Letters from the Front, Part 6

In the days and weeks following Corporal Dillon Summers’s July 7 letter home, the 3rd Armored Division fought its way south from the Normandy beaches. The 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion moved right along with Combat Command B (CCB), and at the fore were the forward observers, one of whom Summers drove. As the unit achieved each objective, it was relieved by another unit and then moved forward toward the next objective.

Then they hit the bocage region of Normandy, an area of small, open fields, each bordered by dense hedgerows, mounds of earth thick with tangled and deep-rooted trees. Many of the fields were skirted by narrow, shadowy lanes, an environment perfect for German defenses. It was not at all conducive to armored warfare.

German artillery and machine gun emplacements in the subsequent hedgerows had all surrounding hedgerows covered by effective crossfire. As soon as a Sherman tank rose up over one hedgerow, German artillery in an opposite or adjacent hedgerow blasted the tank’s exposed, lightly armored underside.

Only after the First Army’s armored divisions adopted a device made by a Sergeant Curtis Cullin from steel angle iron salvaged from a destroyed German road obstruction and welded it to his tank were the tanks able to crash through the hedgerows without exposing their weakness and make appreciable progress against the enemy. They were poised to break out of the hedgerows and into flatter ground where the tanks could maneuver more readily.

The breakout plan was codenamed Operation Cobra. It was during the tense preattack preparations that Dillon wrote his next extant letter, dated July 25, 1944. [Only selected excerpts of this letter are included here. This lengthy (five pages) letter either was damaged in some way and sent as it was, or Dillon never sent it and only brought it home with him later, because it is not written as a V-Mail letter. The apparent reason for the letter, written to his sister-in-law (and indirectly to one of his brothers since he addressed him by name in it), was a domestic situation that had occurred and he hoped to set things right between them.] In the hindsight of history, the letter reveals a lot about the combat situation generally and Operation Cobra specifically.

Hi Ya Girl,

This day July 25/44 I was some what surprised. But really I was very happy to hear from you again. It makes me feel good in every way to hear from people back home. . . .

If _______ was here in my shoes right now, I do believe he would think of changing his way of living. It would do him good. . . . This isn’t a bed of roses here. It’s total war every way you look when you see them fall all around you an tanks hit & set on fire & burn to the ground with men in them dead from concussion. It’s time to look for Gods help. . . .

_______ you are very lucky, you are in a country where there is no worry, a place where you can make good money Yet, you don’t appreciate that. Me? I am in a place where I have to stay buttoned up in my tank, or dig a foxhole in the ground whether it’s rocky or muddy I must go down to be spared from shell & bomb fragments. What a happy life I could live if I was in your shoes. With a lovely family as you have you should be happy & have a christian home with Christ at the head of it.

I have been in a very nervous stage ever since I have been in France. I have been in the middle of two tank battles. You have read about them in the paper, But didn’t know I was in them. Dont guess you cared I’m in a very bad mood today pay no attention. ha My tank was hit by fragments from a German 88 mm shell. Our Radio put out of commission. It was fixed under fire & we carried out our mission. I have been recommended for a Bronze Star for Bravery.

But tell you the truth, I was scared stiff. My bed roll I gave ten dollars for was shot full of holes. My head light shot out.

I couldnt help but think how lucky you and ________ was, also other boys back home.

At night when I sleep I am up & down all night. Sleep in a hole or in under my tank. I look to God for protection.

You could be killed there Just as easy an where would you spend eternity?

. . . The thing I have been made to see now, You havent yet, But you are going to regret if you live, some day, when it is to late. I dont want you to fee mad at me. Because I didnt entend for this to make you mad.

I just wanted to point out how you & I are living. . . .

I guess I am just in a very bad mood & If You were siting by my side now You would be even worse. I have Just seen this morning about 2800 Bombers Bomb a small Area in whitch I must go through in a few hrs.

Heres hoping You . . . really make a go of it from now on. I Love You all, rember me. . . .

Love to all, Dillon.

As he finished the letter, American armored columns, including the 391st, were poised to launch the ground offensive. The massive bombing to which he referred was designed to “soften up” the German lines, disrupt their communications, and make any retreat by the enemy next to impossible. It did that and more. The German troops were dazed and slow to react.

