A few years before he died in 1988 at age 98, my grandfather shared some his World War I memories with his nursing home friends. While scarce on details, what he did share remained strong in his mind. Howard Emanuel Stickles, a Simsbury, Connecticut native, served in France with the U.S. Army’s 76th Infantry Division 303rd Machine Gun Battalion. Because he shared the reluctance most veterans have of telling stories of their war service, it remains unclear to most of my family what our beloved “Grandpa” actually experienced, but it is eminently clear that he served his country faithfully with honor and pride, and that is what truly matters.
Grandpa’s recounting of his service with the 76th Division began after completion of his basic training at Camp Devens, Massachusetts in 1917 when he and his fellow doughboys boarded a train in Thompsonville, CT destined for Montreal. From there, he recalled, they climbed aboardan English transport bound for Cardiff, Wales, before steaming on to South Hampton. While briefly in Cardiff he wrote his first letter home telling his parents “It makes your heart ache to see how the people over here are suffering in this war.” And that’s just what he witnessed in Great Britain before he entered the war in France (The war’s impact on Great Britain alone left nearly one million soldiers dead with over two million more wounded, many crippled for life, and created an economic panic that easily could have pushed the country into bankruptcy).
Soon after arriving in South Hampton Grandpa said his division embarked for France, “crossing the the English Channel at night, arriving in LeHarve.” From there “we were transported by train, 40 in each boxcar” first to “Langres and then to St. Montigny and onto Metz … While there, some of my company were in a very large battle outside of Metz,” he recalled, not revealing the many more memories that I’m sure remained unspoken.
Yet what I do know is that Grandpa returned from France with the deep pride of a veteran who served his country well fighting for liberty and justice. His commitment and pride grew even stronger when his son Jim, a highly decorated Army combat medic and first wave Omaha beach survivor, returned home from World War II. As for me personally, I remember with much fondness the luncheon he treated me to in Hartford at the elegant but long gone Hotel Sonesta Rib Room a few days before I departed for Navy basic training, and I’ll never forget his welcome home handshake and hug when I returned home from my Vietnam service. As a faithful member of Simsbury’s American Legion Post 84 Grandpa participated in every Memorial Day parade he was able, whether marching in stride with fellow veterans, riding with old timers in a fancy convertible, or simply watching from a lawn chair as the parade marched along Simsbury’s Hopmeadow Street.
Howard Emanuel “Grandpa” Stickles was a kind and gentle man, always understanding and unpretentious. He was a dear and generous friend to all who knew him. Grandpa went to war as a young man, and returned living to be an old timer who never forgot the commitment, service and sacrifice he, his comrades in arms, and following generations of veterans gave to make the world a safer place. On this Veterans Day, November 11, 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, I honor his service, and treasure my memories of him and the love he gave to all.
Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor
Photos are from my family’s collection