- Marsellus Wallace
FIXING THE BROKEN PIECES: A VETERANS HISTORY AND THE LEGACY OF WAR AT HOME
Updated: Apr 7
This story hits close to home for us, as we feature one of Amplified’s very own podcast producers, Chris Noth, from the “Bring It Home” podcast. In this article, we share the account of Noth’s grandfather and his experience in WWII. Noth, pays tribute and homage as he recalls the life of his grandfather (Pop), his upbringing, his character and his post-war life. Ultimately, highlighting how the war changed his grandfather and the effect it had on his family.
“A month ago, my grandfather would have celebrated his 100th birthday, rest in peace pop, we love you. I didn't get to know him much as an adult, but I don't think my view of Pop, as a quiet, yet heroic figure, would have changed much if I had. Pop, was a lovely man who loved and cared for his family. We grandkids loved sitting on his knee. He was so silly with us joking, tickling and giving the occasional knuckle to the top of the head as necessary. But for all his virtues, emotionally he was a closed book, and the significance of that fact would only become clear to me much later in life.
James Noth, was born in Davenport, Iowa in September 1920. I don't know much about his childhood. Whatever he experienced in his younger years, was overshadowed by the war. James served in World War II in the 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion and what was probably the defining experience of his life. James arrived in Europe a few weeks after D-Day and stayed for at least a few months beyond the end of the war. His unit was charged with producing maps of land and troop movements. Which it did on the move from its base and Tetbury, England, France, and down through Belgium. The plan for his unit did not include combat and that plan looked great on paper, however, the Germans had been seeking to push through the Allied lines and take the Belgian Port of Antwerp. Thereby dividing the Allied Powers and possibly turning the tide of the war on the Western Front. At a late stage in the game, this presented a big problem for James and his comrades.
The following is a lightly edited account from my Uncle Pete. On the night of December 17th, 1944, a few companies of the 654th occupied the west side of the Amblève River in the town of Stavelot, Belgium. While on light guard duty, unbeknownst to them, on the east side of the river was the first SS Panzer Division. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. Commanded by SS Oberstrom Joachim Piper. Hitler's favorite bodyguard and one of the most feared of the Waffen SS.
Also, unbeknownst to them, elements of this very division had massacred 84 American soldiers just 8 km up the road in Malmedy, that same day. It was a winter night in a sleepy Belgian town but a terrifying enemy force lay right across the narrow River. The SS Commander sought to cross the river and begin what will be called the Battle of the Bulge. When they encountered rifle fire from the west side of the river, the Germans thought that it was a large Allied fighting force, rather than the small group of cooks, clerks and artists that were actually there.
At this point, after exchanging probe and gunfire all night, the SS decided to cross down river at a point less contested. The irony of this is that the Germans had several hundred tanks, including the Tiger I and Tiger II, and approximately 15 to 20,000 soldiers in their battle group. They could have very easily just driven their tanks across the river and sent the Americans running, but darkness and a constant stream of small arms fire from the 654th gave them pause.
No doubt it was a very cold and scary night for him. They beat a hasty retreat the next morning after being replaced by the frontline infantry troops from the American First Army. Less than 5 months later, the war will be over. It is fair to say, that story could have ended very differently and it's hard to make sense both of what happened and what could have happened.
Because Pop didn't much share his thoughts and feelings, we will never know how he processed all this and how the experience of the war stayed with him for the next six decades. However, I have to believe the effect on him was profound. So in any case, the war ended and James came home, he married Rosemary McNamara, my grandmother. Having 5 kids and went to law school on the GI Bill. Became a lawyer and practiced law into his 80s. I do know that if it weren't for the GI Bill, Pop's post-war life with my grandmother would have been radically different, if Pop had been black for example, he wouldn't have been eligible for the GI Bill. In that case, would my dad have been born?
So anyway, Pop was a closed book in general, he didn't let on much about what he was thinking or feeling. Maybe it was the war... Maybe it was his personality, maybe both... maybe it was my grandmother's extrovertedness. We will never know, but that's how he was and that's the father figure that my dad looked up to. That's the man who taught my father, what it means to be a father. And my dad received the closed book gene, as he himself would admit, and then dutifully passed it on to me and my brothers in various doses. Strong doses, but subtle at the same time. He was just one of the many invisible things that parents plant in their children, without either party really being able to realize or name it. And like the child, it grows larger with time... And time passed." (Chris Noth, Bring It Home, Ep.1)
In the episode, Noth goes on to discuss his own connection to his grandfather, the importance of addressing underlying issues and his own personal account of being a closed book in various ways both. Mainly, he sets the stage for the overall theme of dealing with your problems both, emotionally and mentally.
As we reach the final stretch, let's “Bring It Home”. As history has shown us, it comes as no surprise that this is an issue war veterans have dealt with. Another common issue could be adjusting back to normal societal life. And even though every case is different, our vets may have come home, but maybe certain parts of them did not or sometimes, some things come back with them.
American soldiers may come back from the experience of war differently due to not only physical, but emotional traumas they may have experienced while in combat. Many of our soldiers face extreme violence and fear during their time in combat, which can have an underlying and profound impact on their mental well-being. Common mental health issues experienced by veterans include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. PTSD is a mental health condition that can occur after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. Depression and anxiety can also develop as a result of combat exposure. These conditions can make it difficult for veterans to adjust to civilian life and may lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. Substance abuse is
another issue that can arise as a coping mechanism for the emotional pain experienced by veterans.
It's important to note that not all veterans experience mental health issues, and those who do can seek help through various resources, including counseling, therapy, and support groups. However, the stigma surrounding mental health issues in the military can make it difficult for some veterans to seek the help they need.