Friday, May 12, 2017

Next Stop- Berlin, 1944-45

Company E of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment. My dad sits in the second row from the front, sixth in from the left.

     My next, unbelievable adventure takes us to the American occupation of Berlin at the end of World War 2. My father's 551st Parachute Infantry Battalion had been almost entirely decimated in the Ardennes and the Battle of the Bulge. The 551st PIB had so few remaining soldiers that it no longer existed. The surviving paratroopers, which included my father, were absorbed into other units. My father ended up in Co.E of the 504th PIR. He was still (and would always be) a paratrooper. It was here, in the 504th, that my father found a home for his love of music. The 504th had a regimental band called, The Jumpmasters and he became one of their guitarists.
    Before the war, my father worked odd jobs, but he always identified himself as a musician. His discharge papers stated his occupation before the war as, "musician" and his scrapbook is filled with photographs of him playing rhythm guitar in one band or another. It was the age of Big Bands. His boot camp photos include one of him with a guitar. Even in the 551st PIB, he managed to find a guitar and an occasion to play it. Gregory Orfalea in his book, "Messengers of the Lost Battalion", mentions my father playing guitar to entertain some Scottish troops. One of my father's buddies from the 551st, Marcel Charette, told me he recalled seeing my father marching with his rifle over one shoulder and his guitar over another. I have no doubt that my father's music helped keep him grounded and sane in the midst of a horrific war.

From my father's scrapbook. Charles Giacomino on guitar
      As I enter this stage of travel back in time and try to unravel where my father had been and where he was going, I meet an historian and author named Frank van Lunteren. Mr. van Lunteren is from the Netherlands and he has written three books specifically about the 504th PIR. (Spearhead of the Fifth Army, Blocking Kampfgruppe Peiper and The Battle of the Bridges) He is currently researching and writing two more books, one of which will be about the 504th regimental band, The Jumpmasters. (I had no idea...!) I once again posted some of my father's photographs online and again, a time portal opened and sucked me right in. One group of photos from my father's scrapbook were all from The Jumpmasters. No sooner had I organized them and got them posted when I was contacted by Mr. Lunteren. Via instant messaging, Frank began working his "magic" at puzzling out facts from bits and pieces of memorabilia. As many photographs that I shared, he shared even more back with me. Many of which had my father in them! I tried to answer his questions, but I was clumsy in recollections and not nearly as quick as Frank at digging out facts. He was a genius at tracking people down on the internet and quickly following rabbit trails. I noticed that the deeper into time I stayed, the more I noticed details. Photographs that I had looked at my whole life began to contain new meaning. Nicknames written on the photos suddenly turned into real people with real names, with real surviving family members. I saw only a tiny portion of how Frank works and he is purely historical genius... on steroids. I was so deeply embedded into 1944 Berlin, that I lost an entire afternoon of time. I kept watching the clock, knowing that I had to return to the present day, but the present day seemed so boring compared to the richness of these historical events. Even after I returned to my very own kitchen, my mind continued to wander back in time and it was difficult to stay in the here and now.
From my father's scrapbook: Some of the band members including "O'Buckley" (Donal O'Buckley) on bass.
From Mr. van Lunteren- There's my dad on the far right, in the back!
Again- from my dad's scrapbook

From Mr. van Lunteren- The Jumpmasters. My dad is on  the bottom, right!
     As Frank fueled the time machine and I studied the photos over and over again, I began to notice something. That bass in the "O'Buckley" photos... I'm pretty sure I've seen that bass before...Could it possibly be?!

... to be continued.

1 comment:

  1. This is thrilling indeed - I can imagine getting absorbed into like you have. It's like traveling back in time. How wonderful they could have their music to keep them sane.

    Now I'm intrigued by the bass (and I had just been thinking - that must have been interesting carting that thing around a war.) :)