Below is a story I wrote as an intern for The Reading Eagle newspaper in 2000 commemorating the 1st Army’s landing in Normandy as part of the D-Day Invasion during World War II on the morning of June 6, 1944. The experience of meeting these four men motivated me to begin writing My American Odyssey.Their stories not only intrigued me but made me wonder what my grandfather experienced during his service in Italy. Was he a Nazi’s target like these men were as they stormed the beaches?
My grandmothers talked about Pop Pop Donald serving in World War II, but not much more. When I asked Mr. Frederick, (a family friend who’s first name was Don) he said the same thing. They played poker with a few other neighborhood guys. The conversations drifted between ball games and work, but my grandfather never talked about his military service.
Covering this newspaper story was the first time I learned about the stark realities of war. I was 24-years-old and had never heard any war stories while growing up. My uncles (Byers’ brother-in-laws) never saw battlefields: Ruth’s brother John was stationed in Scotland and her sister’s husband Mac was stationed state-side.
These men’s recollections of bullets flying and no where to hide made me wonder if my grandfather was ever in danger; ever feared for his life.
A decade later, I saw Dick Biehl at the annual World War II Weekend in Reading, PA, and again while attending a Masonic function in 2013. We chatted about our first meeting and he shared another war story. He complimented me for being involved in Freemasonry. Dick was 90 years-old, his voice was a bit raspy. He mentioned that Lawrence Zieckler and Paul Kline had passed away and Coolidge Long was in a nursing home. I told Dick that writing their stories motivated me to write this book. He gave me a grandfatherly smile of pride which I’d never seen and we shook hands before parting ways.