Thursday, May 24, 2018

My Uncles, Pliny and John

Assault on Battery Wagner
Now I've written about my great-granduncle Pliny before, he was (I think) my maternal grandmother's uncle, so I think great-granduncle is the more proper term, though I suppose great-great-uncle fits as well.

We always just refer to him as "Uncle Pliny," everyone in the family gets that, Pliny isn't such a common name anymore, even still, there was only one Pliny on my Mom's side of the family tree.

Uncle Pliny served in the 7th New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry about which this source says -
Mustered into the service of the United States October 29 to December 15, 1861, at Manchester, by Haldimand S. Putnam, 1 Lt. U.S.A. Organization completed December 15, 1861. The original members who had not re-enlisted were mustered out December 27, 1864, at Concord, by Ai B. Thompson, Capt. U.S.A. (retired). The re-enlisted men and recruits were mustered out July 20, 1865, at Goldsborough, N.C., by William H. Pierpont, Capt. 7 Conn. Inf.
That source noted above has a fairly complete roster of the men who served in the 7th, a few of whom were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions during the war, a topic for another post someday, perhaps. Another thing worth noting is that 1LT Putnam who mustered the regiment into service, rose to the rank of Colonel and commanded the regiment in the second assault on Battery Wagner outside Charleston, SC.

Colonel Putnam was killed in action during that assault, and my Uncle Pliny was wounded. My uncle later returned to the regiment and served throughout the war. My research also indicates that the 7th was in action at the siege of Petersburg in '64. Another vicious fight.

This entry on the 7th NH has the following listing -
Gammell, Pliny F. Co. A; b. Hillsborough; age 19; res. Hillsborough; enl. Oct. 25, '61; must. in Oct. 29, '61, as Priv.; wd. July 18, '63, Ft. Wagner, S.C.; re-enl. and must. in Feb. 29, '64; app. Corp. Dec. 17, '64; must. out July 20, '65. P.O. ad., Lowell, Mass.
My Mom's side of the family has another soldier named Gammell. My grandmother's brother John, or Uncle John as we boys called him.

Soldiers in the Hürtgen Forest, November 1944
I suppose, technically speaking, he was my granduncle, sometimes called great-uncle. All I know is that he was a pretty cool guy. Born in 1916 he was older than many infantrymen in World War II. Nevertheless, he served in the infantry, 4th Infantry Division to be precise.

Somewhere at Chez Sarge is a suitcase with letters home from him, I also have his Purple Heart medal, which he received for wounds suffered in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest.

Uncle John's outfit came over the beaches at Normandy later than the rest of the 4th, parts of which landed on D-Day on Utah Beach. He might have been a replacement, I need to dig deeper into those letters. The 4th was heavily involved in the campaign in France.

I do know that Uncle John remembered well the horror of the Hürtgen Forest, wet, cold, and heavy fighting. When I was in Germany, my grandmother asked me if I was near enough to that area to perhaps go take some pictures so her brother could see what it looked like in modern times.

Of course, it was a beautiful summer day when we headed down there, about an hour and change from where we lived. Beautiful country, but knowing the weather in that area in the fall, I can well imagine what it was like in November of '44.

Uncle John's war ended in that dark, wet Hell. A German bullet went through the top of his helmet, just grazing the helmet liner and my uncle's head. He lived, but he was evacuated back to England (I think). By the time he had recovered, the war was over in Europe.

That would definitely get your attention!
War, there ain't no glory in it.

But in my family, we remember those who served.

Uncle John passed back in 1998, just before I retired from the Air Force. It would have been nice to have talked with him one more time. Ah, perhaps when I too reach the clearing at the end of the path, we can have that chat.


  1. Yes, I think you would notice that.

    1. I recently read about Hurtgen. We had about 50,000 casualties in 3 months. That really puts perspective on our other wars..... WW2 was a meat grinder. Some of the nicest guys I knew had dark memories of battle. I don't remember them ever letting on about it.

      Dad told me a story about a slug he kept. When he was in boot camp in '56, a slug slapped him in the helmet near the rifle range. I remember it was bent in the middle like a banana.

    2. Yeah, I think I'd hold onto that as well.

      Hürtgen was a nasty battle.

  2. I’d rather be lucky than good. Sounds like your Uncle used up quite a bit of luck dodging that bullet (so to speak).

    Great series of posts, Sarge, well done.

    1. Oh yeah, he knew how lucky he'd been. He kept that helmet his entire life to remind him. I was honored when my grandmother gave me her brother's helmet, I also have the flag which covered his coffin, he was a good man.

  3. Circa 1964-66 some 12Bs (Combat Engineer) trained for a week in the Hurtgen looking for WWII leftovers. Place is a jungle. A few of the Forestmeister guides were there during the fight. A surreal experience for young troopers.

  4. "LUCK"

    When my Father wa the CO of a rifle company in the 42nd Rainbow his jeep was blown-up by a land-mine , killing his driver, trowing him out w. a concussion, breaking the arm of his heavy machine-gunner against the gun-mount and mangling the face of his radio-operator when it was thrown into the equipment panel. Dad said at first he was mildly ticked because everyone was awarded a purple heart except him because in his case, tho WIA, no loss of blood was involved.....then he considered the alternative..

