- My Grandfather -
- My Friend - My Hero -
- Private Homer Ainsworth -
As I go through life I often reflect on the people in my past that guided my path to where I am today. I think first of my parents of course but there were many others. Relatives, friends, employers, and even the few enemies I have endured along the way.
I was very fortunate to be raised next door to my Great Grandparents on my Father's side and a block away from my Grandparents on Mother's side. I spent a great deal of time with them up until my late teens. To this day I feel very comfortable with, and have a reverence for, older people. I look and see that wealth of knowledge and wisdom and feel great anxiety that it, all to soon, will be lost. Wealth such as this cannot be put in the bank and usually is not written down.
Aside from my father, one person stands out in my life, my Grandfather Homer Ainsworth. He was my Grandsire, my Friend, and my Hero. He was born in Dubois, Pa. and after being raised in an orphanage he went to North Dakota where he became a Cowboy to "Winter Cattle" Later he relocated to Vandergrift, Pa. There to reside for the rest of his days. In his youth he ice skated from Vandergrift to Pittsburgh over the frozen rivers and caught the "Bummer", the last train out of Pittsburgh to Vandergrift. He went to work for American Sheet and Tin Plate, later to be US Steel Corporation. When Uncle Sam needed warriors my Grandfather answered the Call!
He went into the Army’s 80th Division, as a Company Cook Daily he cooked Three Squares for 30 men He shipped out for France in 1918 for the Greatest Adventure of his life. It was an Adventure that nearly cost him his life.
In the battle of the Muse Argon, "The Argon Woods", he endured an artillery barrage where one shell per acre exploded every minute and this horror lasted for days. I have read where men have dug holes in the ground with their hands, stuck their head in the hole and suffocated in an attempt to get away from the terror. At the end of the battle, my Grandfather and another Soldier were the only survivors of the 30 men in the Company. Both lay wounded on the battlefield for seventy-two hours before being collected and given first aid. Both had leg wounds. The other man had his leg taken off at the hip and my Grandfather ended up with a Stainless Steel pin in his knee (ironically made at US Steel Corporation where he worked, Monel Metal was the first Stainless Steel). , He carried shrapnel throughout the rest of his body, some of it for the rest of his life.
For the rest of his days he hobbled around with one stiff leg. He spent a year after the war in the hospital and then returned home. Shortly after his return, he received a letter from the other survivor of the Company. As he read the letter he came across the alarming statement "I am very little use to any man or woman and don't know what to do with myself". My Grandfather immediately walked the one mile to town and sent his friend a reassuring telegram. He sent him daily letters which were all returned, "Recipient Deceased". This made my Grandfather the "Sole Survivor"!
I watched the movie "Saving Private Ryan" and have since then wondered if my Grandfather carried the burden of living the wasted lives of the other 29 men of his Company. If this was the case, in retrospect of what I know of the man, he tried and this Grandson will attest that he succeeded! Everyone was his friend, no matter the color, race or creed. Back when it was very unfashionable, his best fishing buddy was Blue, a very large colorful black man. He always had a dog at his side. The only enemy he had that I can remember were the Huns. After he retired a neighbor's son married a German women while in the service. He brought her home and they lived next door. At first my Grandfather would have nothing to do with her but over time they became very good friends. Hilda visited my Grandfather everyday.
Looking back I'm thankful to Hilda for resolving this issue for my Grandfather. He lived a life of giving of his life and caring for people. In my minds eye I can still see my Grandfather donning his Doughboy uniform, on horseback and leading his marching troops down Grant Avenue every Armistice Day. I still feel the pride for my Hero. The last year of his life was ravaged by Cancer. I helplessly watched as it became impossible for him to shuffle the cards for our daily card game as he lost the use of his arm and dwindled to skin and bones.
I remember my Grandmother crying to my Father,
"Mac, he had the Nightmare again and I couldn't wake him up". My Grandfather
died in his sleep and it disturbs me to think that maybe he did die in the Argon
Howard L. McHenry
Several years ago my wife and I were in Ireland and I heard a song in a Pub that hauntingly reminds me of my Grandfather. The song was written as a memorial to Australia's Anzac day, that country's first involvement in a war at Gallipoli in Turkey. The battle started April 22, 1915. The song depicts a situation very similar to my Grandfather's.
- The Band Played Waltzing Matilda -
By Eric Bogle
When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli
How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again
Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me
So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away
And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all
Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll go a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll go a waltzing Matilda with me?
The Band Played Waltzing Matilda.mp3 by John McDermott
Frank Buckles, Last World War I Doughboy, Is Dead at 110