Unfortunately, American troops had also been affected. A breeze arose just as the waves of bombers–B-17 and B-24 “heavies” followed by B-25 and B-26 “mediums” and then P-47 fighter-bombers–blew the smoke from markers that signaled to the pilots where they should begin bombing back across American lines. About 150 Americans were killed and wounded. The operation was postponed for a day while commanders sought to understand what had happened and how to avoid it next time. Lieutenant General Lesley McNair visited the front lines to investigate. He decided to remain overnight and observe the next day’s bombardment.

Once again, the heavies, mediums, and fighter-bombers came over and dropped their deadly payloads. Once again a breeze blew the smoke from the markers over American lines. And once again, the bombs fell on American soldiers, killing 111, including McNair. But this time, the ground assault was released once the bombardment was over.

As the armored units raced forward, they found that almost all German front-line resistance had been obliterated, and rear echelon troops were confused and disoriented, able to maneuver in retreat only with great difficulty under the pressure of the oncoming American armored units.

Dillon did not record, at least in any extant letters, what he witnessed.

Letters from the Front, Part 5

Members of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion were busy the last week of June and the first week of July 1944. The Normandy invasion had occurred on June 6, but the 391st had remained in England, waiting for the Allies to build a strong bridgehead beyond Omaha Beach before they joined the rest of the 3rd Armored Division and made the big push inland. Meanwhile, they spent hours waterproofing their tanks and artillery vehicles. (The following photos show Sherman tanks with intake and exhaust waterproofing, left, and with a waterproofing skirt, right.)

On June 24, the battalion finally crossed the English Channel aboard an LST (landing ship-tank). At 0800 hours on June 25, they were on the sand at Omaha Red Fox Beach. They dewaterproofed their vehicles and moved to an assembly point, where they established a command post.

The next day, every artillery battery in the battalion fired registrations. [Registrations were the shots fired so that, guided by forward observers (FOs), battery crews could get the range of preselected targets and, when ordered to do so, could fire with effect. As driver for an FO, Dillon Summers was surely a busy man during this activity.] These were the first artillery shells to explode in enemy territory.

Most of the artillery used by the 391st were M7 Priests, 105mm howitzers mounted on a tracked chassis similar to that of the Sherman tanks but with exposed firing crews. Some towed 105mm howitzers and self-propelled 155mm guns might also have been used, but as part of an armored division most were tracked for greater mobility.

Their first assignment was to drive the Germans south southeast of the town of St. Lo. Wasting no time, the 391st on June 26 and 27 poured 732 rounds into the German positions. The next day, the 391st, which normally would be part of Combat Command B (CCB), was temporarily attached to CCA to help the 29th Infantry Division prepare the attack on St. Lo. The attack began at 0900 following the heaviest and longest artillery bombardment since the D-day landings. The battalion fired 1,882 “well-coordinated and extremely accurate” rounds. They fired 626 rounds the next day.

Returning to CCB, they were ordered to prepare for an expected German counterattack in the sector occupied by the 30th Infantry Division. The attack never came, however, and they spent the time cleaning their artillery. On July 6, they fired a rolling barrage and laid down a smoke screen, a total of 3,412 rounds, in preparation for an attack on the town of St. Jean de Daye.

At 2100 hours on July 7, CCB was ordered, in support of the 30th Infantry Division, to attack across the Vire River and seize high ground west of the town of Aire. Dillon was with one of three FOs working during that attack. Because the bridge they had to cross was a single-lane bridge, a traffic jam resulted, slowing the attack and putting the vehicles and soldiers at great risk from the Germans’ defensive artillery fire. The attack took until July 9, but CCB finally reached the objective, but not before Private William Fullarton in Dillon’s tank was slightly wounded and they fought off a counterattack in which the enemy got to within 50 yards of their forward observation post.

It was just before the launch of the attack on July 7 that Dillon wrote the following letter.

Hellow Mom & family.

Will drop You a few lines today to let You know I am still well & doing O.K. trusting every one there is in good health & doing fine.

have gotten several letters from You lately. was good to hear from You again & to know every one was well. I had a nice hot shower Yesterday. The first one since I’ve been here.

I got some pictures from Lexie. they were good. As You said. I also thought clara wedding was funny.

Have You got moved Yet?

Well know more now.

I am in for a short rest at the present.

I am well & in good health.

Dont worry, Love to all.

Dillon

I do not know who Clara was. His comment about the shower is revealing. Since he had arrived in Normandy on the morning of June 25, he had gone 12 hot summer days without a shower. One can only imagine what the environment in the cramped tank with three or four other sweaty men must have been!

