WWII: An Oral History Reflection My Grandpa

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As a lover of history and genealogy, curiosity is a driving force in my life. As a result, I tend to ask a lot of questions which made the oral interview process so enjoyable. I often imagine what it was like to walk in the shoes of some of our greatest heroes; such as George Washington, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and a soldier named Bill Shuck who fought in WWII. You may wonder who this obscure soldier is? He is my courageous Grandpa, Bill Shuck. His story is one that will not only touch your heart, it will make your heart sing. Because he chose to preserve his memories by sharing his story and his many experiences involving pain, suffering, loss as well as human triumph with my dad, he was then able to share it with me. And now I would

My grandpa was born in the 1920’s and had an older brother, my great uncle Don. The most significant event of their childhood was living through the Great Depression which seemed like a lifetime to them.

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During the Great Depression, my grandpa Bill and great uncle Don were just two innocent kids. But like millions of other families, life dramatically changed. Times were hard and income was low. Both bothers, Bill and Don went hungry for 3 days because my great grandpa killed their pet chicken for food. The Great Depression affected everyone, no one was unaffected.

The Great Depression devastated the U.S. economy and caused it to spiral out of control. In the history of our Nation we had never experienced an economic downturn to this magnitude. It was quickly spreading across nations, lasting in most countries until 1939. (History.com Editors)

My grandpa Bill grew up on a farm in Western Nebraska and lived life like most kids did, until their lives were changed forever by the tragic events of December 7, 1941; that faithful day when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. When my grandpa turned 18 years old, he was drafted into the US Army to serve our country as a soldier in WWII. A sobering thought, he was only a little older than I am right now when he was shipped off to Europe to fight. He was a Staff Sargent and served under General Patton in the 7th Army 1942 – 1945, in the European Theatre. From the way my dad spoke, Patton’s men would have done anything he asked of them. He is considered one of the greatest military figures in history, and one of the most successful United States field commanders of any war. However, he is also known as one of the most complex and contentious military men of all time. Though my dad said that my grandpa didn’t speak a lot about actual combat under Patton, he was lively and forthcoming with tales of General Patton. (Biography.com Editors)

Grandpa’s grandma was born in Germany and migrated to the US in the 1800’s. As a child, grandpa had to learn to speak German because his grandma, my great-great grandma, refused to learn English. This later turned out to be a gift as his ability to speak German saved his life on more than one occasion during his tour of duty.

While in Germany he unknowingly visited a German Village where his ancestors had lived. Only upon returning from the war did he find this out.

One of the stories grandpa told my dad was how they use to scout for enemy snipers. Grandpa would get into an airplane and they would fly near suspected sniper sites. Especially, like the castles that exist in Europe. They would wait to be shot at in order to determine where the snipers were located. With our high-tech world as we know it today, it’s hard to imagine that this was one of the methods they had to use. Long before GPS existed, they didn’t have the luxury of an iPhone with an app that could locate the enemy, you had to be creative to find the enemy. It truly was and no pun intended, flying by the seat of your pants!

Speaking of airplanes, as a staff sergeant, one of grandpa’s duties was overseeing supplies and such. Soldiers would come and get items from him both small and large. One of the large items that some soldiers signed for was an airplane. This was not uncommon. However, in this case this, the airplane was never returned, and the Army wanted to hold my grandpa responsible for its disappearance. Ultimately, it was determined that the soldiers likely stole it and went AWOL (away without leave).

Just a few days ago we marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation by the Russians of Auschwitz: Wow! Grandpa never went into the camps, but he did march by them. This included Auschwitz.

Throughout the world, Auschwitz has become a symbol of horrendous fear, torment, and murder/genocide. The Germans created the largest of the Nazi concentration and death camps in 1940. Unfortunately, these camps grew in number and the Jewish people were then exterminated at a faster rate.

Grandpa was still in Germany when the Nürnberg Trials began. Nürnberg also spelled Nuremberg, was a series of trials held in Nürnberg, Germany, from 1945–46, in which former Nazi leaders were prosecuted and tried as war criminals by the International Military Tribunal. (History.com Editors)

My favorite story of all though was just like a scene out of a movie. Like me, my grandpa loved to play the piano. It had been a long time since he had the opportunity to sit down at any piano and play! One day while he and his fellow soldiers were marching through the countryside, they came upon a church where one of the walls had been blown down as a casualty of war. Inside this old church was a beautiful grand piano untouched by the explosion that had taken out that wall. My grandpa sat down at this piano and played as the troops were marching by. I can only picture how wonderful this must have been for him.

Fortunately, my grandpa survived WWII. I am grateful to him and the rest of the “Greatest Generation” who fought and died for the freedom we have today.


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