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Re-Tracing History

This past July I had the opportunity to visit Normandy in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the Allied D-Day Invasion that changed the course of World War II. Webb Weekly has afforded me the chance to share this wonderful experience with its readers. What follows is the first of a four-part story on that memorable trip.

As the plane ascended from the Newark Airport, both excitement and some trepidation filled my mind. This was a trip that was in the planning stages for almost a year. Unlike many of the other trips I had taken in the past, this one had nothing to do with sports — although it was indeed sports that made it all possible.

This one was about family and family history, and the opportunity to be sharing it with my son Doug made it even more special. This trip was giving the two of us a chance to re-trace those most dangerous footsteps my father took during his World War II service time with the Pennsylvania 28th Division in the European Theatre.

Sports and military service are common threads in the Lowery family. My Dad was a two-sport athlete at Danville High School. On January 27, 1941, he enlisted in the Army as a member of the H.Q. Battery 107 F.A. 1st Battalion and reported to the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation. He eventually would rise to the rank of Sergeant Major and be awarded the Bronze Star Medal before being honorably discharged from the Army on June 17, 1945.

Sports have always been a big part of the lives of both Doug and I. Doug is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, having served two tours in Afghanistan. My service time included four years in the Air Force. We have a grandson in the Marine Corps.

A few years ago, while on vacation in New Orleans, Jean and I visited the city’s World War II Museum. Based upon my Dad’s World War II service, that visit had a special meaning. While there, I purchased a book entitled No Greater Love, which detailed the WWII experiences of several MLB greats. Players chronicled included Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Stan Musial, and Jerry Coleman, among many others. It was a great read.

With appreciation, I wrote a letter to its author, Todd Anton, a school history teacher living near San Diego. A few weeks later, I was surprised to receive a letter from Anton. He included his contact information and suggested I contact him. As our communications developed, we learned we shared many interests, chief among them was a keen love of baseball and military family background — as both our fathers had served in WWII.

Last July, Todd presented a most unexpected invitation to embark on a commemorative trip to France in association with the 75th anniversary of the Allied landing in Normandy. We responded in the affirmative.

Looking down from the plane window and seeing nothing but the Atlantic Ocean below, I couldn’t help but think how different my trip to France was than what Dad experienced. We were traveling in ‘relative comfort’ and would reach Paris in 6 ½ hours. For Dad, and the thousands of other G.I.s, the trip across the pond would take nearly two weeks while all the time on the lookout for German submarines trying to end their journey.

As a youngster growing up, there were many war stories Dad would talk about, but there were others he refused to reveal. I no doubt got my interest in journalism from Dad as from the day he entered the service; he had kept a journal of his experiences. He often talked about his writing and expressed a desire to write a book someday — but never followed through rationalizing that ‘no one would be interested in reading it.’

For several months before his unit embarked for Normandy, they were stationed in England near the town of Porthcawl. Seemingly endless training preparations were held until they received orders; they were off to Normandy a few weeks following the D-Day landings. The G.I.’s were told they could not take any personal letters, pictures, or journals with them. Not wanting to throw away the journal he had been keeping for three years, he looked for alternatives.

One of Dad’s army buddies had married an English girl during the time they were there. His buddy told him that his wife had a girlfriend (named Doreen Anderson) who may be willing to keep the journal for him. Not knowing the lady, Dad agreed, and the journal stayed in England as he moved on.

My parents divorced when I was in college, and Dad looked to pick up the pieces. One of his best Army comrades, Cowboy Clubb, lived in Mesa, Arizona, so Dad decided to head west. He later married a wonderful woman (Amy) with who he shared 42 years of marriage until his passing in 2008. He was buried with full military honors at the Arizona National Veterans Cemetery in Phoenix.

Sometime in the late 1980s, Dad took Amy to England and France to re-trace his WWII days. While visiting Porthcawl, he stopped in a town bar the G.I.’s had frequented. Striking up a conversation with the bartender, he asked if the bar-keep knew off Doreen Anderson. He responded that he did, further stating that she was living just a few blocks down the street.

Dad went to the address, knocked on the door, and low and behold Doreen answered the door and still had Dad’s journal; she was given more than forty years earlier. Indeed it had been kept safe in good hands.

Following Dad’s funeral, Amy gave me the journal stating that she knew Dad would want me to have it.

Returning home and remembering that Dad had said he someday wanted to write a book, I eagerly began transcribing his notes. Some were contained in bound books, others typewritten, and many scrawled on loose sheets of paper, but they were memories now more than 64 years old. After a few months, other life duties prevailed, and the project slowed.

Then in the fall of 2014, ‘something told me’ that I needed to get that project completed. I intended to compile his notes, put them in loose-leaf binders, and give them to living relatives at Christmas. I told one of my office co-workers what I was doing, and she told me I should put the notes in a hard backed book. Having no idea how to do that, she offered to help me complete the task. A few weeks before Christmas, the finished product arrived from the printers.

At this time, Amy was in poor health, and my stepsister (Jackie) informed me she had stopped talking, was eating very little, and she didn’t even know if her mom knew who she was. I told her I would fly out right after Christmas. We mailed Christmas gifts to Amy that included the finished book.

The day before Christmas, Jackie called me. She was visiting her mom, and while there began to open the presents we had sent. Amy had said nothing for weeks. The book I had put together featured Dad’s picture on the cover. Jackie opened the package and held the book up for Amy to see. Slowly, a faint smile crossed her face, and she said. “That’s my husband.”

Those would be the last words Amy would ever speak. A few days later, she passed away to be buried beside Dad at the Veteran’s Cemetery.

As our plane continued its flight to Paris, that book was clutched tightly in my possession. This was indeed going to be a most memorable tour!

(Note: This past July I had the opportunity to visit Normandy in conjunction with the 75th anniversary of the Allied D-Day Invasion that changed the course of World War II. Webb Weekly has afforded me the chance to share this wonderful experience with its readers. What follows is the first of a four-part story on that memorable trip).

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