©2014, Aaron Elson
On Memorial Day of 1998, I attended the dedication of a new library at the Eldred World War II Museum in Eldred, Pa. The museum director, Kurt Pfaff, invited some area veterans for me to interview. One of them was Jerome Auman, a Marine veteran of World War II.
We had a memorial service for the 22nd Marines in Canton, Ohio, this year. Our chaplain was a Marine in World War II with the 22nd . He wasnít a chaplain in the service. He was in the 22nd Marines, and after he came home he went into the ministry, and he was in charge of the memorial service in Canton for the seven of our fellow Marines who are no longer with us since last year. The services at the First Methodist Church there were supposed to be at 10:30 in the morning, and we were there at 10 after 10. Itís too early to start the services, but it looks like all of us are here. So the chaplain asks, "Is there anybody who wants to say anything to the rest of the people to use up a little time?" He didnít want to start the service ahead of time because somebody might still come in.
Well, to make a long story short, I was sitting in the first row. I look around. Nobody seems to be making a move. So I put up my hand. Reverend Mack says, "Yes, Jerome, what is it?"
I stand up and turn around and face the crowd. He says, "Oh, no, Jerome. Youíve got to come up here to the pulpit and use the microphone so everybody can hear what you have to say."
So I go up to the pulpit and I look around. I said, "Marines. Ladies and gentlemen, weíre gathered today to pay homage to the seven fallen comrades who are no longer with us this year. And I just wonder how many of the seven wrote their stories, because if they didnít write their story, nobody can write it for them. Only they could write it. Now how many of you have written your story? If you donít write them, thereís nobody can write it. Look at our age. We arenít going to be around, as seven are showing us that are no longer with us. Write your story. Your children, your grandchildren, and history needs these stories. Iíll make a copy of mine available in the hospitality room so that it will give you an idea of how to do it. Now I know a lot of veterans never want to talk about their experiences, but thatís not the attitude to have. You should want to write this down, want to record it. Maybe you werenít ... I didnít do anything to merit a Congressional Medal of Honor or anything like that, but Iíve written my story. Thereíll be a copy of it available in the hospitality room when we get back. Thatís all I want to say except one thing. Weíll never know how soon itíll be too late."
Well, that took a few minutes. Somebody had to break the ice. Then a couple of other fellows had something to say about their units. Of course, it got to being 10:30 and we went on with our memorials, which lasted probably about a half hour, and like I said, I was sitting in the front row and I was one of the last to leave. Reverend Mack said thereís gonna be coffee and donuts in church, youíre welcome to help yourself and visit with the rest. So after the service is over, everybodyís going down the aisle. I was about halfway down the aisle, and this other Marine came up and put his hand on my shoulder. I never saw a man cry like this man was crying. The tears were actually dripping off his chin. What do you do when you see somebody crying like that? He put his hand on my shoulder and he said, "Mr. Auman, I wish you would have told me this a few years ago. I lost my son Ė he had cancer Ė about six months ago. The night before he died, he looked up at me and said, "Dad, you never once told me one thing you did as a Marine. I wanted to know so bad. Itís too late now." That man cried. It actually makes tears come to my eyes just telling the story. And he said, "When I get back, I want to write my story. I have other children."
Put yourself in that position.
And then another story, on a more brighter side, coming out of the same thing. We get back to the hospitality room, and Vern Hodges is his name, was reading my story. And almost from the first word, "Hey, I crossed the country like this. I went in this ship that left. I went to this heavy machine gun thing. I got in the MPs. I came back to Pearl Harbor. I went under the Golden Gate Bridge. I got this leave. I did this. I did that!" I had just a little wee picture, about yea big, of our Marine company in Samoa. I said, "Well, can you find yourself on this picture?"
"No," he said. "I canít."
I said, "Well, what Iíll do when I get home, Iíll have copies made of it, and Iíll get 8 by 10s, and Iíll send it to you." And I did. And weíve become real close friends.
The Eldred World War II Museum is located at 201 Main Street, PO Box 273, Eldred, PA 16731. For more information about the museum and library, call (814) 225-2220.