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Thursday, July 1, 2021

Introduction

My hope from this series is that we would be able to remember a journey. It's a journey which colored a man's life. Which I knew from his stories as a child lit up his eyes, but in a way which expressed caution. This journey he was careful not to relate as 'fun', because it wasn't. What is fun about not knowing if you would have your life in the morning? If you are going to come across a man dismembered from the waist and wonder what his mother would have thought at the sight? No, this journey was not fun. But it was one which defined a life.

My grandfather passed away at the age of 90 in the year 2009. He joined the military in 1941 and served overseas in the second world war for 4 years. He deployed to North Africa only 3 days after getting married, but maintained a commitment which brought him back home to a wife in Kentucky who waited for his return. They would go on to raise a beautiful family, two daughters and two sons, one of whom would be stillborn and one who was my father. This family has now produced 7 grandchildren 10 great grandchildren and a legacy which will walk this earth forever.  

In the year 2006, I started a journey of my own. Much less epic that his, but one which shaped my life in different ways. One of my freshman year English class projects was to create a 'multi genre' themed piece of writing which captured something close to me about which I wanted to learn more. After much thought, I chose 'Pop'. I was always intrigued by his stories. The way those few years shaped his whole life. About what a humble man he was even though he'd been part of the most epic struggle in human history.

If he were around now, I feel I may have the knowledge to let him know just how much I appreciated his story. Sure, I loved the man, but I did not know what a giant he was until after he had passed. He was in a generation that saved our whole race from tyranny. That stepped up and served because it was the right thing to do. That lived a life which served a greater good and not oneself. Pop was a hero. And I always knew it, but I knew it because he bought me toys at the 99 cent center, that he gave me a crisp new $5 bill from the bank every time I went to his house, that he walked me through his garden and plucked the best tomatoes he'd grown that year for me to bring home (although I didn't have the heart to tell him I didn't really like tomatoes). I always new, but boy how much more do I know now. 

Though this multi genre project, I set out to record a video interview of him. I sat down with pop for an hour and spoke with him about his journey in the war, his life, his stories that I'd always heard but never recorded. It was a clunky interview. I now listen to it and laugh at my sometimes silly questions, the self centered way in which I felt I knew his story (I was a WWII 'guru' after all) and just wanted him to fill in some minor details. I wish that I could go back and do it again, but often life only affords us one time to do things like this.

So I now have this interview, and despite its faults, it's one of my most prized possessions. It's not just a story of a veteran of World War Two... it's pop. In his element. With granny in the kitchen and the wind chimes making those familiar clangs which I knew so well from all of the days I spent there. As a freshman college student looking to fulfill a piece of my English project, I didn't notice those things at the time. But now as I look back at it, they fill me with so much joy and bring me back to Granny and Pop as they lived on West High Steet. In the home in which they raised my father and the Grimes family of whose name my son now carries on. 

This story follows a man's journey which in terms of years was just one small slice of his life. But on the whole, colored all of his decades as it did for the hundreds of thousands of men and women who served in those few vital years. I hope that through this we will be able to remember him a little more. To remember his friends, his brothers in arms and those who they left behind at home like pop's young bride Mary Lou. This was a time which we all stood together. A time which defined everything. But more so, I just want to remember pop. His smile. His unrelenting love for garage sales. His overflowing toolshelf. His artistic ability which inspired my dad, my brother, myself. His ability to take naps at any hour of the day on that comfy couch in the family room. This is for you pop.

NOTE:

I have tried to recreate a story which is as faithful to pop as possible. Some aspects of this story forever must be relegated to our imaginations: I do not know what was cooking in pop's house the hot summer night of June 17th during Franklin Roosevelts fireside chat. I do not know what specific projects his CCC group worked on in the summer of 1936 in Arizona.

