WWII POW Ashtray Made It From Cherbourg France To Sioux Falls
My dad was a World War II veteran. That doesn't make him special. There were millions of World War II veterans, of which over 400,000 gave the ultimate sacrifice.
The Greatest Generation. That's what they became known as. I wouldn't argue.
Dad was in the European Theatre in the war, a member of the 993rd Treadway Bridge Company. He and his buddies built Treadway Bridges across more rivers than he could remember. The one he did remember was helping to build one across the Rhine River and going into Germany. He served much of the time under General George Patton, ol' 'Blood and Guts'. I asked him one time if he ever met him. 'Met him?', he responded with surprise. 'I think maybe I saw him once from a distance.'
He was one of the old World War II boys that didn't talk much about the war. From my experience, most of them were like that. Didn't care to talk about it, maybe a few stories about the good times (there were a few funny stories) and virtually never about the bad (there were many of those). He was in the Battle of the Bulge, the legendary battle that pretty much ended the war in Europe, the battle that repelled Germany's final push. All he would really say about it was 'Damn cold and snowy'.
Years later as I was growing up on that little 80-acre rented farm by Leota, Minnesota, there was an ashtray in our living room. I never really thought about it as a kid, it was just an ashtray and it was just...there. That's all.
Fast forward some decades later than that and my dad and mom became residents of a Nursing Home in Edgerton, Minnesota, a place they would call home for seven years or so. We sold their little house in Leota (they'd moved into town by then) and had an auction of their things. There wasn't much really, but there were a few items that my brother and I didn't want to put on an auction.
Keepsakes? Heirlooms? Family Treasures? Call them what you will.
And there was the ashtray, the one that had set in that little farmhouse living room for decades.
My folks were in the Nursing Home when I asked him about it. This by now 80-plus-year-old man just said..."I got it from a P.O.W.". I asked when, how, where. His answer each time was simple.
"I don't remember". Or perhaps, he didn't want to remember. I recorded a conversation with my dad in that Nursing Home, about an hour of talking about his life. When it came to The War, a few stories of buddies, of laughing, of drinking. Nothing about death. Nothing about casualties. If I got to close with a question about that, he'd just say "I don't remember". Or say nothing at all.
So I have the ashtray, the one you see, the one that I know he "got it from a P.O.W.".
Here's the base of the ashtray, wooden, crudely put together yet beautiful:
Cherbourg is in Normandy along the northwest coast of France. 1945 is of course the final year of the war. I do recall my dad saying that at the end of the war there were thousands and thousands of German prisoners, as far as he could see. How did this P.O.W. make this base? Or did he make it? Stolen? Given to him by someone? I don't know. All I know is..."I got it from a P.O.W.'.
The actual ashtray that sat and sits on the small wooden base is heavy and there's a reason for it:
It's made of ammunition shells. A large shell is an ashtray itself. A smaller one is in the middle. What kind of shells? I don't know. I'm as far away from a munitions guy as anyone. But they're shells. There are a couple of pieces missing, lost somewhere through the movement of time.
My dad died in 2007 at the age of 86, just nine months after my mom, his wife of 60 years. Our family has a number of keepsakes, hand-me-downs, family pictures, and stories and memories. And an ashtray.
The one "I got from a P.O.W.".