Uncle Charles Sayler says he lived through intense times but had lots of fun.
Uncle Charles Sayler says he lived through intense times but had lots of fun.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, I was blessed to be able to interview a rare commodity in America today, a WWII veteran. An additional blessing came in his niece, Janet, who drove me to his home and enjoyed the day along with me. As she sat in her grandfather’s favorite rocker and listened to her uncle tell us wonderful stories, she noted that she became so comfortable and enjoyed such a calming peace, that it was “like the feeling of security and youth.” Oddly, I got that same feeling from my guest even though he’s past his 90 mark.
A bit hard of hearing, his nephew had suggested I give him a written list of questions. Good idea, B.J.! Went right through that list like a trooper. He did a fantastic job and as much as I love history and know the subject, I seriously felt like I learned more from a one-on-one experience with him than if I’d just taken History 101 in college.
Besides knowledge, he has a peppy, informative way of making the topics live. So here, I will try in my ineptness to honor this nifty man.
Farming has always been his family’s main occupation. In high school, he took one of the first-Agriculture Courses. Reason one, loved farming, but also if he took it, he’d not be required to take senior English. With that option in mind, my fellow joined-up! “Pappy (Paul) Wilson had previously had about 10 in his class, but progressed to over-flowing.” Pappy did drive my fella’ a bit crazy as he’d, “ask a question right back at ya’, so that ya’ never knew whether you answered or not. Certainly, he kept ya’ on your toes and a false move meant deep trouble!”
For Christmas in 1942, he received a little card in the mail with, “Greetings – we want you!” so not long into January, his first adventure was to Indianapolis from where he left on a train. “Everyone clutched big over coats in the frigid weather. About 12 coaches carried Army boys, with only six men from the C’ville area. Arriving in Ft. Worth, Texas, off came our coats and everyone lined-up. First one was in Co A; second Co. B and so on.”
Attending Tank Storage Training from May – August, he advanced in rifle shooting. Next was Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Although, his Christmas trip home was cheap, in St. Louis, he had only five minutes to hop onto the Indy train or else be stuck in St. Louis for hours, maybe days. At 4:30 a.m. he called home for someone to come to Indy to pick him up and everyone was so happy to see him. However, when he returned, it was disclosed that his battalion had literally snuck-away while he was absent.
Catching-up with his group he received Artillery training, after which he “boarded a high-speed express” to Baltimore, Maryland, discovering there is a right way, wrong way and Army way when they stripped down, added only an Army coat and marched down the street to receive more intense medical exams, shots and such. Then, overseas.
To my question, “Did you get seasick,” his answer was, “Who didn’t?” (think Pappy Wilson rubbed off on him). Luckily, his subsided fairly quickly. When he went on to C-Deck to eat, it was so bad, they had to shut the doors to keep the waves out. June 4th brought everyone on deck to view an iceberg, “higher than the elevator in New Market!”
In Liverpool, he felt the first bit of fear at the Invasion of France. He’d not had infantry training yet so when they asked if anyone desired to go to Maintenance School, up went his hand. He received an old engine, tore it down completely, then rebuilt it to make it run. Well, his coughed quite a bit. Finally, his officer got the correct distributor and with it, the engine hummed in perfection.
Shipped to France, they were making it high-speed to Paris when there was a halt put on gas. December 16th, Hitler instigated a big campaign to cut Americans off from the English. “Believe me, in a forward depot squad tent, sleeping in your bedroll, topped with your overcoat is not cozy, but pure cold!”
He spent his 21st birthday, ten miles away from front lines, “Where we could basically relax.” At this point, my fella’ hopped-up, bounced over to a drawer and pulled-out several books to enhance his tale, showing me a picture of the unbelievably deep snow, so thick, that the infantry couldn’t walk and keep up with his tankers. At that point, TOT was put into plan where everyone fired at a target at the same time. Tanks front, artillery after. They cleaned-up everything.
