The following are excerpts from Chapter 4, “Old and New Kentucky Homes,” from A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham
Another decisive victory for the U.S. Navy, following on the heels of its success at the Battle of Midway, was its defeat of the Japanese during the Battle of Guadalcanal. This operation, which ended in early January, had been under the command of Admiral Chester Nimitz. It provided an optimistic beginning to the new year. “Many senior officers, from all branches of the armed forces, aren’t planning strategy on the battlefields of Europe or commanding operations in the Pacific,” Dad told Mother and me one late-winter day. “They’re working behind the scenes in Washington, often in cramped, temporary office buildings.”
The temporary buildings in which government offices did their work were in various places in Washington—near Fort McNair, on the Washington Mall, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, along Constitution Avenue, and in the grassy areas surrounding the Washington Monument. The Pentagon had been constructed, but occupants were moving in slowly.
Dad’s remarks were prophetic, because he was soon to become part of that harried Washington lifestyle. In the spring of 1943 he was ordered to report to the Fuels and Lubricants Division, a newly formed division of the Quartermaster General’s office.
For the first few months on the job, he would serve as deputy director of the division, commuting between Washington and Hopkinsville.
His change in assignment coincided with the end of the war in North Africa. American troops had steadily made big gains after their defeat at Kasserine Pass in February 1943. One occurrence that helped them was that hundreds of British Matilda tanks and American Sherman tanks had been able to push back the smaller force of German Panzers.
Dad, who at the start of the desert campaign was concerned that the power and weight of the Panzers would place the lighter Shermans at a disadvantage, was relieved that the large number of Allied tanks used in the campaign made up for their smaller size.
The Allies defeated Axis forces in Tunisia in May 1943, thus spelling the end of Hitler’s dream of access to the Suez Canal. Uncle Bob Shaw, who was serving with the 3rd Infantry Division in North Africa that spring, saw firsthand the downfall of Rommel’s troops, as he writes in Shaw Clan: “What a sight as the Africa Corps surrendered by marching their units, without guards, under their officers, to the POW camps.”
Considering the discipline Rommel had enforced on his elite corps, it’s not surprising that they surrendered in such a disciplined and controlled way.
When the war later progressed to France, Rommel would again be a force to reckon with, along with German Panzer and Tiger tanks. In Italy, to which Bob’s division proceeded next, Mussolini was politically defeated on July 24, 1943, in the Italian Council, prompting Victor Emmanuel III to order his arrest. This event ended the Rome-Berlin Axis and the power of Italy’s Fascist regime, but it did not put an end to the fighting, in which Uncle Bob’s 3rd Infantry Division would soon be heavily involved.
When our moving day approached, Dad ruefully told me we couldn’t bring our cat, Willie. Noticing the onset of my tears, he said, “We’ll make sure he gets a good new home.” Like fish propelled forward in a river, thousands of workers had been swept to Washington, so it would take us time to find a place to live.
The day before we left, a carload of soldiers came up the driveway to pick up Willie, and a bit later we learned that our cat had become a mascot of their unit. I felt much better. Soon thereafter, we drove away from a friendly small town and towards a city where newcomers lived in anonymity.
[Click on the following Amazon site to learn more about A Salute to Patriotism and read some pages from the book:
Uncle Bob (my mother’s half-brother), who would become a well-decorated officer of the 3rd Infantry Division, and wife Bunny before he left for Africa: 1942
Read Full Post »