Letters from the Front, Part 4

Birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, and other special occasions were extremely important to servicemen serving overseas during World War II. It was just such an important occasion that prompted Corporal Dillon Summers to write the following V-Mail on June 18, 1944. He was still undergoing training in England with the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Armored Division. (Their respective patches are shown here.)

To put this particular letter in broader context, one must understand that Dillon wrote it 12 days after the D-day invasion of Normandy, to which he refers (“the big day”) in the letter. In two more days, he himself and the 391st would hit Omaha Beach. In six days after writing the letter, he would be in combat, and his letters would be even less frequent because of the battalion’s almost constant advance through France and Belgium and into Germany itself. Of course, none of that was implied in the letter.

Hello Dad.

Especially on this occasion. I am thinking of you today. Fathers Day. Wishing You the very best of health. I am well my self.

As you know, the big day came around at last & every thing is looking pretty good.

We hope to be back in the states maby by the first of 1945.

Havent heard from there in several days. Guess You are hearing from me before now. How’s Your farming coming along?

Is Verlon doing any better since he left Kingsport?

Well write when You can.

Sincerely Your Son

Dillon

One can readily tell that he was eager for news from home and impatient when he went for a time without receiving letters from home. However, he was himself saying little of substance because of both the limited room on the V-Mail form and the strict censorship imposed on all outgoing mail.

Such was the life of a front-line soldier in World War II.

Letters from the Front, Part 3

On April 20, 1944, Corporal Dillon Summers again wrote to his family back in Heiskell, Tennessee. This time, however, he used V-Mail, the letter going through the post office at nearby Powell, Tennessee.

With so many servicemen and women writing to parents, wives, sweethearts, children, and friends back home, the military transportation system would have been overwhelmed by the sheer weight and volume of the paper. V-Mail solved not only that problem but also the issue of security. Speedy, secure delivery of letters, the Post Office, War, and Navy departments knew, also “strengthens fortitude, enlivens patriotism, makes loneliness endurable and inspires to even greater devotion the men and women who are carrying on our fight far from home and from friends.” (1942 Annual Report of the Postmaster General)

As the war continued and more personnel were involved in the war effort, the volume of mail increased. To deal with the issues, the War Department instituted the Army Micro Photographic Mail Service, or Victory Mail, more popularly known as V-Mail.

The letter-writing soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine wrote a brief letter on a special standardized 7 x 9 1/8-inch form. Each form was capable of holding up to 700 typed words, although most front-line personnel had no access to a typewriter and generally wrote by hand. Censors then blacked out any information considered sensitive, such as locations, destinations, or numbers of troops, weapons types and specifications, or any other information that might be even remotely of potential use to the enemy. The letter was then photographed on microfilm, reducing it to 4 1/4 x 5 inches.

The Kodak Recordak equipment used in the process could film 40 letters every minute. The process reduced the standard V-Mail forms to 1/4 the size of the original. Any letter that was damaged could not be microfilmed but had to be sent through in its original form. Each roll of microfilm could hold 1,600 of the one-page letters. Folded, it was then inserted into a 4 3/4 x 3 3/4-inch envelope. What otherwise would have required 36 large mail bags to transport could fit as V-Mail into a single mail bag.

All V-Mail was then sent via airmail through central offices in New York, Chicago, or San Francisco in the form of reels of microfilm, where the miniature letters were enlarged, printed, and distributed to the addressees.

Here is what Dillon wrote in his V-Mail on April 20, 1944.

Hello Mom & all,

Will drop you a few more lines to let You know I am still O.K. hoping everone there is well an in good health. Heard from Lexie & Dorothy today. Lexie said something about Reo. Have you got any news from him or the war dept?

How’s every thing on the farm? Guess it’s still to wet to do much. I never hear any more from Kecks. tell them to drop me a line sometimes. Eugena isent married yet is she. Do they still hear from Edd Burkett? wasent He & Reo together? when have they heard from Glen Moore & Randle?

Well just a line tonight So keep smiling. Will write Annie soon. Just a little at a time You know. Write more air mail & more often. Heard from Buck Ezell. Surprised me.

Love to all.

Your Son

Dillon

Dorothy was Dillon’s wife. Lexie and Annie were his sisters. Unfortunately, I do not know who Reo, the Kecks, Eugena, Edd Burkett, Glenn Moore, Randle, or Buck Ezell were, although I do recall hearing their names in conversations when I was a child.

His final request in the last paragraph of the letter reveals the hunger of the average serviceman for mail from home, and he wanted it quickly and often. Mail call was more popular than the chow line!