Through his recounting, first hand accounts of those that were with him and in a few cases, personal experiences of my own, I've tried to retell a story which could have been pop's. I have been careful not to create a new or alternate history, but I have at times made him come to life in ways which I can only say although informed by my knowledge of him as a man and of the history of the time, came purely from my mind.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Vida Colorado: State of the Union

Don't worry folks, this isn't a political post. I am not going to weigh in on the ripping up of speech transcripts, a refused handshake or any other shenanigans which you see tuning into the news these days. This State of the Union is about the small and obscure corner of the internet I have been working on for almost ten years now that I call Vida Colorado.

It all began as a diversion as I sat alone in my temporary home in Ken Caryl as a brand new Coloradan just after I moved here. Jobless and with few possessions, I was ready to start a new phase of life and had no idea where it was going to head. Ten years has aged me in ways I never could have known and brought me to places I would never have dreamed. I married my wife, started a career, moved to (and back from) Las Vegas, traveled to so many beautiful places, welcomed my son into the world, and maybe most significantly, saw Taylor Swift live in concert.

This blog has evolved over all that time along with me: in subject matter, in my writing style, in my use of SEO and digital marketing. Over the last 10 years over 35,000 visitors have stopped by... no, it's no Buzzfeed, but not terrible engagement for a guy that doesn't really know what he's doing and is just having some fun. First of all: thank-you. I don't keep this up for the page views or for any sort of popularity or recognition, but it is nice to know that some of you are reading and have stayed engaged. It's humbling if nothing else to know that you want to keep reading. Midway through this whole thing I totally revamped this into a travel blog, and per the graph below, you have been much more engaged. Turns out you like hearing more about sunsets, road trips and good wine rather than my political rants. Message received.


But in addition to the totally different subject matter, I've tried to keep to some general theme. So in 2016 my blog began to become more of a single story than a random assortment of thoughts that popped into my head. Given my tendency towards ADD this served to both keep me engaged with consistently writing posts, and you engaged with actually caring and reading, or at least that's what the data seem to show. But now that story is over (for now), what's next?

More posts will follow that you could call a 'preface' and/or 'introduction' to this story, but I'll provide a brief status update on where this stands. It's one which exists mostly in my head right now and I am not rightly sure how it will end up. It's the story of my grandpa, 'Pop'. I first thought I had a good idea of what this would look like: a story of a World War II soldier, colored by some first hand accounts and some books that I've read on North Africa, Italy and the Western Front in 1944-1945. But the more I began to dig, the more to this story I found was there.

There were the letters. A whole shoebox full of love letters that he wrote to my grandma during his time away from her after having married her days before shipping out. The newspaper articles in the Brookville Democrat which captured how he and his neighbors may have felt as war began to rage thousands of miles away. The 'morning reports' from his unit commander that told what he did every day of the war during his three years in Africa, Italy and France. This hole was deep, but how incredible it has been to dive in. I thought I wanted to write about World War II. But now I know that it's Pops story I want to tell.

So as I tumble down into this hole, know that I haven't closed the doors on Vida Colorado. This next story I have to tell will be the most significant one I've ever told. And since I did not live it myself, I can't just bang it out as if I were recounting sailing in Ha Long Bay, or crossing over the Tiber River at sunset, or finding a foxhole in Belgium 75 years after all of the shells fell quiet. Thank you for being engaged and going on this journey with me. I will always remember the chilly day in November 2009 when pop left us here on earth, but I hope I can help his story live on, if even in a small way.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

#24b: Belgium. Bastogne.

Pulling off of the road, I was not sure what to expect. As 'war memorials' go, usually there is some sort of informational signage or plaque to help guide you around. Here I was in what was maybe the most anticipated historical place of my entire life and I wasn't sure if the small gravel area was for parking or a place for tractors to turn around. But there across the street I was justified: a small stone monument to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th PIR; the names and service numbers of 14 boys, all more than ten years younger than me, who had died in the forest behind me. I stood and read their names. Some I recognized from the series: Warren H Muck, Alex M Penkala, Donald B Hoobler, but most I did not. Their sacrifice would not be known to Hollywood.

