When my sister-in-law Anna downsized to a smaller house recently she passed along to me some of the collected memorabilia of the Brown family. Among the odds and ends accumulated by my parents over the years was a small box that has been stored in one closet or another during all of my lifetime. It contains an assortment of items from my dad’s time in the Army during World War II. Many of the items in it look like they were just casually dropped in there when he got out of the service. His uniform hat and tie could still be worn today. The medals he earned were in there, along with an old cigarette lighter that just needs fluid to work again. In addition to this box of stuff Anna also passed along one other item that I remember hanging inconspicuously in my parents’ bedroom closet when I was a kid. It is a plaque that was awarded to my dad when he received his Bronze Star medal. It wasn’t protected nearly as well over the years as the smaller items enclosed in the cardboard box. The thin wooden frame, which I suspect was purchased by my mother back in the 1940’s, was literally coming apart. When I pulled on one of the tiny nails she had used to mount the certificate, it disintegrated into a small pile of rust. All things considered, the little nail had done its job well. I know for a fact this plaque was hanging in that bedroom closet when Hurricane Carla flooded our home with briny sea water way back in 1961. As you would expect, the award certificate is slightly browner than it was originally and the ink from some ancient typewriter ribbon has almost faded away. Last week I took it to a local framing store and had it remounted in a UV protected frame. This is what it looks like now:
As you can tell from the insignia at the bottom, this was from the 2nd Armored Division, known as “Hell on Wheels.” The description is still difficult to read in my photo. This is what it says:
“Corporal Ray O. Brown, 14042494, 67th Armored Regiment, for heroic achievement in connection with military operations against the enemy on 10 April 1945 in Germany. Corporal Brown was commanding the lead tank of a small task force sent out to eliminate an enemy road block that was holding up the advance. After deploying his tanks, Corporal Brown dismounted from his tank to make a personal reconnaissance. After reporting the strength of the enemy block, Corporal Brown maneuvered his tanks to eliminate the enemy opposition. In the ensuing action, thirty prisoners were taken. The task force was then able to continue on its mission. Entered military service form Louisiana.”
I remember as a small boy being fascinated by this story. I still have a clear mental image of a young man sneaking along a mountain ridge to spy on the enemy position below. My brother and I often tried to get Dad to talk about his adventures in the war. The few times he did, you could tell this was such a memorable time in the life of a guy who grew up on a small family farm in northern Louisiana. Mother often politely cut him off when he got into some of the scarier events. Along with the Bronze Star, he also received two Purple Heart Medals. My dad had the dubious honor of surviving being blown up twice. Once by a German Panzer tank in their homeland and once by General Patton’s American Air Force in Sicily (oops!).
You know, when I stop and think about these moments in time, it amazes me how easily one of the close calls could have gone the other way. If so, I wouldn’t exist at all today, or at least I wouldn’t be exactly the person I am.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.