Letters from the Front, Part 2

Corporal Dillon Summers of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion was beginning his second month of extensive training in tank warfare in Warminster, Wiltshire, England, when he wrote the following letter home. It was in response to a family tragedy of which he had just learned.

MON OCT 25/43

Somewhere in England

Dearest Mother & all.

Will ans the letter I rec from You today. was more than glad to hear from You again. One also from Hazel & Jean. tell them I will write later.

Lexie was saying in her last letter that she was keeping Donald out of school that day Oct 11 because he had a cold & today I got a Cablegram from Verlon saying he died the 16th.

It was a great shock to me. he was sick only five days wasn’t he? Mama it hurt me very bad. An I know Lexie & Paul is killed nearly. we must look forward toward meeting him is all we can do. Also very sorry about Clyde & I have wrote Anna several times writing her again tonight. I will appreciate the paper more than a X-mas present. I meant to send Lexie a Cablegram right back, but on the Cablegram we can send from here don’t fit in much all I could of said is Cablegram recieved Many thanks. tell her for me. Love to all. Your Son. Dillon

Learning of his nephew’s sudden death tore at Dillon’s heart, as his response shows. Lexie was his older sister, and Paul was her husband. Their son Donald had just started school. Hazel and Jean, mentioned early in the letter, were his younger sisters, Hazel being my mother and Jean the youngest of the Summers children. Verlon was Dillon’s younger brother. There were seven children total in the Summers family. (I am not sure who Clyde and Anna were or to what Dillon was referring when he said he was “sorry about Clyde.”)

(Cpl. Dillon Summers standing in front of a mockup of a German Panzer V tank)

Hundreds of thousands of service members had to deal not only with the dangers of front-line combat and tiring hours of labor making it possible for those front-line personnel to wage the war but also personal and domestic problems and tragedies. Then there were the family members who were back in the States, each of them worrying about their loved ones in the military.

Such realities should make us even more appreciative of our nation’s service members and their families. Remember this as Memorial Day approaches, and say a prayer for them all.

Cover Reveal and a Release Date!

I have some exciting news to announce!

I’ve just learned from my publisher, TouchPoint Press, that we have a release date for my latest book, Christ in Camp and Combat: Religious Work in the Confederate Armies (ISBN 978-1-952816-54-3)! The book is now available for preorder on Amazon, and the paperback version will be available for purchase on Amazon on July 5. It will be available from other retailers shortly thereafter.

The 394-page illustrated book is a 6 x 9-inch trade paperback ($17.99) with an e-book option ($7.99).

And here’s the cover!

Letters from the Front, Part 1

In my review of Joy Neal Kidney’s book Leora’s Letters last week, I lamented my lack of access to more letters that my uncle Dillon Summers had written during World War II. He was serving as a tank driver for forward observers of the 391st Armored Field Artillery Battalion, 3rd Armored Division. I also indicated, however, that the few I do have give enough information about those times to whet one’s appetite for even more.

Although some of Dillon’s letters that I do have offer only innocuous information (thanks to the strictures of the military censors at the time), some of them are more revealing of the stresses and personal trauma that both the service members and the families they left behind experienced.

Dillon had been drafted into the Army and had been inducted at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia. He then went through months of training to drive various types of vehicles at Camp Polk, Louisiana; Freda, California (desert warfare, which led them to believe, incorrectly as it turned out, that they were headed for North Africa); Camp Pickett, Virginia (tank warfare); and Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania (artillery firing). During the latter training, the 391st was declared the most accurate battalion in the division.

During his training, he learned to drive not only trucks, as seen above, but also a variety of tanks, including the Stuart light tank, the Lee medium tank (shown here), and the Sherman main battle tank. I haven’t been able to determine which tank he would eventually drive in his role as forward observers’ driver, but since the Lee had been proven inadequate in North Africa, it most likely was either the Stuart (smaller, lighter, faster, and more maneuverable) or the Sherman. He also made friends, as the photo shows. (The names of the individuals are not given on the photo, but Dillon is on the far right.)

At some point during the training, possibly following the desert training and while en route to Virginia, Dillon returned home for a brief visit. This made everyone in the family happy, especially my mother, Hazel, who always looked up to her big brother. (She would not be so happy when he had to return to his unit as another photo shows her downcast.)

The earliest dated letter I have of Dillon’s he wrote from Indiantown Gap on August 23, 1943. It opened with immediate excitement and obvious haste. (I am reproducing these letters just as they were written, spelling , capitalization, grammar, and punctuation errors included.)