I turned and walked back across the small road and went into the woods. There seemed to be a path although no signs led the way. I half expected to be shouted down by an angry farmer for trespassing. The forest was bright at the edges. The needles created a soft floor which muffled footsteps and made the whole place eerily silent. I intersected with some sort of trail and followed it back, not sure where it may lead, but feeling that this was more appropriate than simply wondering through the forest. As I got deeper into the woods it became darker and I began to notice that the trees all seemed to have been planted in symmetrical rows; this was not random wilderness, it was the work of human minds. Walking down the rows made me feel as though they stood watch on either side of me. Still the needles covered the ground and the only sound as I began to pick up my speed was the occasional twig cracking underfoot or a bird calling in the distance. And then finally I saw one. This is what I had been looking for. A remnant of Easy Company. The hole did not look accidental although it was worn around the sides and partially caved in throughout the years. A foxhole. Where the men of Easy slept, kept watch, lived for all of those freezing days and nights during the siege. 

It was odd, this hole. Standing alone in forest. Maybe all of the other foxholes had caved in. Maybe this was a rear foxhole for an officer. A little confused, I kept walking on, looking for more traces of Easy. And soon, just near the road on elevated ground, foxhole after foxhole. Maybe ten feet apart just inside the woods from the road. Dozens of them. Larger ones that two or three men could occupy at once in front of the clearing looking down across an open field towards the tiny German occupied town of Foy where perhaps slightly less miserable men stood watching back at the men of Easy who had dug into the frozen woods of Bois Jaques. I began to see some sense of attempted order that came out of what became the Siege of Bastogne. Some lines and defensive perimeters were vaguely distinguishable, but overall the men in the Bois Jaques were sharing it with their enemy - in a few instances they would even walk through each other's lines on patrols or bathroom run in total confusion. This winter, the coldest in decades, with snow coming down on the undersupplied and battle weary E Company, brought men to their breaking point. I tried to imagine what it would have been like to crouch in one of these foxholes when German artillery began to pound The Bois Jaques. To be totally reliant on luck, or fate, as to whether that simple hole would protect you. On this summer day it was difficult to imagine that time that the men of the E Company endured for twenty-five miserable days: constant motor, rocket and artillery fire, attacks by German infantry, and even two bombing runs by misguided American P-47s.


Bastogne was a thorn in the side of the entire German offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. This offensive that Hitler had thrown more troops into than that of the initial invasion on the Western front in 1940 which brought on the downfall of France: it was Hitler's last gamble of the war and totally caught the Allies by surprise as they made preparations for the final push into Germany. The thick red and blue arrows on battle maps indicate the movement of these massive armies into Belgium and the Allies' attempt to halt them. These lines and maps have always fascinated me. To visualize the handiwork of brilliant military minds maneuvering armies of hundreds of thousands of soldiers across the fields and forests of Europe. But not until walking through this forest had I appreciated what it looked like to be a soldier on the ground fighting for their life in this massive chess game. This forest could have been the backwoods of Meadowcrest at my childhood home in Cincinnati (and many times as a kid I ran around those woods pretending it was), but to see the foxholes, the perimeters, the field in front of Foy, the makeshift crosses set up in the forest; it made the whole battlefront seem much more human.

Breaking down my tripod, I made my way back towards the edge of the woods. Still the needles created an unusual silence as I walked. It reminded me of the silence that settles in after a newly fallen snow and how the Bois Jaques in December 1944 must have been similarly silent during the intermittent breaks between the artillery fire. How it must have made the onset of such a deafening assault all that more terrifying. I lit a cigarette (sorry Jenn) and thought about those men as I hiked down the little road through the forest back to the car. Even those that survived never got to leave Bastogne peacefully walking down this road like I was: they left by charging down the field at Foy, on to their next trial, digging in again against a fierce and determined enemy who had nothing to lose. Pushing back at that thick red arrow on the map as the Fifth Panzer Army attempted to break the Allied lines and reach the sea. They never would. And the men at Bastogne, the heroes now etched into the stone on that little monument next to the nondescript gravel pullout where I now met my car will always remind us why.

https://grimeskr.tumblr.com/post/188279962926


https://grimeskr.tumblr.com/post/188300146256