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The Sergeant John W. Gabersek Jr. Memorial Scholarship
Who am I?
My name is Eric Montgomery and I am the proud great nephew of the men you have met on my opening page and a devoted friend to the veterans I've met throughout my life. I've always had a fascination with the second world war much in part due to the advancements made in technology. As an engineer, I can appreciate the design and development of the means to defeat our enemies and the monumental effort required to arm 14 million soldiers, sailors, and airmen. Although we are at war today, few of our families have been effected by it. During WWII everyone, young, and old alike were effected in some way. Imagine yourself today walking to the grocery store with a book of ration stamps in your hands and 3 gallons a week of gasoline in your tank. Indeed, we are so blessed, to live our lives basking in the freedoms we enjoy today, even in this time of war. These freedoms were preserved by what President Roosevelt described as the "American' peoples righteous might that will win through to absolute victory". He professed within his declaration of war on December 8, 1941; "With confidence in our armed forces, with the un-bounding determination of our people, we will gain the evitable triumph, so help us God."
When I was a kid, the Vietnam War was raging in South East Asia. Every night my father would watch Walter Cronkite give the latest facts and figures of the war. Cronkite always lead in with the body count, much what it was like for our generation a few years ago. In the evening, I would listen to a transistor radio given to me by my grand father. Tucked under my pillow each night, late night talk shows would discuss the goings on in Vietnam. I would continue listening to radio until long after these soldiers were brought back home. Current events were always my strong suit in school as I grew up with Pittsburgh radio personalities of Perry Marshall and John Cigna of KDKA. At times it seemed to me that I was the only one who cared what was happening around us.
During WWII, I am sure that listening to the radio was a nightly ritual for my mother and dad as well as my grandparents. Little did I know that 60 years later, I would begin to relive those moments as a World War Two living historian. In 2002 I started to collect the memories of my great uncles and a vast array of artifacts from the era. At the same time, I traveled to England, France, Germany and Austria and began to immerse myself in the period. Regrettably then I was unaware of my great uncle Amin's rests in the American Cemetery in Normandy. I surely must have walked right by his grave. Little did I know then that I would return there 7 years later on a great crusade of my own.
Pride of our nation.
A D-Day Prayer by Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States
On June 6th, 1944, President Roosevelt led the nation in prayer over the radio and into every American home.
" Almighty God, our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity. Lead them straight and true, give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith. They will need thy blessings, their road will be long and hard, for the enemy is strong, he may hurl back our forces, success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again, and we know that by thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
They will be sore tried by night and by day without rest until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame, men's souls will be shaken with the violence's of war. For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest, they fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return for the haven of home.
Some will never return. Embrace these Father, and receive them, thy heroic servants, into thy kingdom. And for us at home, fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them, help us, Almighty God to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.
Many people have urged that I call the nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts. Give us strength too, strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces. And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons where so ever they may be.
And, O Lord, give us faith. Give us faith in Thee; faith in our sons; faith in each other; faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment -- let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose. With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogances.
Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace, a peace invulnerable to the scheming of unworthy men and a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil. Thy will be done, Almighty God. "
Focusing on the Past
As I continue my endeavors to bring to you one perspective from one member of one family, please take a moment to read a small story of my childhood. I'm not finished with it yet, but it's interesting none the less.
Since I was a young boy I have been 'playing army'. My brother and me broke up the bar stools in our basement and shaped them into wooden guns for an all out fight for supremacy of the backyard. As the years went on we gained allies in our conquest. Other kids in the neighborhood joined the fight that seemed to be ever increasing in tactic and in territory. Plastic guns now replaced those made from those ever present bar stools, and smoke bombs in the shape of hand-grenades filled our pockets. Even if you were captured or killed, after counting 5 Mississippi, you were back in the fight.
As the battlefield widened, the two armies migrated to the nearby cemetery, where tombstones provided ample cover and mausoleums served double duty as headquarters for the army of the 12 & unders. It was then, taking refuge amongst the dead, trying desperately to stay alive, that I became interested in the past. All around me and at my feet were soldiers. Like the horror movies of the late 60’s and early 70’s imaginary hands sprouted up from the grass-covered grounds virtually seaming to be grasping at my body and into my heart. Each stone had a story to tell, yet no one could listen, from the Civil War to Vietnam all around me I was surrounded by the real heroes of battles in far away places from places I never heard of or I would probably ever see. On Memorial Day, the green blanket of grass which covered over the graves of those brave soldiers was enhanced by the flowing red, white, and blue or our nation’s flag.
