Minneapolis VA Health Care System
My Life, My Story by Gordon
When Veterans share their stories through the My Life, My Story project we build stronger connections between Veterans and their health care teams. We'd like to thank all the Veterans who have shared their stories so far and for sharing their stories with you.
My Life, My Story believes that stories heal, teach and are powerful. You have a story that we want to hear, contact Casey Gunderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 612-629-7618.
Gordon's My Life, My Story
I'm just an ordinary doughboy. I grew up in Saint Paul. All kinds of people went to my school; Jewish people, Catholic people, black people, white people. We all played basketball or soccer together, we don't know if we were black or white back then.
I joined the service when I graduated from high school in 1942. I wanted to be a paratrooper and jump out of planes. The service was still segregated then. You couldn't drink out of this water fountain or use that faucet, when you would go to a movie you had to go sit upstairs. When we first went over to Ireland they told everybody we had tails! Now over in Ireland you had bath houses. And everyone would go on Saturday night to the bathhouse and take a bath. They'd run around and look around to see if we had a tail or not.
I went down to the middle of Texas for basic training. I made Corporal down there, and then I went to Fort Dix New Jersey. Then we went overseas to Ireland. This was about six months before the invasion.
We used to sit there at nighttime watching the buzz bombs come across the sky, dropping bombs on Germany. Six days after the invasion we went to France. There were still body bags on the beach there, that was hell.
We got our troops together and we went and joined General Patton’s 3rd Army. We went all the way across France and then all the way across Germany with Patton’s 3rd Army in the 4th Army Division. When we joined with Patton, that felt like the biggest thing in the world.
Then the Battle of the Bulge came up that December and January. Around Christmastime we were caught there and then went down into Verdun. We had to go down and get the 87th Army out of there. We were truck drivers. We would load the troops on the back of the trucks, and carry them so far away. We went down there and got most of them out. We didn’t know the significance of what we were doing, not at all. You did what you were told to do, I drove the trucks, and that’s what I did. I remember once we broke down my hands and feet got frozen, but I came out of that alright.
Then after the war was over we were running a displaced persons camp. That was in a warehouse in Germany. All of these slave laborers that Hitler had taken to do his work came. We would free them, and give them clothes and medical attention. Then we would take them down to Austria and turn them over so they could return to their home countries.
I was at Auschwitz the day after they liberated. That was a nasty hole. It was stinkin’ and smoky…dead bodies. That's the first time I've ever seen a jet engine. The Germans had the jet engine before the United States. I thought they were pitiful and terrible. Nobody was a big fan of them. We didn't know if it was progress or what, there was no way we could beat them flying those jets.
And then I came home. I was overseas for two years and a half.
When I came home in 1948 I drove a streetcar up and down University Ave and Selby Ave. I did that for a few years and then I went and worked for the airlines. I went to Northwestern airlines in 1960 and I stayed with them until I retired (it was actually Delta) in 1993.
I joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars after the war was over. I was the first black state Commander here in Minneapolis. I came out to help the Veterans fill out their forms and get the benefits that they'd earned. For 19 years I did that, It's a complicated process.
I lived through the civil rights as well. I remember you couldn’t even sit at the counter in Minneapolis and get a cup of coffee! I still chose to serve my country, and then I continued to serve through my work at the VFW.
I've had my wedding ring on for almost 60 years. I wear it every day. Gwen and I we were married for 51 years. She a Minneapolis girl, we got married after I got back. We lived in Saint Paul.
My advice to others is: love is life. I've had a good life. I've had a good marriage. I've been fortunate. It's been beautiful, and tomorrow's going to be beautiful. I have a lot of things to be grateful for.