Just a Sad G.I. is the title of a poem written by my brother, PFC Robert Dale Martin, a few days before he was killed in the WWII Battle of the Bulge on the Belgium/German border in 1944. He was the driver of a personnel carrier, and was sitting in his vehicle with other young, cold, homesick, young men when this poem was written. It was a few days before Christmas, and his date of death is Dec. 21. Below is his poem typed, then a photo of his handwritten version on a 5×7 yellow tablet page:
JUST A SAD G.I.
Of all the places I’d love to be,
It’s my dear ole home in Tennessee,
Back with my loved ones oh so dear,
To share with them the Christmas cheer.
I’m somewhere in the E.T.O.
Wanting to be home as you all know,
But there’s millions more in my same shoes,
And all of us know what we can do.
We’re plodding through mud, and also snow,
Which will result in many a frostbitten toe.
But we’ll stick it out thru thick and thin,
Til we load on the boat for home again.
Until that date, my dearest ones
Don’t work too hard but save some funds,
For we’ll have to celebrate nite and day
And you can’t do that on a G.I.’s pay.
But now that we are so far apart
Remember you are always in my heart.
And may the days of the coming year
Bring me back to the ones so dear.
I, his younger sister Pattie, was twelve at the first sound of war on December 7, 1941, when news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor reached Standing Rock Creek, TN via a neighbor’s battery powered radio. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was out for a drive with my parents who were visiting in the yard of some acquaintances about two miles down the country road from our home. What I overheard from the adults was that all the men would have to go to war. I thought that meant my Dad would be going to war, and I felt a cold fear. It didn’t occur to me that it would be my then seventeen year old brother, Dale, who would go to war and be killed. In my mind, my forty-seven year old Dad was the only “man” in the family.
Most families in our neighborhood had a battery powered radio. There was no electricity and no telephone service in our rural community. Television came years later. We listened to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s voice on our radio, talking about going to war, the war effort, and so on. He was our strong and respected leader. We were Democrats. His radio broadcasts were important to us, and we hung on every word. Eleanor Roosevelt’s high pitched voice was also very recognizable on radio.
On the rare occasions when we went to a movie theater in Paris, TN or Murray, KY, (both were 25 miles away) we might see a newsreel with news about the war. We saw some pictures of FDR on those newsreels, and some in the newspaper. Our newspaper was The Nashville Tennessean, which was delivered a day late by a rural mail carrier.
The draft began, and young men had to sign up for the Selective Service. They were physically examined, and classified from One-A to Four-F according to their usefulness to the armed forces. Dale was One-A, a perfect physical specimen and a straight “A” student. When he graduated from Dover High School in 1942, he found employment at the Vultee aircraft factory in Nashville and waited to be drafted. Young men who were classified as Four-F dealt with the embarrassment of being unfit for duty, but were lucky to be safe from the war. All of my male cousins, neighbors, and acquaintances were affected by their draft status. I knew of two who were Four-F. All others joined or were drafted into military service.
It was common to see convoys of young soldiers in Jeeps and Army trucks. There were soldiers in uniform everywhere in every town, or hitch hiking along the highways. People were eager to befriend soldiers, give them rides if they were hitchhiking, and invite them for home-cooked meals. That was done partly in hopes that somebody was doing the same for their son wherever he might be. There was a strong sense of patriotism, and everybody wanted to do their part.
Sugar shortages and rationing became an issue. My mother, not wanting to be short of sugar for making her jams and jellies, filled large glass jars with sugar and placed them in corners hidden behind Mason jars full of canned vegetables and fruit in the storage building we called “the fruit house”. She didn’t like to be guilty of hoarding, but hid the extra sugar in fear of an unlikely government inspection. Gasoline and tires were rationed. School children were encouraged to buy War Bonds, or stamps toward a War Bond. Scrap metal was in demand and we had scrap metal drives. School children joined in all these war efforts.
Even though I was in my early teens, I wrote letters to all the older neighborhood boys who were away from home serving in the military. It was the patriotic thing to do, and they wrote back to me. Most all of them were dating one of my three older sisters and had known me since the day I was born. As part of the war effort, lightweight, onionskin writing paper and envelopes were used to reduce the weight of airmail.
In due time, Dale was drafted into the Army. There was no way to get around that. He was sent to Camp Blanding near Starke, FL for six weeks basic training, then came home to Tennessee for a few days leave before being shipped overseas to the ETO (European Theater of Operations).
Dale’s leave following basic training happened to occur in May, a beautiful springtime month in Tennessee where we lived. Our photographic equipment was at the Kodak box camera level, all black and white. We have albums of snapshots of Dale taken during that ten day period. There is one photo of the five of us siblings lined up according to age, Dot, Imogene, Leita, Dale, and me (Pattie Mae). Dale was tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed, and especially handsome in his uniform. We adored him.
