A member our nation's "Greatest Generation"...

Today, March 16, 2011, would have been my maternal grandfather's 88th birthday.

In researching my family history, it is simply amazing what I have been able to learn about the man I knew growing up as "Paw Paw." He never boasted of his service to his country in World War II, yet served heroically in the Army as a member of Company C in the 423rd Infantry. Veterans' records saved by my family show that he was a "Combat Infantryman" and "Truck Driver," having earned an "Expert Infantryman Badge." According to discharge papers he was in the thick of battle in the European theater, having served at the Invasion of Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), Rhineland, and in Central Europe. My family recalls stories that he drove a Jeep and armored personnel carriers throughout his tour of duty, and sometimes chauffeured high-ranking officers to various locations. I have even heard tales of "Paw Paw" having posed for Army recruitment posters, though I've found no evidence of this in my family's records or in my own research. I do, however, have a record of his many citations, which include:

  • EAME Theater Ribbon w/5 Bronze Stars
  • Good Conduct Ribbon
  • Bronze Star
  • Meritorious Unit Award

It is simply amazing to me that this was something that "Paw Paw" chose not to talk about throughout his life. In an "Extract" for the Bronze Star Award found in my family's papers, my grandfather, "consistently demonstrated outstanding devotion to duty and courage under fire in the performance of his assigned tasks despite the most adverse climatic and hazardous combat conditions." He was a humble man who spoke very few words, but when he did everyone listened. I just wish he had talked a little bit more about his service in World War II. I know it would have made for an incredible story. Fortunately for me, there are Veterans' records and members of my family who can help to fill in the blanks.

My grandfather lived a full and courageous life. I'm so glad that there was just enough documentary evidence left behind to tell part of his story. Happy Birthday, "Paw Paw."



Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.