by Robert Johnson
The most meaningful items in my collection are the articles I received from the wife of my Great Uncle, James “Pap” Brown.
Pap grew up in a North Philadelphia working class neighborhood, married to my Grandmother’s sister and drafted into the U.S. Army during WWII. My Grandfather also spent 35 years in the Navy. During WWII, he was on North Atlantic convoy duty. I never had the chance to meet my Grandfather, however.
In the mid-1960s, my family would go over to visit Pap and his wife Edna (Curly). One day, my cousin Jimmy and I were watching the movie, “Battle of the Bulge.” Pap, who was sitting on the couch, said, “That’s not how Germans fall when hit with a .45. They always spin on the way down.” He went back to reading the newspaper and never said another word.
Several months later, he gave me a glass Maxwell House jar full of old coins and a German 4-year Service Medal. Over the years, most of these items have disappeared. I asked him about his time in WWII, but he never discussed it with any of us.
These events are what got me interested in learning more about WWII and collecting artifacts that keep this history alive.
Pap had served in the Second Reconnaissance Platoon of the 656th Tank Destroyer Battalion,, 9th Armored Division. This wasone of the first groups to cross the Ludendorff bridge.
Pap died nearly 20 years ago. Because Pap had no children of his own, the family gave his Army effects to me. These included the HBT jacket shown here, his unit’s book, discharge, and some photos. I reconstructed his appearance in the photos using his jacket, original trousers, and boots. I framed the map of the 656th Tank Destroyer Battalion’s run through Germany and several of his pictures. They hang prominently in my dining room.
Finally, through the internet, I was able to find his unit’s yearbook from training as well as their after-action reports. All of the military vehicles in my collection are marked to reflect his unit, starting with vehicle number two. To me, Pap’s would be “number one.”
As I get older, I am trying to figure out where his history goes next so that it continues to be recognized and remembered.