Archive | November, 2008

A Veteran’s Story

11 Nov

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I remember Mason Eugene “Gene” Ford as the somewhat irrascible old man that meandered through the baseball fields off McGee Road. He would float from field to field, taking in whichever ballgames suited him, I guess, talking with people and enjoying the sunshine or the rain or the cold. I never understood what would compel a man to just waste whole days wandering into and out of various Dixie Youth League baseball games; it seemed odd to me.

I spoke with Mr. Gene frequently, because he and my grandfather were friends, and because I spent the majority of my youthful springs and summers patrolling the many ball fields. I loved baseball. I loved to play baseball. And because of that and my grandfather’s passion for the game, I got to see a lot of Mr. Gene.

Tall, rail thin, he was always in coveralls of some sort. he usually sported a baseball cap, and if you didn’t know him you might think that his drawn face was contorted into a perpetual scowl. That wasn’t the case however – he was as friendly and kind as any other man you might want to meet.

I always remembered him for the strange concoction he usually carried with him: a tall glass of buttermilk with canned oysters and Tabasco sauce in it. He would walk through the ballpark with this cup of liquid nastiness in his hand, occasionally stopping to take a sip and then wiping the viscous fluid from his mouth. The smell alone was enough to kill you; Lord knows how horrid it had to taste.

I bring Mr. Gene up today not for the memories of him on the ballfield. I bring him up because of what happened to him on the battlefield, a story I never knew until long after his passing when his brothers Charles and Ronald shared it with me. It is a story of which, I am sorry to say, I don’t have all of the details, but it is one well worth reading on this Veterans’ Day.

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Private Mason E. Ford was a ground soldier in the European Theatre, an Army infantryman working with the medical branch of the service. He was stationed in Germany, and was one of the many men who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, a hellish and horrific battle that was one of the costliest and most crucial of the Allied Forces victories.

But Gene Ford’s story goes beyond that battle, to the time that he spent imprisoned in a German P.O.W. camp, Stalag 4B Muhlberg Sachsen 51-13. I don’t remember all of the details of his imprisonment there, how long he was held captive or how badly he was treated. I do remember that his brothers made it a point to tell me that he survived by eating rancid meat and rotted potatoes, that it was the strength of the man’s will and the grace of God that kept him from succumbing to death.

I searched the American Armed Forces Database for Mr. Gene and found a record of his imprisonment. I’m not sure how to really read it, but it seems to say that he was imprisoned from December 21, 1944 until December 6, 1945. I may be reading it wrong, but either way, the man endured hell on earth for a time greater than most people would be willing to endure it.

After hearing Mr. Gene’s story, hearing how he almost wasted away in a some stinking hole only to be repatriated and returned home to his wife and family and friends, I understood why he chose to spend his Saturday’s walking amidst small children and families. I understood why he would enjoy stopping to watch a random Tee ball game in which he had no real investment.

He was invested – invested with days and weeks of torturous survival, fighting for a cause and an ideal that he believed in. The grass that we kids played on was free from tyranny and hostility because he had paid a dear price for it, and it was his right to be able to stand watch over that turf and drink in all of the beauty that came with it. The playing fields of my youth were the battlefields of his heart, and I only wish I had known that he had given so much for me and my friends before his death. I would have said thank you. I wouldn’t have been as weary of seeing him standing behind the bleachers.

I would have understood, dang it, and I would have invited him to stand in a place of honor on the playgrounds he helped secure and provide.

Today, remembering all of our Veterans who gave some, and those some who gave all, I offer him my belated thanks.

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