By P.T.L. (Patty) Perrin
Veteran’s Day is my opportunity to celebrate the men and women of our Armed Forces from the perspective of one who grew up in a military family. I was born shortly after the end of World War II to an Army Major and his German bride. Thanks to my sister Sharon’s research, we know details of our Dad’s service which he would never have shared with us. Some of this story is how I imagine things happened, based on facts.
Robert W. Tracy joined the National Guard in 1930, where he served until he entered active duty in the U.S. Army in 1942 as a 2nd Lieutenant. In 1943, he was promoted to Captain and served in the European Theater of Operations.
In 1944, he was assigned to the First Special Service Force, a combined unit of U.S. and Canadian soldiers trained in guerrilla warfare. These men comprised the first special forces unit ever formed and served as a model for the Green Berets that followed.
The Germans called them the Black Devils, the mysterious force that raided the enemy supply lines at night with their faces blackened for effect and, of course, camouflage. They ‘liberated’ everything they could from the enemy, including food, equipment and a herd of cattle. The 1968 movie The Devil’s Brigade honors their exploits.
When the unit disbanded, our father became the company commander of a battalion formed with the remnants of the Rangers and the First Special Service Force. These men pushed through northern France into Germany, stopping at Hohenfels at the end of the war.
In August 1947, Dad was assigned to Newfoundland, where he served for five months. On October 21, he witnessed a U.S. Navy plane go down in the waters of Argentia Harbor. Without hesitation, he dove into the icy waves and swam to the fiery wreckage. He spotted a raft through a wall of flames with two survivors struggling to hang on, and swam through burning debris with no thought for his own life. He cut the raft away from the sinking aircraft and swam, pushing it in front of him into open water where a boat picked them up. Our Dad was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for Heroism, although he’d never have considered himself a hero.
Dad and mom met and married after the war. Mom, a feisty German woman, kept his life far more interesting than Army training had prepared him for… but that’s a story for another day.
In 1955, Major Tracy was sent to South Korea as Senior Advisor 20th Division ROKA at the personal request of General Park.
When he landed in South Korea, the base commander had sent a jeep driven by a young corporal to transport him to the base. On the way, they were blocked by a slow-moving vehicle that weaved across the road every time they attempted to pass. Our dad, tired, a bit cranky, and completely unfamiliar with local customs, exerted his position as Major Tracy. He insisted the driver pass that blankety-blank SOB and get him to his quarters ASAP.
“But, Sir, that’s a honey wagon. We’re better off waiting until he leaves the road.”
At the end of his patience, Dad replied, “I don’t care how much honey that thing’s carrying, get past it!”
“Yes, Sir!” The corporal laid on the horn and tried to squeeze past, but the wagon swerved directly into the jeep’s path. Unable to stop in time, they plowed into it, breaking it open, and spilling its contents directly onto Major Tracy, who discovered that ‘honey’ was a euphemism for manure.
The guards smelled them coming a hundred yards out and ordered the newly assigned officer and the corporal into the nearby river to clean up.
A few months later, when Dad heard that a small Korean church needed an organ, his stateside church donated a small pump-organ, which made music when the player pumped a pair of bellows with his or her feet.
Major Tracy, needing a break from his Quonset hut office, decided to deliver it himself. He got directions to the mountaintop church and started out, expecting an easy drive there and back. To his dismay, he discovered the road ended at the bottom of the mountain.
The organ wasn’t heavy, so the major strapped it to his back and hiked. The trail narrowed to a footpath, growing steeper with each step. By the time he collapsed on the church steps, the organ weighed a ton. While he did not get a medal for his efforts, Dad’s reward in Heaven was surely deserved.
It wasn’t until we lived in El Paso, Texas that I became aware of Dad’s true status in the military. When I was nine, my siblings and I were invited to visit our father at his office at Ft. Bliss. I took one look at the sign on his door and felt my heart drop to the floor. Major Tracy was the Executioner.
Shaking, I followed the other kids inside, expecting to see an axe or a noose. Despite the nice assistant who greeted us, and the office being perfectly normal, I couldn’t look at my father.
When we left, Mom took me aside and asked why I had acted so strangely. Reluctantly, I whispered that I hated Dad’s job. When I explained why, she laughed. Only then did I learn the meaning of Executive Officer.
When Lt. Colonel Robert W. Tracy retired, he and Mom took us to live in Germany. While he worked for a civilian company, we went to German school for a year. We relocated to Italy the next year and attended Italian school. Dad landed a job in the Civil Service after that, and we were finally allowed to attend an American school.
My parents are both in Heaven, now. I am forever grateful for them… for Dad’s service and for the life we lived as Army Brats. You can read some snippets of our unusual life in Reflections of a Misfit.
P.T.L. Perrin is the author of Reflections of a Misfit, a Memoir/ Devotional/ Inspirational collection of snippets of her life in light of Scriptures. She has also published the Teen/YA ScyFi Tetrasphere Series of four books about four teens, a Cherokee prophecy, and aliens. You can find her books on her Amazon Author Page or on her website.