By: Sandra Thompson
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII were still alive in 2017. As we lose them at an alarming rate, I think it is important that we do not lose their memories. Spotlight Veterans Remembered will hopefully help keep the memory of our local heroes alive.
I would like to “remind” you of a very special man and one of my favorite veterans, SSgt Theo Calvin. Theo was one of the last American Heroes…a man of the Greatest Generation…of which Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny."
Theo came from a time when men did what had to be done and never thought to say “No” to his country or even complain about going to war. Even though SSgt Calvin was only in the Army for 2 years 10 months and 26 days, he was a very busy soldier! As part of General Patton’s 1st Infantry, better known as “The Big Red One,” he was the only veteran in Limestone County who was in 3 major military campaigns.
After induction at Fort McClellan and training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, he found himself on a ship with 9000 other men bound for Africa and the invasion of Sicily. After Sicily was taken, Theo was on his way to England to become part of the Normandy invasion build up, better known as Bloody Omaha on D-day. And as if these two major campaigns weren’t enough, by Thanksgiving, Theo was defending the Elsenborn Ridge during the Battle of the Bulge. Theo often recounted memories of spending Thanksgiving Day in an abandoned German bunker. In addition to these Theo also served in Ardennes, Rhineland, Northern France, Central Europe, Tunisia, and Algeria.
During this time, Theo was wounded twice, the first time was near Avranches during a German air raid. Even though Theo was hit, he didn’t hesitate to render aid to the other wounded; he didn’t even realize he was hit until he felt the blood run down his leg. The second time was during a firefight with the Germans. Their 57mm was no match for the frontal attack against the well-armored tank, and Theo was injured by the gun’s recoil. “But we got the tank!” he said. Theo earned the Purple Heart for both of these injuries.
When VE Day, arrived Theo had enough “points” to be one of the first to demobilize and go home. In fact, it happened so quickly, that Theo was never awarded all of the medals he had earned; these included the Bronze Star, the fourth highest honor that can be bestowed. I will never forget the look on Theo’s face when the Army’s oversight was corrected and he was finally awarded the medal by Lt. General Richard Formica, at our Memorial Day ceremony. Theo said he “felt like a movie star!” That day was one of such emotion that I will never forget it - personally and professionally.
So today let’s pause and think about our veterans who have gone but who are not forgotten. Theo is certainly one of them. His medals and other memorabilia can be seen at the Alabama Veterans Museum…come by and take a look, “Lest we Forget.”
By: Sandra Thompson, Director, Alabama Veterans' Museum