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Stories from My Life, #13: A Tribute to my Stepbrother, Bud Lancaster

We remember things differently, you and I. What stands out to one person from the distant past means nothing to another. This is often true for siblings. And so it happens that one will say to the other, “Don’t you remember when Dad did this or Dad did that?” “No,” the other says. “But surely you remember this.”

And so it is with my stepbrother, Bud Lancaster, who passed away about a week ago. I won’t embellish the accolades that family and friends have given him. They’ve emphasized how he was patriotic, how he and his wife, Therese, raised three wonderful daughters, and how much fun he was to be around. All of these statements are true.

To understand what it is that I remember about Bud, and to set the stage, I need to take you back some sixty-two years, to 1958 (I was thirteen). That was when my mother, Ottilie, remarried. She became Ottilie Tag, and her new husband, Herbert Tag, adopted me. He was my new father.

During one Christmas period around that time, I remember Dad putting together a package that he was mailing to California. I don’t remember when it was that I figured out that he had a son from a previous marriage to whom he was mailing presents. That son was Bud Lancaster.

Let’s now move ahead in time another two decades. In the late 1970’s, Bud made the decision to reach out to his original father and, in so doing, he met me. Coincidentally, through circumstances tied to my job, I moved to California in 1972. I lived just a two hours’ drive from Bud and Therese, who lived near San Francisco at the time. That marked the beginning of a friendship between me and the Lancaster family, which then evolved to include Becky (we married in August of 1984). That relationship continues to this day.

What happened shortly after Becky and I married is the point of this story. In December of 1984, Mom and Dad went for a vacation in Hawaii. As fate would have it, only a couple days into their vacation, it happened: Dad had a significant heart attack. He would not be going home anytime soon.

While Becky and I were coming to grips with the situation, Bud took immediate charge. My recollection tells me that he was on an airplane to Hawaii the next day. Long story short, he found an apartment for them, where they stayed for about a month before Dad was allowed to fly. Bud did not leave until he made sure that everything was in order and that Mom and Dad’s needs were taken care of. I arrived a week or so later.

Over the history of time, few will recall what happened back then. But to the people involved, it was a significant and thoughtful contribution. I am proud to remember Bud Lancaster as the unselfish person who knew what to do and made things right in that singular moment. I thank him, Therese, and his three daughters, Jenny, Kelly, and Andrea, for allowing me to become a part of such a generous and kind family. And knowing Bud and Therese as well as I do, I can report that the apples have not fallen far from the tree.

 

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10 Comments

  • Jennifer Perrine says:

    Uncle Paul, this is amazing! I remember when dad went to HI to help Papa Tag! ♥️
    Big hugs to you and Becky! We are proud to call you family!
    We love you!
    Jenny

    • Paul says:

      Thank you for your comment. Good to hear from you. That makes sense. You would have been old enough to remember the Hawaii trip.

  • Brenda Guy says:

    Paul,
    A beautiful tribute to Bud. May the memories you have created with Bud and his family bring you peace and joy!

    Love,
    Brenda

  • Ed says:

    Your stepbrother Bud obviously was a great person. You tribute to him is well written, as is usual for you.

  • Mary Ogburn says:

    Paul that is so Beautiful what you wrote .. you and I have met over the years.. Brother Bud was an awesome Brother in law..He provided my Sister Therese and the girls a fantastic life.. Truly a terrific man!!! He will be missed.. .. Mary Ogburn

    • Paul says:

      Good to hear from you, Mary. Thank you for writing. We won’t make it up to this month’s remembrance, but hope to make the next get-together. Take care.

  • Kelly McKinley says:

    This is beautiful Uncle Paul! I was too young to remember this story, but I have found memories of getting to know you and Aunt Becky!! We are truly blessed you and dads path crossed again decades ago. Family meant everything to my dad.

  • Paul says:

    Thanks, Kelly. We will all miss him. One of my earliest memories of you is at the houseboat lake. Either your dad or mom sent you to retrieve Becky and me when we arrived.

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Ode to the Coronavirus

 

 
They call it coronavirus, a genetic aberration,
a mutation damnation, an intimidation plaguing the world’s civilization.
How long will this devastation affect each nation,
halting transportation, mandating segregation and stay-at-home habitation?
 
