Joseph Selig, my dad, passed away Aug. 12. He would have turned 91 on Oct. 30.
He and my mom exchanged wedding vows at the Hotel Bradford in Manhattan on Dec. 7, 1941, just hours before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
Dad was drafted into the Army and was stationed at military bases in the South and on the West Coast, with Mom dutifully following. Marching orders finally came in September 1944.
He was shipped overseas, where he joined Gen. George S. Patton’s army in Belgium in time for the Battle of the Bulge in December. He told us later it was the first time he had ever seen a dead person. Fifty percent of his division of 5,000 soldiers was lost.
At Christmastime, many Germans parachuted behind lines disguised as GIs and tried to disrupt our forces.
Dad’s unit, the 11th Armored Division, proceeded through Luxembourg and Germany and then finally to Austria in April 1945 and to the Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps. Among the more than 20,000 inmates were Hungarians, Poles, Italians and even downed American fliers. The guards had abandoned the camp.
Dad was a quartermaster sergeant and regularly brought food, clothing and medical supplies. Jewish women, he said, offered themselves to the soldiers. “The German soldiers took us,” the women would say. “Why not the Americans?”
The whole experience scarred my father and shaped his soul for the rest of his life. He was 28 years old. For his actions, he received the Bronze Star. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant on Oct. 19, 1945.
Following the war, my folks moved to Levittown, N.Y. In 1955, the family moved to Maryland and lived in Salisbury, Cambridge and Ocean City before retiring to Tamarac, Fla., in 1991. My mom still lives in Florida.
Although my dad rarely talked about his war experiences, as an adult, I came to appreciate the patriotic forces that drove him and that whole generation to step out of their comfort zone, leave behind loved ones and bravely serve our country in a far-off land.
My brothers and I are very proud of our dad and his experiences serving in the armed forces of the United States.