Hello again.

This isn’t a secret!

We are leaving here Thursday Aug 26th/6 AM. will get at the embarcation at 1:45 same date. Won’t say much as I wrote this morning.

Don’t know much to say

I’m just praying for the best I’m not afraid. I just want to keep praying for that is what gets results. Ha

Don’t worry about me for I am going to be O.K. Ans to this add. unless notified otherwise. Well so long for now

Love to all Dillon.

It doesn’t take much imagination to read between the lines and sense the mix of emotions involved for a soldier going off to war farther from home and family than he’d ever been before and with no guarantee of ever returning alive. One can only imagine the feelings of his parents and siblings.

On August 26, the 391st departed Fort Indiantown Gap via train and arrived at Camp Kilmer, N.J., the staging area for troops headed for the European theater. On September 5, they steamed out of New York Harbor aboard the S.S. Shawnee and arrived at Avonmouth, Port of Bristol, England, on September 16. They immediately boarded a train, which took them to Warminster, Wiltshire, on the Salisbury Plain, where, for the next nine months they would receive their final intensive instruction in tank warfare.

Although Dillon might have written other letters after his brief August 23 letter, the next one I have is dated October 2. His family apparently still did not know precisely where he was in Europe until he headed that letter “Somewhere in England.” That letter was primarily his response to some tragic news. But that is for the next blog post.

Learning History from Personal Letters

I recently finished reading a second book by Joy Neal Kidney. The first one I read was actually her second, soon-to-be-published book, Leora’s Dexter Stories. The one I just finished reading was her first: Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family during World War II, published in 2019.

The more recent title covers the family’s history during the trying years of the Great Depression. The older book deals with the family’s experiences in World War II. Although the two books were written out of chronological order, reading the second book first actually made it easier for me to follow the narrative in Leora’s Letters. Nonetheless, each book is a standalone that can be read separately from the other, but reading both of them is even more satisfying.

For reference material, Kidney had a treasure trove of hundreds of letters exchanged among the various family members (and there were a lot of them!) throughout the pre-war and wartime years. Those letters cast well-deserved light on not only Iowa farm life and individuals’ aspirations for their futures but also the extensive training the military required, the chronology of the war in both the European and Pacific theaters of the war, and the stresses and anxieties of everyone who had a family member overseas at the time. Of Kidney’s five relatives who served in that war, three did not return home.

For anyone who knows the details of the war’s history and the ships and airplanes involved in it, this book will confirm that knowledge. Kidney especially reveals an amazingly broad knowledge of the numerous aircraft used in both the training of pilots and actual combat operations, from the iconic Stearman biplane trainers to the lesser known Cessna AT-17 Bobcat and the Ryan PT-22 Recruit to the legendary P-38 fighter and B-25 Mitchell bomber. Although I am generally familiar with World War II aircraft, even I found myself googling some of the planes mentioned, and in every instance Kidney was correct in everything she wrote about them.

For any reader who is unfamiliar with the war’s history and aircraft, however, he or she will quickly gain an appreciation for Kidney’s expertise in those subjects. That familiarity only further cements the credibility of the author.

As I read with riveted interest the letters quoted in this book, I found myself envying the author her storehouse of family history those letters contain. I only wish I had access to a fraction of such letters from my uncle Dillon Summers, who was serving in the same war as Kidney’s relatives. Not having such a trove on which to draw makes me appreciate all the more the few letters of his that I do have. They are by no means as thorough a history as Kidney has produced in Leora’s Letters, but they are enough to give one a glimpse, fleeting though it may be, of what life was like for the soldier and the loved ones he left behind.

I will be sharing some of my uncle’s letters in a future blog post, so stay tuned. Meanwhile, why not check out both of Kidney’s books on Amazon. I highly recommend them both. Just a personal opinion, however: consider reading them in chronological order.

The Ring

I never recall Daddy’s ever wearing it, but I’m sure he did. How else could it have become so worn that one could barely make out the details of its design? I only recall seeing it in a little yellow, soft-plastic or rubber bowl inside the safe in a large filing cabinet in my parents’ bedroom. (It was the same little bowl from which I had eaten baby cereal as an infant. Apparently, Mother was keeping it as a memento of my baby days.) I saw that ring every time I watched her open that safe whenever she needed to retrieve some cash (or put some in) or an important document from the safe.