As life progressed, my interest in our past veteran’s did not diminish. Being brought up in the cold war years seemed just that, cold and without boundaries. Knowing that the world as I new it could be gone in a matter of an instant was unsettling. All around Pittsburgh were a series of Missile silos operated by active duty military, Nike sites as they were called. My father would drive by the sites and make a comment as to what was behind those barbed wire fences. They were everywhere, seemingly right in my backyard.
During this time, as a child I remember vividly the CBS news that my dad watched during dinner. The body count from Vietnam and South East Asia was always the lead story. Even as a youngster, I could not understand the difference between North Vietnamese, the Vietcong, Laotians, or Thai. All I knew is that we, the American Army and Air Force were bombing and fighting in a far off land, and in some cases dying for the political ideals of our nation. I could not figure out why we were losing ground after killing so many each day. It just didn’t make any bit of sense to me.
These events certainly had an effect on our war games, now instead of the usual “good guy/bad guy” battles, we now pretended to be Commies or Reds. No one wanted to be a commie. But as in all wars, there are survivors and then there are the dead, but in our case all of us came back alive ready for dinner promptly at six.
It wasn’t soon after seeing all those news reports and hearing Walter Cronkite tell the masses about that day’s figures that bronze grave markers started showing up in our nearby cemetery. A friend of my brothers older brother was killed and was buried no more than 20 yards from our favorite spot, a make shift goal line made from the ashes of our charcoal grills that crossed our football field right smack dab in the middle of the cemetery. Everyone saw the marker because after all it seemed to gleam in the sun and shimmer in the rain. Each marker gave each soldier’s name some meaning, the unit and dates of his birth and his ultimate sacrifice to his nation.
As time past, so did life, and the battles of our country seemed to get more complicated and because of Satellites and TV, far less remote. Conflicts in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Bosnia, entered live into our living rooms. And now, even our own cities and towns under siege from a cave deep inside Afghanistan. Battles are now fought on the 101st floor of office buildings and on farmer’s fields rather than on some distant battlefield.
Growing up I watched many a Hollywood production of World War 2 battles like Tora! Tora! Tora!, Midway, The Longest Day, The Battle of the Bulge, Patton, To Hell and Back, The Flying Tigers, The Fighting Leathernecks, The Story of PT-109, and many, many more. These classic tales of good versus evil taught America’s youth to respect and honor our veterans and what they did. Even the classic TV series, Hogan’s Heroes and McCale's Navy not only convinced the viewer that the enemy was some sort of idiot, but at the same time made the oddball or cast outs of our forces seem remarkable bright despite their deceptive role playing. I believe that everyone in American society who watched these shows could relate feeling quite at ease with some member of the cast. Each episode, no matter how improbable, infallible or impossible the task, the Americans seemed invincible in the face of the enemy.
Of course Vietnam changed all of that. America’s interest in saving foreign populations from Communism, Nationalism, Fascism, or Racism, inevitably always meant American soldiers would loose their lives fighting for the cause of Freedom. Spilling into our own towns and cities was the blood of civilians as well, as Ohio National Guardsmen killed 4 anti-war protestors at Kent State University. America no longer possessed the innocence of the pre war years or the prosperity of the post war years. Times were certainly changing and the veterans of World War II and the Korean War were nearly forgotten in an instant. But some still carry the memories.
Since those very early formative years as a child, I have been a student of the events that took place during the years of the Second World War. As a child, it was difficult to understand the prior events that led civilized populations of the world into an all-out conflict. As an adult, one begins trying to understand those days gone by. Fortunately, there are plenty of books to read, movies to watch, the History Channel to view, and the internet to surf to uncover the details. I have found that unfortunately that there is a lot of arm chair revisionist generals, especially on the internet, so you have to be careful what you read.
But none of these outlets of information can replicate the feeling of either talking with those that were there or being there. To walk were Rommel gazed out into the English Channel at Normandy, stand were Hitler stood at the Eagles Nest, to fall to your knees in prayer as so many American soldiers did as they were cut down on Omaha Beach, to understand the terror felt by so many Londoners is truly an awe inspiring life changing moment. So, in 2002, off I went, to Europe on a 15 day 4 country unaccompanied adventure to England, France, Germany, and Austria.
On the days and weeks prior to my journey, I spent a significant amount of time finding out all I could about the unique places I wanted to visit. I started at the Library where I took out books to plan a trip that would lead me from Manchester England to the Bavarian Alps and back to London. Visiting friends in Manchester and Rossdorf Germany assured me a wonderful experience even if it rained, snowed, hailed or even if an earthquake decided to make an appearance...
Slightly updated on 5-5-2020...
to be continued...
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