the privilege to the rest of us. A beautiful, tear-filled read.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rochelle,

      You are just the loveliest. Thank you.

      And yes, such a privilege to spend time around these men. Their stories are reminders to never taken our freedoms for granted.

      Shalom,

      Marco

      Like

  5. That’s the way to tell it. I don’t know if I caught this one before but glad I’ve read it this time around. Stories like these really get to me 22 years old, some 18, 19. Kids. Off in Vietnam, Korea, and the World Wars. Kids. Watching The Pacific and Band of Brothers, although not documentaries, still get to me because I imagine stories like that happened. Kids just kids. So I’m glad that some of them made it back and even though they came back different than when they left, their sacrifice is always valued and they are always seen. Harry Adams. Sunshine and waves my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cali

      I don’t believe I shared this one on Drinks. I might have shared one or two others but I can’t remember.

      Kids. That’s it right there. They were kids. Just starting out in their lives and boom, they’re shipped off to the other side of the world and exposed to hell. And yet, they never wavered.

      I’ve had the privilege of talking with several men who knew Dick Winters and they told me all about the Band of Brothers, which inspired me to read and watch afterwards. Amazing men.

      To Harry

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh man! That is such a good book and the series too. Everything makes you feel so much for those boys and I can’t even think of their parents. It’s really great that you are able to talk about Winters with all his brothers. That must have been such a great conversation about such an amazing life. Definitely courage. No doubt … to Harry

        Liked by 1 person

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