    1. I see you wrote "luck" in all caps.

      In your Dad's case, "LUCK" applies. Damn! How many people can say they lived after their jeep hit a mine? My guess would be, not many.

      The 42nd ID is one of my favorite outfits, National Guard units from Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. All the New England states and most of the Northeast USA. A division with a proud history.

  5. Both sides of my family are one-ofs for 2 prior generations, or were in those generations fortunate to skip the great conflicts, mostly.

    Both sides fought in Civwar, my mother's father's father fought during and was stationed in Cuba after the Spanish-American War. Cholera took all the portions of my dad's great-grand family, leaving a pack of orphans really scarred by that horror.

    Dad's side fought in the 1812 war in and around Louisiana, but stayed out of the Revolutionary war.

    Mom's side had people fighting various wars and skirmishes in practically every medium to large dust-up since arriving on the Mayflower, up to the CivWar.

    My Grandfather on my mom's side, 2nd Lt. Gordon Cone, USMC, Annapolis '29, died while fighting the bureaucracy October 10th, 1930 (he was leaning back in his chair in his office, the chair slipped, whacked his head on a radiator, and died soon after in hospital.),_2LT,_USMC

    My father, Robert Paul Wetzel, served in the non-firing phase of the Korean War as a fighter pilot. The hardest thing he ever described was checking out a South Korean ammo bunker in very cold weather with a British officer and stepping into liquid covering the bottom of the bunker. Which turned out to be nitro that sweated out of all the dynamite stored in there. Thankfully nitro is not volatile when it is friggin cold (which, fortunately, Korea gets). He also went pheasant hunting with said Brit and managed to stumble into an unmarked minefield and had to be rescued. His descriptions of the South Koreans after both incidents basically was "They were some hard-assed monster-truckers (insert the correct phrase.)" as in the first one, they used a bucket brigade to bail out the bunker, and in the second one, a mine team came and got him (think suitable scene from "Combat" or "Kelly's Heroes." Both incidents were without casualties by the Koreans.)

    The only contact I ever had with a person who died in battle was with Paul R. Smith. Fought him a few times in the SCA, and lost. His brother used to beat me up for lunch money on the fighting field. Paul's story is here: He took a death-guard with him.

    1. I know a thing or two about Korea and Koreans, love 'em both.

      SFC Smith was a superb soldier.

    2. His SCA helmet is one of the trophies in one of the hardest tournaments in Florida. Champion of Trimaris. The people's champion, fought yearly. I always cried openly when his brother or one of his friends talked about him as they handed the honor to the recipient.

      (And, of course, some asshat would say something derogatory, and have to have the reality of the situation explained to him verbally before one of the Friends found out and pounded said asshat into gravel. Some people just suck.)

      Paul, I hardly knew you, but thank you for your service and sacrifice.

    3. Wow. Just, wow.

      (There is something to remember, we will always have two things after a nuclear holocaust: cockroaches and assholes.)

  6. YIKES!

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

  7. Wow. A guy at Gander Rod and Gun Club in Newfoundland had the helmet he was wearing in Burma when a Japanese bullet hit more off to the side and carved a path around about 45-60 degrees before exiting. He said it spun off head like a Frisbee since he didn't have the straps fastened like he was supposed to. He thought not having it fastened saved his life, but I have my doubts. Maybe. Pliny, though? At least in the Old South, classical Greek and Roman names were generally (not always, by any means) given to slaves. I'm not sure why. Maybe an added, likely to be not be understood, form of mockery? I don't know. At least he wasn't named "Titus" or "Titian", that's all I can say.

    1. Dammit, what I put in angle brackets din't publish, so here goes again: [cue Beavis impersonation, "He said Titian", or old SNL skit with Dan Akroyd]

    2. Uhh, and no disrespect meant. Just noting that it was an unusual name, especially for whites...

    3. I had a professor in college that was a Jed. I had no idea until I looked up OSS in the far east. He told us in class once about parachuting in to an American friendly area in Burma (not sure now, memory is dark). They trained the locals and then hit Japanese outposts. He said they belly crawled up and were merrily firing away (prone) when a bullet hit between his right hand and head, kicked sand up in his face. He thought it would make a swell memento, and started to dig for it...... next thought was "SNIPER!", he rolled to his back and sprayed the nearest tree, and knocked out the sniper.

    4. Larry - my uncle had his steel pot strapped down. When we had the old pots in the USAF, I noted that not cinching one's chin strap led to the steel bit flying off from the liner when un-assing a truck over the tail gate. One reason I liked the Fritz helmet is that it was all one piece.

      As to Uncle Pliny's name, back in the day, at least in New England, Biblical names and names from classical antiquity were popular. I'm not sure which Pliny my uncle was named for, the Elder or the Younger. Probably neither, they just liked the name.

    5. STxAR - Yeah, I can see that. "Oh cool! I can save that bullet as a... Oh wait... SNIPER!!!"

      Funny how the mind works.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

NOTE: Comments on posts over 5 days old go into moderation, automatically.