Fatherhood and Time

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A Battle Jacket Story by Robert Whelan

A Company, 59th AIB, 13th Armored Division entered the WWII European combat scene late in the war. We became part of an Army group which was engaged in battling a force of over 300,000 Wehrmacht troops encircled in what was known as the Ruhr Pocket.  We had only been involved in face to face battle with the enemy for three days, when we encountered the biggest disaster of our WWII combat experience. It was truly a Friday the 13th disaster, and we lost many good friends. Our company alone suffered 9 killed and 22 wounded that day.

We had just entered the village of Kemper as we were advancing toward Dusseldorf and other major German Industrial cities. Our reception was greeted with intense fire of all varieties. It was a horrible engulfing of a hellish storm of artillery, small arms, rocket grenades (Panzerfausts).  Other 13th Armored Division unit’s experienced similar engagements in similar nearby areas. My good friend and Platoon Leader, Tech. Sgt. Eldon Miller was seriously wounded in that engagement. I never saw him again.

My memories are intentionally vague, as I did my best to blot out the horrors of men killing men that tormented me for so many years after it was all over. However, I was there when it happened and nearby when PFC Thomas E. Briggs and four of his good friends and squad members were killed in the halftrack they called Gypsy. I have included a hand drawn sketch and brief description of that engagement, below.

The Destruction of the Halftrack Gypsy Friday, April 13, 1945
The Destruction of the Halftrack Gypsy
Friday, April 13, 1945

Somehow in the intervening years between 1945 and 2015, two connections were made between sons who had never, or hardly ever, been graced with the essential experience of fatherhood. Essential to the very core of what life is about.

Fatherhood is our guide to life. So necessary for us to find our way through the maze of confusion, misrepresentation, and evil intentions of those seeking our destruction. Fatherhood is a quintessential form of life. A life which will be, if necessary, sacrificed to insure that we will be protected.

There is no greater love…

The Thomas Briggs Memorial Document
The Thomas Briggs Memorial Document

The other surrogate father story occurred in 2013, when I met another son who never knew his father. His name was Ken Odgers, and he was the son of M/Sergeant. Frank Odgers, KIA April 13, 1945.  Ken was graced with good health and a good wife, with whom he attended 13th Armored Division reunions. In my view, he came there to experience his father by being with those men who were a part of his father’s life.

His good health allowed him to attend and participate. He happened to be an experienced brass musician and was able to honor his father’s memory by playing Taps on his trumpet. The meaningful and deep sound he played allowed him to honor his never met father. Ken was able to express his love.

Ron Briggs had health issues and could not travel to attend reunions to be with those who were a part of his father’s life. I sensed that, and decided to bring those men to him. I contacted our reunion coordinator, Jo Ellen Bender, a daughter of another 13th Armored Division Sergeant, and asked her if she would prepare a document that would allow me to bring the reunion and its representations of those remaining veterans to him.

She most enthusiastically agreed and prepared the memorial document. I then proceeded to have each veteran sign where his name was listed.

The completion of that reunion took place on May 30, 2015.  It so happened to be my 90th Birthday. And in earlier time was always honored as Memorial Day. Most fitting.

The picture shown below shows Ron Briggs and me together at the grave site of PFC Thomas E. Briggs, that same day. My daughter Patty photo shopped my Battle Jacket on both of us so we were each wearing a 1945 symbol of fatherhood. The jacket was called an Eisenhower Jacket and it was worn by our Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Ron Briggs and Robert Whelan, May 30, 2015
Ron Briggs and Robert Whelan, May 30, 2015

We were both symbolically connected, as Ron had pinned his father’s Purple Heart on the jacket when his photo was taken. That is the third picture shown below. It symbolically completes the fatherhood and time connection.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  This Battle Jacket Story is comprised of surrogate fatherhoods that began on Friday, April 13, 1945, and were completed on later occasions 70 years after. It shows quite clearly, the importance of restoring good memories. It, also, begs the question: Is there a relationship between Fatherhood and “The Greatest Generation”?