In Papa’s Footsteps

Following my grandfather’s journey during World War II.

So far, this blog and my contribution to the 52-Week Writing Challenge has been to write about the trips I’ve taken and what I’ve learned from them. It’s been based in the past. At some point, I’ll look to the future at write about trips I want to take. It’ll be some time before I do that, but I’m going to jump ahead and do that for this post because of this week’s 73rd anniversary of D-Day: the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II.

My grandfather Elmer Evan Arrindell was part of the invasion. He landed on Omaha Beach on this date, June 9, 1944: D-Day +3. My thought for this trip.. a journey, really.. is to trace my grandfather’s steps during World War II, visiting the places where he trained and served in the U.S. and Europe during the war. That includes Papa’s journey from Staten Island, NY where he was living, to the bases where he trained in the U.S., to the where he was stationed in England, through the invasion of Normandy, France and to the Battle of the Bulge.

“Papa” Elmer Evan Arrindell

I love history and travel, so it would be fascinating to learn about the lives of U.S. soldiers, particularly black soldiers in a segregated military, during World War II. It would also bring me closer to my grandfather, who passed away in 2006. I asked Papa about his experiences in the war a few times, but he didn’t tell me much. (However, he did tell me a funny story about a fellow enlisted soldier who began barking at someone to keep moving down a path and get their job done. Unbeknownst to Sgt. Hurry-Up, the soldier being told to move along was Gen. George Patton. Oops.) It would mean a lot to me learn more about where Papa went, what he saw and what he went through during an important time 75 years ago.

The idea for the trip came from his daughter/my aunt Diane. She said she might like to travel through Europe and visit the places Papa saw during the war. Boom! “That’s a great idea!” I thought. I also remember thinking, “I’ll probably never do that.” How would I find out where he went? And where would I get the time and the money to go? “That’s the type of leisurely trip you take when you’re retired,” I thought.

Well, I haven’t figured out the time and the money, and I’m far from retirement. But I’m going for it. As far as informational resources, I have my family, of course. My dad gave me some information about Papa’s service: He trained in Fort Bragg, NC and had desert training somewhere in California. He then served in the 3rd Army, maybe the 11th Calvary. My aunt Millicent put some information about Papa into a registry honoring WWII service members for the National WWII Memorial: Papa served for 3–1/2 years and rose to the rank of a sergeant.

I don’t have to take the journey all at once, of course. Fort Bragg on one trip. California on another. Maybe the European portion all at once, but maybe England on one trip and then Continental Europe on another. Over time I would learn about his personal experiences from family, what it was like for black soldiers in segregated units, and for any soldier who left the U.S. and took part in World War II.

But I need your help. Please tell me if you know any databases, records or resources I should investigate to learn about where soldiers were trained and where they served during World War II. Leave me a message in the comments or reach out to me somewhere on social media.

This journey would be a great history lesson. I’d also get to know Papa a little more and appreciate his service and sacrifice for his family and his country.

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This is the sixth installment of my 52-Week Writing Challenge. Follow me here on Medium for (hopefully) weekly posts about how travel has inspired me. My first post is here. You can follow me on Twitter, YouTube and pretty much everywhere @DeanArrindell.