The day Dale left home to go overseas was a school day for me. I was fourteen, awkward, and did not know how to properly say goodbye to him. My school bus was arriving, Dale was in the yard watching as I was about to get on the bus. We stood and looked at each other, said nothing, and made no gesture of goodbye. My bus ride was two hours along back country roads picking up other high school students before arriving at Dover High School.
I was in my seat in study hall, when I heard the air brakes of the 9:30 a.m. Greyhound bus as it made its regular stop across the street from the school. I knew Dale was on that bus. It was an awful feeling. I was told later that before he got on the bus at the Rob Scarborough stop, he told my parents and sisters “If I don’t come back, don’t worry about it”. We have one black and white photo of him just about to step on the bus. Before the end of the year he was dead.
Certain songs will always remind me of those times. Music of the WWII years included “There’ll Be Bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover” and “God Bless America” both sung by Kate Smith, “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anyone Else But Me” made famous by the Andrews Sisters, “Gonna Take a Sentimental Journey” sung by Doris Day, and “In the Mood” by Glenn Miller.
Dale’s letters were censored. Words were blacked out. It was called V-Mail. He couldn’t tell us anything about where he was. Soldiers’ letters from overseas were censored, microfilmed, and then printed back to paper on arrival at their destination.
The day the first official government telegram came it told my parents that their son was wounded. It was a leg wound, but apparently he could walk. We learned later that from the field hospital, all the wounded that were able to walk were ordered back into battle. Mr. Ridgway of Milligan and Ridgway Funeral Home in Dover brought the second telegram saying Dale had been killed in action.
I first heard the news at a school bus stop, at the Leatherwood and Standing Rock Creek roads, near my home but not my stop. A neighbor was there to tell us the news. I got off the bus and ran home. Leita met me at the front door crying. I remember her saying “Pattie, Dale is dead.” Our family was gathered around the wood fired stove. My oldest sister, Dot, said later my eyes got so big. The community was stunned. A neighbor and family friend, Ruby Moore, spent the night with us. Our other sister, Imogene, was in Sebring, FL with her husband, Benny Jobe, who had not yet joined the Navy.
The next day, Mama’s sister, my Aunt Nancy, came to our house. She walked in the door, took one look at Mama and dissolved into tears. I had never seen an adult cry like that.
So, Mama was officially a Gold Star Mother. The government sent her a gold star flag to hang “proudly” in the front window. How I hated that tacky flag with its gold cord and gold tassels! It was a poor substitute for my brother, Dale, and I was not proud of it. Several letters we had written to Dale were returned, undelivered. We received a package which included his dog tags and wallet.
In high school study hall for a special event, the showing of a news reel, I was sitting between two good friends, Anne Riggins and Bobbie Parker. The news reel was about the war. When I saw a soldier’s body covered with sheet being brought off an aircraft, I broke into tears. Bobbie and Anne both grabbed me, one from each side. For years, war movies were to be avoided as I could not tolerate battle scenes.
One day at the end of algebra class, I was puzzled when Mr. Jobe asked me to stay behind after class. As soon as we were alone, he expressed his sympathy for my loss and I dissolved into tears. I was immature and didn’t know how to talk to him or show appreciation for his concern. I’m sure he felt bad for upsetting me.
Salesmen came to “gold star homes” and for a price, would take an old black and white snapshot, or the official Army head shot, enlarge the photo, add color tint, and bring you the finished product in an ornate gold frame. My parents had two of Dale’s pictures done.
On May 8, 1945 (VE Day) Victory in Europe Day, the entire student body of high school walked to a nearby church to acknowledge the end of the war. I had very mixed feelings. I was fifteen. We were supposed to give a prayer of thanksgiving that the war was over, but I knew I would never get my brother back. Thankfulness was not what I felt.
The next fall, in 1946, on entering college at age sixteen, I filled out a questionnaire which asked “What is the most important thing that ever happened to you?” My answer was having my brother killed in the war.
When I was a junior in college, 1949, Dale’s remains were returned for burial in the Ft. Donelson National Park in Dover, TN, where we all had attended high school. His grave can be visited there. In the interim, soldiers’ remains had been temporarily buried in Holland.
To this day, more than seventy years later, it is still a painful loss. I’ve enjoyed close relationships with my three sisters throughout my long life, but I have always wished for our brother, Dale, to grow old along with us. I can only imagine what he would have been like – smart, decent, responsible and kind-hearted. It took many years for me to stop hating all Germans. That intense hatred gradually evolved into a more reasonable disapproval of the Nazi ideology. Dale’s beautiful young life was ended due to that despicable way of thinking.