Veterans’ tales in and around the library
First of a two-part series
This week, we celebrated Veterans Day and my thoughts turn to the men in my family who have served: my dad, Bill Sr. (Marines), my older brother, Bill Jr. (Army) and my Uncle Jack (Army).
I recently wrote in this space about how my late uncle had influenced my career choice. But I had never known much about his military days.
That all changed when a cousin sent me a copy of his war stories. And I learned they’re also now available online, written and recorded as part of the Library of Congress, American Folklife Center, Veterans History Project.
Thanks to a library, John R. Finnegan, Sr.’s World War II experiences will never be forgotten. Here’s part of his account:
“I was now a switchboard operator and wireman for the Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 311th Regiment of the 78th Division and our first combat assignment was the Hurtgen Forest southeast of Aachen. It was Dec. 9, 1944. We stopped at our bivouac area in a tall clump of trees. Telephone wires hung across the entrance to the area, blocking our trucks.
‘Finnegan, get out and raise those lines,’ the company commander ordered. I left the truck and found a pair of climbers, strapped them on and walked over to the trees. As I did, I passed a line of weary, unshaven, dirty GIs who obviously had suffered during their weeks in the forest. They were straight out of the Bill Mauldin cartoons that appeared in ‘Stars and Stripes.’ I reached the first tree, stomped my spurs into the bark and began the climb. When I reached about 8 feet, I began hearing strange whizzing noises in the trees. Not bees in this weather. Winter was here. I ignored the sounds. I raised the wire another several feet, climbed down and went up the tree on the other side of the road. Same sounds as I reached the top. I ignored them.
When I returned to the ground and walked back to the truck one of the GIs called me over. ‘Hey, kid,’ he said (I was age 20). ‘You notice anything funny up there?’ Only some whizzing noises, I said. Why? ‘Well, kid,’ the GI said while drawing on a cigarette butt, ‘we’ve lost a half dozen men lately from sniper fire who were doing what you just did. You were lucky.’ I didn’t ask him why he hadn’t warned me about the potential danger before I went up the trees but I guess it was just as well. I’m not sure how I would have reacted if he had.”
I’m grateful I got to read my uncle’s stories. It helped me to understand and honor his service. You can access tales of thousands of veterans using the Lincoln library’s free computers and online access at loc.gov/vets/.
So, hat’s off to the Veterans History Project. It’s a great way to honor the service of the military men and women in your family and community. And next week we’ll tell you about how the Lincoln Hills Veterans Group has partnered with the Library of Congress and the Lincoln Public Library to capture history locally.
On the Calendar
Dec. 8 from 1 to 4 p.m.: Holiday book sale (current DVDs, audio books, Christmas books); Twelve Bridges Library.
Dec. 11 at 2 p.m.: Friends’ Board of Directors meeting, Fir Room, Twelve Bridges Library.
This column is part of a Friends of the Lincoln Library series. To donate to the nonprofit Friends, write to Box 394, Lincoln CA 95648, contact 434-2404, or friendsofthelincolncalibrary.org. Lora Finnegan is a Friends of the Lincoln Library member.