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In February 1983, when my father knew he was dying, he asked me,
“Will you go to my Army reunion?”
I was confused. As far as I knew, my father had never gone to any of those reunions. All he had ever told me about the war was, “I was a day behind Patton.” And he wanted me, at age 32 and shy with strangers, to go to his reunion? What did he want me to do? Go up to everyone and say, “I’m Kenny Eike’s daughter.” Then what?
I had all those thoughts, but I just told my father, in a puzzled voice, “No.”
Years later, I became a storyteller. In 2000, I was at the National Storytelling Conference and heard some amazing war stories gathered by storytellers in Idaho. Those stories inspired me to try to find my father’s Army unit, the 489th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, and to find out just what he had done ‘a day behind Patton.’
After several tries, months apart, I finally found the email address of his Army battalion’s newsletter editor on the Internet. We started writing to each other. I found out a lot about that battalion and some about my father, an assistant clerk in an anti-aircraft battalion which followed Patton for 11 months, starting July 1944, from Normandy, through Germany, into Czechoslovakia. I then wrote a story about my parents during World War II, illustrating it with just of few of the hundreds of pictures my father took during the war. The editor read it, and asked me,
“Will you come to our reunion and tell this story?”
This time I said, “Yes.” I offered to bring some of my father’s photos. The editor liked that idea too.
So I went to my father’s Army reunion in Pittsburgh, PA, in 2001, armed with my story and with about 200 of my father’s photos.
The guys really enjoyed looking through the photos in the hospitality room that afternoon. They looked at the photos, recognizing some of the people. When they did recognize someone, they said, “There’s Joe Smith. He was from Harrisburg, PA.” I was amazed. Over 50 years later and they remembered the first name, last name AND hometown of so many guys.
There was a picture of a soldier playing an accordion. He was the same fellow who had brought his portable keyboard to the reunion and played it in the hospitality room and during the banquet.
One fellow, Chester, didn’t remember my father but he spent a lot of time looking through the photos. All of a sudden, he excitedly pointed out to me, “Look, here’s a photo of me. I’m skinny. I have hair. BLACK hair. Everybody, look at this – here’s a picture of me!”
Chester came back eventually and continued looking through the pictures. “Here’s one of my wife’s first husband. We were all from the same town in PA. He’s been dead a long time. I’ve got to show this to my wife.” And off he went with the photo. A few minutes later, his wife came back. “This is a picture of my first husband. May I have it?” “Of course, “ I said. It was a little picture, his face was smaller than a dime. But it meant a lot to her.
Another fellow told me, “The Battle of the Bulge seemed to last forever. We were singing two songs during that Battle, but we changed some of the lyrics. In Oh What a Beautiful Morning, we changed ‘Everything’s going my way’ to ‘Everything’s coming my way.’ And in I’ll Be Home For Xmas, we changed, ‘I’ll be home for Xmas, if only in my dreams’ to ‘I’ll be home for Xmas in 1953.’ We thought that battle would never end.“
That night, during the banquet, I told my father’s story. And here are three stories I got in exchange from my father’s friends, stories over 50 years old.
They called him by his last name, Eike, pronounced Ike.
“I remember Eike. He was my mailman. Sometimes when I had a good run at craps, I’d send a money order home to my mother. Eike took care of that.”
“I was the head clerk, your dad’s boss, even though I was 19 and he was 29. I had been in the Army longer so I was the boss. Our portable desks were always right next to each other in the headquarters tent as we made our way across Europe. Eike always kept a photo of your mom on his portable desk. I can still see that photo. Eike locked it up in a drawer each night.
One day, we went out from some lunch. When we came back, the photo was gone. Eike started ranting and raving. Usually he was such a calm and easygoing guy, but not then. I kept on saying, ‘Eike, calm down, the guys are just having some fun. Calm down. They’ll return the photo in a day or two.’
It took a while, but Eike finally calmed down. And the photo did show up, back on his desk, the next day.
But after that happened, every time Eike left the tent, he locked up your mother's photo.”
“After the fighting stopped, a whole bunch of us went into Austria sightseeing one day. We ended up in a large restaurant, filled with US soldiers from many different battalions. Your father was coming into the restaurant late, and one of us said, pretty loudly, ‘Here comes Eike.’
The whole room started buzzing. They thought Eisenhower was coming! And we didn’t tell them any different.
So when your father entered the restaurant, someone yelled, ‘Ten HUTT!’ Everyone in the room stood up, saluting your father, Sgt. Eike. He returned the salute very smartly for someone who didn’t have any experience in returning salutes.”
Interesting games those guys played, when they weren’t trying to stay alive…
Yes, I finally went to my father’s Army reunion, 18 years after he asked me to go. I’m very glad I went.
Copyright 2003 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.
Here's the story that I told at this reunion: My Parents' First House.
If you have stories and pictures that you want preserved, contact Linda Briel, creator of Kaleidoscope Custom Memory Albums.