My Grandpa Killed Hitler, Part One – Call of Duty
Now with a title like that, this story had better have some kind of great outcome. Or crazy twist. Or my grandfather had better’ve, by-God, actually killed the worst creature that ever lived. Or else this story certainly isn’t worth reading— I bet you’re thinking.
I hate to break it to you, dear reader, or ruin the surprise, but I think I need to clear this up before you read any further: Did my grandfather kill Hitler? Despite what you may think you know about history, the answer is yes. Yes, he did. My grandpa did kill Hitler.
Now that I have your full, undivided attention, or just your willingness to play along until you get the punch line, I shall proceed.
Part One – Call of Duty
My grandfather was born in Anniston, Alabama, in 1920. His parents were so poor that a wealthy, great-uncle of my newly born grandfather had promised my great grandparents $1000 in his will if they would name their son after said uncle. In 1920, my grandfather’s parents were happy to oblige.
You see, this great uncle had been named after a Confederate hero by the name of John Pelham. The original John Pelham, a Civil War fighting, womanizing, artillery-revolutionizing hero of the South, had died in battle defending Dixieland without having kids of his own.
(LEGITIMATE kids of his own—rumor had it that the original John Pelham was loved by so many Southern belles that they mourned from Charlotte to Savannah upon news of his death. So if the bullet or battlefield wouldn’t have killed him, would the heartache have done the job? That was my great, great, great great-granduncle! He wasn’t a player, he just crushed a lot.)
The second John Pelham—the uncle for whom my grandfather had been named, who left behind the $1000—also had no children of his own, but knew that he was dying around the time of my grandfather’s birth. Thus, he wanted to pass down his famous name to a blood relative in the family.
So John Pelham, my grandfather, was born, and the great-uncle soon died thereafter, leaving my grandfather’s family the money. My grandfather said his family was so poor that they lived off of that grand for the entire Depression. He remembered frequently eating nothing but burnt toast and beans for months at a time. Sad. My grandfather was the youngest of several children, so he was always the one scrounging for food and trying to grow up too fast. But this also made him very resourceful.
The day after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, John enlisted for several reasons, but mostly out of patriotism. My grandfather had a very—shall we say—colorful experience in World War II. He liberated concentration camps and dealt with the Russians (who were so poor and uneducated, and who had had such primitive resources back in Mother Russia that their troops would often misunderstand modern amenities and would do silly things like steal water faucets off of sinks thinking water would magically erupt from them without them even being plumbed in).
He was even offered $10,000 to take a French woman back to America at the end of the war and marry her for the papers! Lots of further craziness ensued during John Pelham’s tenure in WWII. He was eventually made warehouse inventory manager of the Third Reich’s storage facility containing all of the liquor Germany had seized from occupied territories, which had been re-confiscated by the Allies (John was able to use this position at the warehouse to escalate his personal status in the war many times over. But that’s a story for another day). Perhaps my grandfather’s greatest achievement in the Second World War happened before he even left the states. Because that’s when he killed Hitler.
At the time John Pelham had enlisted, the Allied forces were struggling to find the best way into Europe to take back the countries seized by defeat. They knew landing in France and Italy would be essential, strategically, but they also exercised many different methods for hauling men and supplies through these two countries, once they had landed.
Initially, the American military was planning for a mountain attack across the Alps via Switzerland. They were deciding how to transport artillery across the mountains, so they used the Rocky Mountains as a training ground for the invading unit. The men were supported by mules that carried packs of guns and supplies for the soldiers, as it was thought that mules were a safe bet for transporting goods through the narrow, cliff-side mountain paths.
Before the war, John had been studying engineering at the University of Auburn in Alabama. He was in the ROTC in college, and they often dealt with horses, like the Confederate hero John Pelham did. Also like his ancestor of the same name, when he enlisted in the military, his training began with an artillery unit. He trained at camps across the nation and eventually was stationed in Colorado. The military thought that John’s thorough experience with horses would make him adept at handling the mules that the army was training in the Rockies.