I have since loaded up the digitized oral history from Charles “Bud” Barth, this curated for public dissemination (amongst hundreds of thousands of other oral histories) with the State Historical Society of North Dakota. In the previous post I noted how Charles was a medic in the 103rd Infantry Division, European Theater, Second World War. Here are a couple lines I transcribed from the audio, at least what Charles recounted from his time on the front lines. Charles said:
“…I was not on the front line all the time. I was what they call a medic recorder. I took care of all the guys who were hit, who were killed, who were prisoners of war, and stuff like that…”
And then he recounted one of the particulars in the broader, global war that resulted in millions of deaths. While in the Western European Theater, Charles said this:
“…I remember one incident, this guy was shot, two shells in his upper chest. And he knew he was going to die. I grabbed him, held him in my arms, gave him a [morphine] shot, and he said, ‘Would you… tell mom… and dad…’ and that was the last he said. Now I don’t know what he was going to say… I looked at his dog tags and they were so shot up I didn’t know where he was from.”
Charles transcribed these final words, “Would you… tell mom… and dad…” in the context in which he heard them, and then he attached them to the killed soldier. Days and weeks went by, and one of Charles’s commanding officers eventually tracked him down. His officer asked if he was the medic who wrote the note about the soldier who was hit and killed. Charles said that was the only identification he could make out since the dog tags were so shot up. The officer said they had the killed soldier’s home address, and they gave it to Charles.
Eventually Charles drafted a letter to the soldier’s parents who lived in Wisconsin. He told them he cared for their son just before he was killed in action, and he wanted to pass along his final words. This induced a correspondence between this soldier’s parents and Charles, and they sent letters and Christmas cards back and forth until they just stopped one day. Charles suspected that the soldier’s parents had passed away, and he never was able to track them down.
Nonetheless, these North Dakotan oral histories are a part of the larger picture that is the national Veteran’s History Project. It seemed more than worthwhile to share this bit of digitized history. War is ugly. It is horrible; in fact the most horrific. Yet embedded within this horror are singular stories of selflessness, empathy, appreciation and compassion. These individual stories humanize those larger historical narratives that can seem so rote and distant. The individual stories are all around, just so long as we are ready to sit down and listen.