My Daddy was in the Army and served in the European Theater. Snell’s Daddy was in the Pacific Theater. I said that one day in a conversation and a young woman asked me what kind of entertainment field they were in. I do not believe some of our educators are teaching WWII adequately. Either that, or the kids need to put up their dang phones and listen in class.
Daddy, known to many as Bob, was really named James Edward Ratledge. In the early part of his military time, he worked as a military policeman. I have his secret identification and papers. He trans-ported military prisoners to various locations in the United States. Somehow it was discovered that he had experience as both a medic and a train technician. That was when he was transferred to the 7th Hospital Train in Europe.
Mama (Grace Evans Ratledge) was so organized. When she died she left me a notebook complete with all business information, documents and instructions. Also, she had included pages describing various treasures and other items. Much of what is written below is from that notebook and my memory of our conversations.
Daddy was something of a handyman. He could fix most anything, and he came up with some ideas that were really amazing. He installed hot showers in his medical train. Staff had running hot water! Daddy said he knew he had to do something when they were taking bars of soap and swimming in the cold rivers to bathe.
Mama told me, “When the train would stop in places where there was enough time, your Daddy would teach others how to run the lines for hot water into a designated shower area. Not only were the personnel able to bathe, but they could help some of the injured to get better cleaned. Some lieutenant, who was a real know-it-all, decided that he was going to have the first shower after Bob got it working. The Captain told him that Bob had created that shower and Bob was entitled to the first bath. Your Daddy always said that that first shower on the train was the best one he ever had in his life!”
Mama continued, “I don’t know exactly where they were, but one time after Hitler’s personal train had been captured, it was pulled in beside your Daddy’s hospital train. The engine pulling Hitler’s train had been damaged. It had been pulling a dining car, a sleeper, and one or two other cars. The dining car was the center of operation for the people working there. “
“Everyone knew your Daddy could fix or jury-rig most anything. The people on Hitler’s train were trying to move the train cars deep-er into Allied territory. Someone from Hitler’s train asked the commanding officer of your Daddy’s train if he had anyone who could help them. The CO told them that if anyone could fix it, it would be Rat.” (Another nickname for Daddy.) Your Daddy went over to Hitler’s train and fixed that engine.”
“After your Daddy did the repairs, he reported to the man in charge that the engine was running, and he thought they could now make it to their destination. Daddy was asked to come into the dining car. There were several men in uniforms cataloging everything in that car. The man in charge was a captain, I think your Daddy said. Anyway, he picked up this off the nearest table and handed it to your Daddy.”
Mama held up a small object for me to see as she continued her story, “The captain told Bob, ‘Here is a souvenir. Thanks for getting us moving again.’ It was this cream pitcher.”
Mama held it tenderly in her hands as she spoke. “He was in the US Army from 1941-1945. I am not sure of the date when he got this cream pitcher. I can’t find the letter he sent with it. It is in one of the 761 letters he wrote home during World War II. They are all in his suitcase upstairs. That letter is in there. I read it again not long after he died. I just could not lay my hands on it when I was trying to catalog all these things for you.” Both of us had tears in our eyes as Mama finished the story, “Bob always said that the little cream pitcher meant, ‘We won! If I can have something from Hitler’s table, then it’s in the bag!’ “ He said the cream pitcher represented “Victory for Us!”
Mama said more:
He talked very little about WWII, like so many of our people who served in that War to End All Wars. It was a debilitating face-to-face battle. Many people have passed away silently keeping those nightmares and memories; not sharing those experiences. One of the few things Daddy would talk about was how cold it was at times. He hated bathing in the cold water. He would mention some people he knew and some places he visited. We have lots of pictures from his travels. He did not talk about the people wounded or killed.
Hitler’s cream pitcher may be on Antiques Roadshow in January or February 2019.