So what is VBOB you have every right to ask? It stands for Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge was fought in World War Two and is the largest land battle ever fought by U.S. forces. I promise to elaborate but first a little background.
My dad fought in the WWII Pacific Navy aboard the U.S.S. San Francisco but refused to ever say much about his experiences. There was a Japanese rifle hanging on the wall in our basement. When I was about 8 or 10 years old I asked him about it. In the gruff tone that can only say that no more discussion will be allowed he said, "That's just a rifle I brought home from the war." Years later, when I was cleaning out the garage, I found Army ammo boxes and a collapsible entrenching tool. I thought to myself, "Why on earth would a WWII navy man not only have army equipment but hide it?" By that time I knew I would get no answer even if I asked. He died over 30 years ago, and it wasn't until after my mom passed over 10 years ago that I was able to obtain his service record. Now at least I know he was a fire controlman helping to project the trajectory of the shells fired from the big guns of the U.S.S. San Francisco. I also know what battles he fought in, but that's all. An internet search for any shipmates who knew him has proved fruitless. I am passionate about history and insatiably curious. I want details, but I've resigned myself to the idea that I will probably never know. So be it. My dad was a private and self contained man. So am I, but I hope not to the extreme that he was.
On the other hand, there's my friend Doug. His dad fought with the U.S. Army in Europe and in the Battle of the Bulge. When he came home, he couldn't seem to stop talking about his experiences. I think he probably told his young son far more than a kid should hear about the horrors of war. Then several years ago Doug invited me to a Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge meeting. He was an associate member because his dad fought in the battle. For me it was a revelation. Here was a group talking about their battle experiences in the conversational tones used among friends. No secrecy and no drama. I think going to these meetings has helped both Doug and I gain some perspective on our dads' experiences in obviously different ways. I am proud to know these vets and to count more than a few as friends.
So ... enough background. At today's meeting my friend Wayne gave the customary talk. He was wounded three times: once in the shoulder, once in the chest, and once in the back. He received three Purple Hearts and the Combat Infantry Badge, of which he is the proudest. Tellingly, those weren't the most memorable. That came when a bullet entered the left front of his helmet just above the webbing, blew it off his head, and exited out the back. His buddies thought he was crazy, but he considered that helmet lucky and wore it through the rest of the war. He has it to this day and brought it to the meeting today. He told this story not for applause. It was just his experience, and he knew that a lot of these guys had experienced similarly horrific things.
If any of you have a similar or related story I would very much like to read it. For now I will say good night.
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