It came from the East, its birthplace origination,
a gestation foundation seeking personal validation and world domination.
It spread in every direction, a continuous migration,
as if a retribution, a retaliation, a subjugation of the planet’s civilization.
 
As we shelter-in-place, hoarding toilet paper and rations,
waiting for vaccinations, devaluations, and forms of remuneration,
many will binge on Netflix for the duration,
while others work in isolation in this modern age of communication.
 
What make we of this usurpation of mankind’s federation?
Is God punishing his congregation for indignation and exploitation?
Or is it a natural evolution, a biological continuation?
The religious and the atheists will now have time to argue this narration.
 
Is there a compensation from this biological contamination?
Perhaps a new societal sophistication, focusing less on individual creation:
as we discover again that none of us is an island location,
that a celebration of human compassion will bring us our salvation.

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6 Comments

  • ed says:

    love your thoughts Paul!

  • Buttons Wolst says:

    Paul,
    Thank you for a great poem to inspire and connect us during these trying times. I loved the Internal rhyme!

  • Cay Cooney says:

    Well done Paul. Thank you!

  • Daura Palmer says:

    This was great! You have inspired me…

    Deprived of my vocation and a relaxing vacation
    I am babysitting my grandkids in a strange staycation.
    My days are full of action, my nights full of exhaustion
    While I wait for this time to come to it’s completion.

    • Paul Mark Tag says:

      It is clear a writing career is in the offing,
      for you Daura Palmer I come applauding.
      Your talent startling, wordsmithing seducing.
      Advice? Give up your day job of masseusing!

      • Daura Palmer says:

        My dear Paul, you and Becky are inspiring
        This latest try at creative writing
        Between her hummingbird feeding
        And your poetry full of feeling
        Massage is not something I’m missing!

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Stories from My Life, #12: My Uncle Gus, Killed in North Africa in 1943

Every year when Veteran’s Day rolls around, I think of my Uncle Gus Kern, who died in World War II. Over the years, the details that I heard were minimal: that he was killed in Tunisia, in North Africa, somehow involving military tanks. Also, that he was awarded a Silver Star medal for bravery.

On a vacation trip that my wife, Becky, and I took to the Mediterranean in December of 2018, one of our ports of call was Algiers, Algeria, a city between the countries of Morocco to the west and Tunisia to the east, all three of which were part of the North African Campaign during World War II. (See Attachment below, A1).

While on our cruise, I met a Colonel Bart Howard (Ret) US Army, who was the resident historian and World War II expert on our ship; he provided me a lot of information about the African campaign. Starting then, I decided to learn everything I could about Uncle Gus’s military career and the circumstances surrounding his death.

Rather than put these revelations together as a story, instead I will present them to you as a list of bullet facts. You can then imagine in your mind’s eye, Uncle Gus’s story from which those facts come. So, here goes!

♦ My Uncle Gus Kern was born on October 3, 1915, between Aunt Susie, who was the oldest of the six children of Grandma and Grandpa Kern, and the next born, my Uncle Julius. My mother, Ottilie Kern, was the next-to-last born. They lived on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania near the town of Berlin.

♦ Uncle Gus joined the military almost two years before the U.S. officially entered World War II following the Pearl Harbor bombing on December 7, 1941. Interestingly, he enlisted the day after Christmas in 1939. Because World War II started the previous September of 1939, did he enlist because of patriotism, looking ahead and thinking that the U.S might eventually participate, or was it just a coincidence? It was almost two and a half years later when, on May 31, 1942, he left stateside for Foreign Service in Ireland. He was part of the famous 1st Armored Division (“Old Ironsides”). See Attachments A2 above and A3.

♦ In Ireland, where the Americans were training and preparing for their contribution to the war, Uncle Gus impressed his superiors sufficiently so that, only three months later (August 31, 1942), he was discharged as an enlisted man and appointed as a Warrant Officer, Junior Grade, Army of the United States (September 1, 1942). This date was seven months prior to his death on the 31stof March of 1943.