The Russians were extremely cruel to our POWs – they were shot, starved, frozen. He mentioned one of my all-time fav men, Ab Delano who was lucky to return home. I snapped a pic of him sitting on a tank on the 22nd of February after the Germans opened all the dams in order to block the Americans so he spent time helping build bridges. TOT was put into effect at two the next morning. 1400 rounds from his outfit alone. Signals were waved as no one could hear a thing. He attributes this noise to his hard hearing, as well as riding on tractors unprotected and many years cutting his own wood with a chainsaw. His eyes however, are better than mine, as for years, he has spent hours upon hours doing intricate 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzles. Showed me a real toughie he had just finished, beautiful outdoor scene with many of the exact items and colors.
“My outfit was a go-go one. The (English) were always waiting for the perfect timing.” After crossing the Rhein River, two tanks took the last town. Not long after, my man made Cpl. and was transferred to the 5th where he did all types of repairing and refurbishing.
Able to visit and enjoy Paris for two weeks, when he got back their First Sgt. called them all together and pulled a name out of a hat for a trip to Switzerland. First guy didn’t have the $70 needed. Second name out was my soldier, and am wondering if you have guessed who yet?
Sgt: “Do you have the $70?”
Charles Bayard Sayler: “I sure do!” About 30 soldiers spent a week in Switzerland, which was partially funded by the Swiss government. Pointing out his route, he smilingly noted: “Wow! It was great to see Lausanne, Basel and Geneva.
Finally, at the end of December, he went home. Intense times but he also had “lots of fun!” And, he still has his uniform!
A member of the Indian Creek Cemetery board for decades, he was a volunteer fireman from 1951-82. Boots still ready at the back door! Until recently, he was an active member of the Pioneer Association (antique tractors).
Definitely Uncle Charles Sayler, fondly referred to as UC by family members, looks at life with humor, proof here with his June 1996 stroke story. “They fed me rat bait (morphine) and about cut off my head (huge scar up his neck to repair artery) but, hey I came through it anyway!” After his stroke, he was back up on that tractor within just a few weeks. He also flew through a battle with skin cancer.
An avid reader, he is up to par on all new equipment, prices and yields. He could talk about any current topic, as well. We even discussed the recent death of the oldest woman living (117 year old, Italian Emma Moreno, who ate two eggs a day and lots of cookies). BTW – he’s all about cookies!
He feels his family has always been on the front line of farming. Example: When he began school in 1928 he came home the first day and there was a brand new John Deere D tractor. Most farmers still used horses. Behind that first tractor, he used a two-row planter and a six-row one when retiring. Sam Shelton, who farms UC’s property, uses a 36. UC loves to watch! In the old days their 250 acre farm was big, whereas the large farmers today own thousands of acres. “If you plan to be a good farmer, then you must keep up with farming. Watch the Chicago board of trade, be smart about when and how much you’ll be sending.” He was a bit short on some of his contracts because of the 2012 drought but overall, he’s just a natural.
“In 1930 a person couldn’t stuff $5 worth of groceries in a bag whereas $100 will get you little nowadays.” He’s also appalled at how people of today use credit cards without an inkling of the amount they’ll be repaying.
Another thing that bothers both of us is that kids have so much to get in to now. “All we had was cigars when I was a kid.” He didn’t answer me when I asked if he delved into that aspect of teenageship, he simply laughed! Charles also loves to go, rarely missing church and especially enjoys Culver’s where he has one of the gals trained to have his fish dinner and Pepsi ready.
His mother enrolled him in the New Market Methodist Church Cradle Class in 1922, but didn’t become an actual adult member until 1947. Yep, 70 years ago!
Heavily involved in the K of P lodge at New Market, as a 50-year-member, he was on a team that travelled all over (Covington, Clinton, Waveland, Browns Valley) for initiations and he loved meeting new people.
In amazing health, with one of the best attitudes I’ve seen in my lifetime, UC may outlive the lil Italian lady – I mean he only has a few years to go. Definitely, I want to say, God Bless You, UC, and wishing many more happy, healthy, years to you!
Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. Her column, Around the County, appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County.