Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day - Letters from the Front - 1945

March 26, 1945, PFC Ivan "Brooke" Kerr wrote to his wife in Punxsutawney, PA, that he thought the war was going well:
"We sure have had some nice weather for our Air Force and they sure are going to town on the enemy the last while back.  I sure hope it stays that way for I am very anxious for this war over here to get over with and I am not the only one that feels that way.  They are giving furloughs to the states for thirty days and some of the fellows are going - and I am waiting on my chance to go. That sure will be a great day. When I get home I won't know what to do or how to act for it sure has been a long time since I have been there. "
Though he wrote from somewhere in Germany, he had no way of knowing that in just a month and a half, on May 7, 1945, Germany would unconditionally surrender to the Allies and the world would be celebrating V-E day on May 8th.  

Ivan Kerr, who went by the nickname "Brooke" back then, is Gary's grandfather.  He wrote to Gary's grandmother, whom he affectionately referred to as "My Darling Wife" or "Sis."  Her name was Trelba,  but she was called "Bea" by most who knew her:

His letters were simply addressed to Mrs. Ivan Kerr, 103 Cliff St. Punxsutawny, Penna and bore the stamp of the "Army Examiner"

In his letters, he alternated between talking about the weather, admonishing his young wife for not writing more, and dispensing financial advice:
"I am still wondering why you don't write to me more often, dear.  The way I feel sometimes I could give you a good bawling out but the thing is I don't know who or what to blame it on as to the reason I don't hear from you more often. ...If I don't hear from you I am afraid I will loose [sic] my patience and I will write the kind of letter you don't like to receive from me."
It must not have been easy for his wife, holding down the fort with three little children, including Carolyn, who was born after he left for the war.  There were war rations to deal with   as well as financial pressures:
"Say dear, do you get the twenty dollars over your regular allotment and if so, what are you doing with it? You get $120 a month don't you?  Say, just a good tip - you had better save as much as you can now for there may be days ahead that we will need it."
She had no idea at that time that his unit, the 110th Infantry Regiment, had marched on foot across most of Europe.  They had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day, had marched across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally, Germany:
"The 110th Infantry Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, on 16 December 1944, held the center sector of the defensive zone of the division and VIII Corps in the Ardennes. Here it lay astride the main attack axis of the German LXVII Panzer Corps of the Fifth Panzer Army headed to Bastogne, Belgium, and points west. Vastly outnumbered and outgunned by the attacking German force, the 110th Infantry put up one of the classic defensive stands in American military history. By sacrificing themselves, the officers and men of the 110th Infantry bought the precious time needed for the 101st Airborne Division to be trucked into the vital crossroads town of Bastogne and consolidate its defenses with elements of the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions and miscellaneous remnants of the 28th Infantry Division and VIII Corps. The story of Bastogne is well-known, but it was only possible with the sacrifice of those American soldiers to the east."

Gary's grandfather's military discharge papers list the following battles and campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Central Europe, and Ardennes.  He was awarded five Bronze Service Stars before finally being discharged in August of 1945.  

He returned home, eventually moved to Akron, where he raised Dennis, Ivan, Carolyn, and his brother's daughter, Cora, while working for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company.  After he retired, he and Bea moved to Harlingen, Texas and began the next chapter in their lives. 

Like many men of his era, he has always been reluctant to talk about his time in the war.  We've dragged bits and pieces out of him, but he's never shared many details and has never been proud of what he personally did - though he's always been a proud American and loves his country. 

Grandpa is now 93 years old and in failing health.  He lives in Dallas,  where he is cared for by the wonderful family of his second wife, Jeri, whom he married at age 80.  He's lived a good, long life and is looking forward to seeing Jesus, his Savior, and receiving his heavenly reward.  On this day I wanted to express our family's gratitude for his service to our country and for the many, many others throughout the years who have made the freedom we enjoy possible.  

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