 Soldiers selected to be Warrant Officers were usually chosen because of their technical skills. I have learned that Uncle Gus’s job in the military was to retrieve and repair tanks that had been damaged in the field. You can imagine that someone like Uncle Gus, who had grown up on a farm, might have been good with machinery.

 In letters that he sent back to his parents (my grandparents, Mollie and Fred Kern) while in Ireland, Uncle Gus notes that the accommodations for a Warrant Officer were better than those for an enlisted man. These letters give us further insight into his personality. Note the beautiful cursive handwriting, something we don’t see much of these days. See A4 and A5.

 Just a bit of background. In terms of the European Theater of World War II, most people (including me) remember our participation in D-Day and our conquest of Germany as the Allies trudged across Europe. But, the U.S. contribution to the European Theater (as opposed to our war in the Pacific) did not start there. It began in North Africa in 1942, where the Germans had control and needed access to oilfields.

 The decision by the Allies to invade Africa was made in July of 1942. General Dwight Eisenhower became Commander in Chief of the operation to oversee the fight against the famous German General, Erwin Rommel (the “Desert Fox”). General Eisenhower actually lived in Algiers for more than a year, from November of 1942 until December of 1943. While in Algiers, Becky and I visited the hotel room where he stayed; there is a plaque on the wall. See A6.

 Operation Torch was the name of the Allies’ operation to invade Africa, in particular French North Africa, which included Tunisia, Algeria, and parts of Morocco (see earlier A1). On November 8, 1942, the Allies conducted simultaneous landings in Casablanca (Morocco), Oran (Algeria), and Algiers (Algeria). Attachment A7 (from Howe, 1954; see reference below) shows the complexity of the operation. A part of the 1st Armored Division participated. My first conclusion was that Uncle Gus was a part of these landings.

 However, a critical clue told me that was not so. It was more likely that he didn’t arrive in Africa until December of 1942. Why? Grandpa Kern received a letter, dated May 4, 1943, from Colonel Peter Hains III (Col., 1st Armored Regiment), informing him that his son had been killed on March 31, 1943 (see A8). On page 100 of the book, The Battle History of the 1st Armored Division, it states that Col. Hains was sent to Africa in December. That suggests that Uncle Gus was part of that latter group.

 When I presented this conclusion to Col. Howard, he agreed that was likely the case. As a result, Uncle Gus arrived in time to fight in the final battles that culminated on May 13. Working from these details, I would like to quote the conclusions reached by Colonel Howard:

“Your uncle was certainly a hero and the recognition of a Silver Star was quite an award for heroism. Based on what you sent me, I am fairly confident that what he was involved in was the battle of El Guettar and was killed near Maknassay, Tunisia [see A9] while leading a tank recovery operation…on a mission to recover tanks and equipment that had been damaged or destroyed in an earlier battle.

“This was a dangerous but critical mission to get tanks repaired and back into the war. It was tough because they often worked 24 hours to repair tanks and then get new crews and then back to battle. There are stories of the horror of having to wash tanks out from the gore of previous casualties.”

 Quoting from Howe, 1954 (see reference), on pages 215 and 216: “The enemy, trying to step up its opposition, subjected the area near both Maknassy and El Guettar to extraordinarily heavy and frequent air attacks.” This statement supports what was said by a Colonel Rose in a letter (see A10, sent to Grandma and Grandpa) documenting the reason for the award of the Silver Star:

“He [Uncle Gus] was instructed to retrieve some disabled tanks belonging to his organization. As he was assembling his personnel and vehicles, the area was subjected to heavy bombing and strafing attack by enemy aircraft. Realizing the importance of this mission and the necessity for prompt action, he completely disregarded his own welfare by refusing to take cover, until he was killed in the performance of his duties. The unusual courage, perseverance, and outstanding devotion to duty with complete disregard for his own welfare displayed by Warrant Officer Kern reflect the finest traditions of the Armed Forces and are deserving of the highest praise.”

After the war, Grandpa Kern received a letter (see Attachment A11), dated September 20, 1946, that gave the location of Uncle Gus’s burial in Gafsa, Tunisia (see A12 for a map showing, on a bigger scale, not only Gafsa, but Maknassy too). The letter tells Grandpa that he could request the return of the body to the United States. Grandma and Grandpa did ask for the return of his body, and Uncle Gus is now buried in the graveyard of the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Glen Savage, Pennsylvania. See A13.