When Daddy passed away, my brother, sister, and I divided among us the things that Daddy left behind. Of those things, Dale got the Remington Junior Special Model 521T .22 rifle with a peep sight. Gina got the diamond ring that Daddy had bought Mother for their twenty-fifth anniversary. I got Daddy’s high school class ring.

It was a small ring, really. Of course, it was quite loose on my young fingers at the time, never fitting me until after I’d put on several late middle-aged pounds and developed fingers the size that Daddy’s had been when he was in high school. Today it fits me and, in fact, I have a little trouble getting it off at times, especially when it’s hot and my fingers have swollen.

Front to back, the head of the ring measures 5/16 of an inch, and side to side it is 7/16 of an inch. From the shank to the top of the head is 1 inch. It’s about the same size as my own high school class ring, which I lost on a dating outing during my senior year of college. And it’s certainly diminutive in contrast to the college ring I bought later that same year. (I eventually lost that ring, too, while making a desperate throw from right field during a church softball league game. I suppose it’s lying in the grass of a softball field in a park along the bank of the Tennessee River in Knoxville, Tennessee, unless someone found it. If they did, I wish they’d return it!)

As you might have surmised, I have had trouble holding onto rings. The first month my wife and I were married, we were shopping in a Winn-Dixie grocery store on a cold day. We made out way back to the meat counter, where it was almost as cold as it was outside the store. I lifted my hand from the cart handle and reached for a package of meat, and my wedding ring fell off, bouncing under the meat counter. With the help of the meat manager, I managed to retrieve the ring, covered though it was with dust bunnies and who knows what else that was living under that counter. My wife made me go to a jeweler the very next day and get the wedding band cut down. It’s so tight on my finger now that if emergency crews ever needed to get it off, they’d have to cut either it or my finger.

But back to Daddy’s ring.

The center stone is an elliptical black onyx with the gold school crest in the center. In the middle of the crest, set in a black stone background, is a capital H. Above the H is a crown; below the H is a ribbon too worn to read what was inscribed on it, but my guess is that it reads “Halls,” the name of the school and the community. Beneath the ribbon is the number 46, representing the year of Daddy’s graduation–1946.

On the left side, beneath a small, black, pyramidal side stone, is a shield on which is portrayed a beaver facing left and standing on its hind legs between the stumps of two trees. The beaver has its front feet reaching out, grasping the stump of the tree in front of it. Behind this scene one can see in the distance the tops of hills and ridges.

On the right side of the ring, also beneath a matching black pyramidal side stone, is a shield similar to that on the left side. Inside this shield, however, are the symbol and motto of the State of Tennessee. In the top half of the shield is a depiction of a field with (left to right) a barn, a plow, a sheaf of wheat, and stalks of cotton. Above the sheaf of wheat is the Roman numeral XVI, signifying that Tennessee was the sixteenth state admitted to the Union. Under that scene is the word “Agriculture,” and on the bottom half of the shield is depicted a riverboat on water over the word “Commerce.”

On the gallery fore and aft of the head are small, black pyramidal stones matching those described as being on the sides of the head.

Inside the upper shank is engraved “10KJOSTEN,” indicating the gold composition of the ring and its maker. The Josten’s firm was founded by Otto Josten, a watch repairman in Owatonna, Minnesota, in 1897. (The apostrophe later was dropped.) In 1906, the company began making emblems and awards, including rings, for schools. They added yearbooks in 1950.

Today, I wear Daddy’s ring as not only a replacement for the college ring I lost but also a constant reminder of Daddy, my memories of him, and the character traits he taught me, more by his example (and his discipline!) than by overt, formal instruction.

I have several other things that belonged to Daddy and that remind me of him. I have the pin he received for his years in the Halls High chapter of Future Farmers of America. I have one of his many brick axes, one of his many trowels, one each of his four-foot and three-foot levels, several line blocks and line twigs, his chalk line, his folding brick mason’s rule, and other assorted tools of his trade. But I can’t conveniently carry any of those objects around with me as a ready reminder of Daddy. Nothing I have can do that better than his ring.

I wonder if my own children will want anything of mine as a reminder after I’m gone? My old, short-spiked track shoes? My published books, or maybe my unpublished manuscripts? My portfolio of published articles? Would any of those things hold for them the same types of memories and lessons that Daddy’s ring holds for me?

Maybe one of my children will want Daddy’s ring. (They would call it Grampa Pete’s ring, for that’s what they called him when they were growing up.) But it would not hold for them the same memories it holds for me. They have their own set of memories, and that ring could mean as much for them as it does for me, only in a different way.

What objects hold special memories for you?