Monday, August 15, 2011

A guy named Joe.

If you grew up in the 1950s, 60s, or 70s you probably knew a lot of guys named Joe. Short for G.I. Joe, they fought in Europe, the Pacific, North Africa, Italy and 5 years later on the Yalu River, and the 38th parallel. We knew these guys as middle aged and senior citizens. It’s hard to see their pictures as young men in WWII or Korea and make the connection. But it’s there. They were mature well beyond their years, that generation did not have a playful carefree youth.

My father and six uncles all served in uniform during the war. Each one doing much more than their part. Heroes, in a generation of heroes.

About a decade ago, an acquaintance of mine found out about my military background, and wanted to introduce me to her father. He was a guy named Joe, literally and figuratively. Joe was a WWII B-17 Navigator, he flew all sorts of missions and returned home to become a banker. A strong powerful man in his day, his mobility was declining by the time I met him. Over the next few years we did a few things together, such as touring a B-17 at an air show. It was a great day, seeing a veteran treated as a celebrity for a short time. In the service, Joe had boxed against Joe Louis in an exhibition match. He really enjoyed meeting and boxing with Joe Louis, another great American. He’d also met Clark Gable in England where Gable was a B-17 gunner.

In his home, Joe had a 1903 Springfield hanging on the wall. He purchased it in the 1950s and fired it once in a while.
The last time Joe fired it was with his son, who tragically died sometime later. The rifle stayed on the wall for some years. I immediately recognized its importance and value. Joe showed it to me and I told him what I knew, it was a double heat treated Model 1903 Springfield rifle made in 1918, with a rare marked Model 1903A1 stock.

I later loaned Joe a book on the M1903 Springfield. He didn’t care very much about the details of the rifles but he loved the pictures of the Soldiers and West Point Cadets with the rifle in the 1930s. Joe has grown up near West Point in New York.

You know where this story is going. With his son gone, Joe gifted me the rifle a few years later. I protested, because of the rifle’s value. Of course, Joe would not hear of it, nor would his daughter. I finally convinced her to accept some money, to take her parents out or do something nice for them. Sadly, Joe is now gone, crossed over to a better place. I’m honored to give his rifle a home.

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