 Grandma and Grandpa Kern received one other letter from the government, in June of 1950 (see A14).

Uncle Gus’s award of the Silver Star was a big deal (see A15 for an article in the Meyersdale Republican). Also, see A16, A17, A18, where you can see his name engraved on a monument at the Somerset Court House.

So, that’s what happened to Uncle Gus, the best I can figure out. While there were several setbacks for the German offensive during early 1943 (the German surrender at the Battle of Stalingrad comes to mind), there is no questioning the importance of the North African campaign to the entire war. Here again, I quote from Howe, 1954 (page 250):

“On 13 May, hostilities in Tunisia ceased, and with that fact, Axis hopes of victory in World War II had gone. The loss of Africa cost the enemy the means of controlling the Mediterranean despite an expenditure of over 300,000—dead, wounded, or captured.”

My hope is that our family will not lose the memory of Gus Kern, who was only 27 when he died. His death in North Africa robbed Grandma and Grandpa of a son, his siblings of a brother, and the rest of us an uncle. But we can be proud of his significant contribution to a war effort that led to the demise of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Contributions: Foremost, I thank Colonel Bart Howard (Ret) US Army for significant information about the North African campaign: in particular, his analysis regarding the battle in which Uncle Gus fought and died; and for pointing me in the right direction regarding my own research. I thank my Aunt Hilda and my cousins Gus Kern and Karen Myers for various letters and photographs. I thank Becky for the Courthouse pictures and comments on this blog. I thank my friend Robin Brody and Becky’s brother-in-law Michael Guy for guidance and key edits. And, finally, I thank friend Ron Sprinkle who provided important enlightenment regarding Army parlance and history.

Reference: Howe, George F. The Battle History of the 1stArmored Division. Combat Forces Press, 1954.

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8 Comments

  • Mike Guy says:

    Wow, Paul! This blog entry is truly outstanding. It tells a compelling story of your uncle’s devotion to his country — up to the point of sacrificing his life — in the war to stop Hitler’s push to dominate the world. The Silver Star is one of the highest awards possible in the Army. Your Uncle Gus’s heroism was a shining example of the conduct that led Tom Brokaw to title his book “The Greatest Generation.” It truly was that. Your inspirational story movingly humanizes a young man of whom you and your family must be very proud.

  • Ron Sprinkle says:

    Nicely done Paul! While I learned some of this while you were investigating, it is something else to see it laid out so clearly and intelligently. I appreciate what this means to those in your family. We salute those, like your Uncle Gus, who held nothing back in their attention to duty and dedication to our country!

  • Peggy Dold says:

    Fantastic! Thank you for sharing!

  • Barry Snowden says:

    This is gteat! My Dad got on a boat in NYC the day after marrying my Mom! He too was no youngster born in 1915. 84th Chem. Mtr. Btn.He went to N.Africa, then on to Italy. He ended up in the Mtn’s of Italy attached to the 10th Mtn. Div. They fought on skis in the snow. Thankfully he made it home! Thanks for sharing this. Sorry he didn’t make it back but glad you’re telling his story.

  • Karen S. Spettel says:

    While reading about your Uncle Gus, I learned a lot about WWII in N. Africa. The last sentence in paragraph 3 above A9 deeply moved me; it made me think of a scene in the Brad Pitt WWI tank movie, “Fury”. Your tribute to your Uncle Gus is amazing and the greatest gift one can gave. Thank you for sharing his story and I thank Uncle Gus for his service. God bless Uncle Gus.

  • Camie Piccolo-Nicholson says:

    You are so blessed to have so many letters and pictures as memories of your uncle. I for one am thankful that he fought for our freedom, though I wish it hadn’t cost you an uncle. It sounds as if he was someone you can be proud of. Thanks for sharing. God bless.

  • Fascinating story, your uncle Gus was some American Hero.

  • Linda Beaverson says:

    Thank you, Paul, for sharing information on WWII and the part your Uncle Gus participated in for our freedom. He was truly an American hero.

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