A couple weeks back, I was visiting my Grandparents and I started bugging them with all kinds of questions about their past. Here are a couple great stories.
When Pop-Pop (that’s what I call my granddad) was in World War 2, how did you keep in touch?
Answer from Grandmom: I remember going to a movie at the local theater after he left for the war. Before movies started back then, they would show brief news clips about the war. The clip came on the screen and in big letters, it said “NORMANDY”. When I saw the word “NORMANDY”, I thought it was an awful signal that something terrible was going to happen to Norm because the word contains “Norm and Dy”. It was very scary stuff as many people lost their lives, so we would write letters to stay in touch.
I wrote Norm every single day, somedays I would even write him two or three times a day. You wouldn’t believe it, but your granddad wrote me every day too. There was one time that 8 days went by and I didn’t receive a single letter from him. I was a nervous wreck (at this point you have to imagine living in a world without cell phones, internet, telephones, this letter is the only thing you have to know if your friend, brother, boyfriend, son, is alive). As each day went by, I grew more and more anxious, by the 8th day I was a distraught. I was working down town on the 8th day and my mother ran into my work holding a stack of letters and said “I know how worried you were, I needed to make sure you knew these just arrived today.” (I could still see relief in my Grandmother’s face as she told the story!). About 47 years later, we were going to the Social Security center to get Norm set up for benefits and the woman working there asked if we happened to remember Norm’s service ID, without a second’s hesitation, I rattled off the number to her (I think it was around 10 or 12 digits, my grandmother still remembers the number today and actually said it in the telling of the story). The woman working at Social Security asked, “How in the world did you remember that number?”, and I said, “You needed to put that info on the letter when mailing something to a service member, I wrote him every day.”
What did Pop-Pop do in the War?
Pop-Pop was shipped across the ocean, then took several tightly packed trains to a few miles short of the front lines. He was close enough to hear the explosions and bombing in the distance. Being an 18 year old kid without much training, he was scheduled to report right up to the front line infantry, which did not have a very high rate of survival. He was a couple minutes from getting onto a transport to take him there when an officer grabbed him at the last minute and asked, “Are you Norman Pollock? It says here that you took a typing class?” My grandfather did take a typing class in high school and he told the officer about it. They pulled him away from the transport and took him to a new headquarters that was being established where he would type official messages and communications. This last minute change of assignment could have changed his life and its amazing to think of how all our lives would be different, or not here at all. My Grandfather does have one story about the conclusion of the War when Germany just surrendered and my Grandfather was asked to go to the top of a German building and take down an enormous Nazi flag and replace it with the US Flag. He said that he never moved with such urgency in his life as he was not confident that all the German sharpshooters had been made aware of the surrender and he was a vulnerable target assigned with a very visible and symbolic assignment. He still has that big flag somewhere in the attic.
Tell me about the reunion, when Pop-Pop came home from war. Was there a big celebration?
There was no celebration, so many other boys weren’t coming home. So many people you knew did not come home. We also had to abide by the blackouts at night where you had to turn off all the lights and pull the blinds to make your towns and cities look as dark as possible (this would confuse enemy bomber planes in the event that they came across the Atlantic to bomb us, as there were no Google maps or GPS, pilots utilized visuals to identify targets). Norm told me that his train was going to be returning around 5PM and I was at the train station so excited to see him. 15 minutes went by and still no train, 30 minutes go by and there’s still no train. Eventually I realize I probably was at the wrong station as there were two rail lines (Pennsylvania & Reading). I left to go to the other station and the same thing happened to Norm, he had been waiting for me at the other station, figured I was at the wrong location and went to look for me at the other station (again, a frustrating event avoidable with today’s cell phone technology!). They both crisscrossed each other without knowing it, until finally united an hour later. Nearly 70 years later, they are still together!
These stories represent just the tip of the iceberg, two amazing people who have left an ever expanding footprint!