Tony Died Today (September 19th, 2012)

Tony was my father's friend. As I understand, he was 97 years old, which was quite a bit older than my father when he passed away.  I remember him fondly, although I was really too young to talk with him.  I remember the conversations he and my father had together.

Tony fought in World War II as a combat engineer.  He chose that branch of the service after watching the combat engineers put on a display at a local park just before the start of the war.  Tony figured it was a safer place to be, behind the lines, building bridges and repairing roads rather than being on the front line.  The soldiers he saw at the public display stood around drinking tea and smoking after the event.  "How hard is that?" thought Tony.  When the war started, Tony joined their ranks.  He felt proud he was doing his part.  On the first day of being an engineer, still in boot camp, his Sergeant ordered everyone to jump into an ice cold river because they were going to construct a pontoon bridge.  Then the reality sank in.  He was in the water up to his waist for 8 hours -- that was in November.  He felt he had nearly died.  That was the life of a combat engineer, as Tony quickly discovered.  On top of that, the enemy fired shells at them, or at road crossings and specific spots where they determined the engineers would attempt to build a bridge, or clear a road of debris, not to mention the many booby-traps left behind to specifically deal with the combat engineers.  A number of people in his unit were killed.  Life in the combat engineers was not standing around smoking and drinking tea.

Tony told me once that that when he was a kid of about 13 or 14 he used to hunt with his grandfather's Winchester.  He continued using that rifle for many years.  It was a handmade 1895 model Winchester made in 1895.  Apparently, one of the first made in the series.  He often took that rifle to the rifle range when he was younger to sight it in and someone had offered him $3,000 cash for it.  He refused.  People thought he was nuts using the rifle for target shooting, but as he explained to me, that was the rifle he used to hunt during the 1930s.  It put food on his family's  table.  His father gave him 6 bullets for the day and expected to see 6 rabbits or grouse by dinner time.  He said those were tough times.

Tony was a nice guy.  His only son became a logger (a faller) in the early 1970s.  I went to his son's funeral.  A tree fell wrong and took his son's life.  His son was only 24 years old.  That was a sad day.  Tony rarely talked about it.  He did mention his son once, in a conversation with my father, and then he stood silent for about a minute, looking into the distant the horizon, lost in his thoughts.  I could feel his pain, and I was only 14 or 15 at the time.

I now live a few miles from where Tony used to live.  He lived just down the street from me.  I used to play on his property when I was a kid, in the woods, next to his small cabin.  A beautiful area.  I always think of Tony when I drive near his old place.  He will be missed.  He was one of the good guys who had a lot of funny stories to tell.
PastPilot PastPilot
51-55, M
3 Responses Sep 19, 2012

My Uncle served in WW2 and he never talked a whole lot about it but he did make comments once in a while. He worked in the Motor Pool. He'd say how difficult it was to be talking to a friend one minute and the next minute he'd be dead. He'd talk about war strategies and how coldly Generals would make decisions involving 1000s of men. How they'd be set up to be killed as a diversion for other other troops to get the upper hand. But that's war. Everybody I knew from that generation are dead. In fact, everyone I knew from my own generation are now dead with a few exceptions.

Very good story,you are very observant of other people's grief.Take care.

I'm sure he'd be pleased to know the impact he made on you.