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How It Began

I was raised in my Grandmother's home.  It had been the Ream Family home since just after World War I.   Frank Lee Ream had been married once before.  His first Wife died from the great flu epidemic that swept the country in 1918. Grandpa had four kids by his marriage; Alice, Maroni, Frank Jr., and baby Pauline.  Grandpa also suffered from the flu; in fact it almost killed him.  Thinking he was going to die, he reluctantly put his kids up for adoption.  He recovered from the flu, but too late to recover his daughters.  He did get the boys back though.  Grandpa placed an ad to get a housekeeper for the boys. 


An Esta Leota Blanton answered the ad.  She was a divorcee with three daughters.  Out of financial desperation she had been forced to place her two eldest girls, Estella Wave, and Grace in an orphanage.  Her infant Daughter, Dorothy, was too little to be accepted in the orphanage, so she stayed with her Mother.  Grandpa hired Esta, and she went to stay with him.  Grandpa soon fell in love with Esta and they married.  Together they had seven more children.  After two or three temporary homes, Grandma and Grandpa finally settled into a ramshackle one-room house on an acreage. The first order of business was to enlarge the house by digging out from under it, creating a basement.  The house was eventually enlarged to the point it is today.  When the family moved into the house, there was a dirt path that ran between the orchard and the potato-patch.  Today that dirt path is U.S. Highway 24.  By the time that I came to live in this clan home, it already had seen a lot of living. Grandpa died in 1950, seven years before I was born. 


I came to live in Grandma's house in 1966, at the age of nine.  The old family orchard was overgrown into wild woods. Only a handful of fruit trees survived.  But like clockwork, every year my Grandma picked apples, cherries (when the birds left some for us), and grapes, and made them into preserves.  I used to love helping with the picking, but slyly disappeared into the woods when the big job of canning started.  Outside of that, there was not a lot to do at Grandma's.  Since Grandma's favorite television shows were invariably those I disliked, I would try to divert her attention by asking her to tell me all about the family history.  Most of her stories revolved around my two hell-raiser Uncles, Cecil and Alfred. Once in a while, she would tell a story about "Junior".  This was my Uncle Frank.  She kept his Army picture on her bureau.  She said that he died in the war (W.W.II), leading his men against a strongly held enemy position, in France.


I was one of those little boys enamored with war.  I watched every war movie that I could, I played at war every chance I got. To learn that I had an Uncle that was killed in a war that I had watched on the late show, sparked my young imagination.  Much to my regret, Grandma never was able to tell me more than that. Many years later, I would learn that my Grandfather had spent considerable time and energy, trying to discover more about Uncle Frank's death, and the unit to which he belonged.  After Grandpa died, Grandma continued to search for information about her youngest stepson, but to no avail.  I had grown to adulthood, with three kids of my own.  I worked in the promotions/advertising field, eventually moving into the related field of newspaper reporting.  At my Grandma's estate sale, I purchased several boxes of books.  Among these were many family documents.  I came across some papers relating to my Uncle Frank.  This rekindled my imagination to the point that I began asking questions within the family about Frank.


All I was able to discover was that he was in the C.C.C. (Civilian Conservation Corps), then the Army.  My Aunt told me that he had been in the 702nd  Tank Battalion, which was part of Patton's Army.  The knowledge that my Grandparents had tried in vain to find out more, came to my attention.  I checked around the family and found that no one was continuing the search for information.  Feeling an obligation to my Grandparents to pick up where they left off, I decided to learn more about this mysterious Uncle.  I began a search through the libraries in my area, and came to a dead end.  I spoke to people experienced in the military.  The best advice I got from them was "forget it!", "the odds against you are seven million to one".  Dejected, I sat at my desk, ready to give up.  Suddenly a warm feeling of confidence swept over me.  I couldn't explain it, but for some reason I felt as though I would succeed.  It was almost a religious experience.


I felt that I was being guided by some unseen force.   Sure enough, bits and pieces of information trickled in. With each new piece of information, my confidence grew.  I wrote to the Army, but received no reply.  Thinking I had reached a dead end, I said a prayer, saying that I had done all I could, and if the good Lord wanted me to find out more, he would have to open another door.  Then an inspiration hit me.  I contacted my U.S. Congressman, the Honorable Alan Wheat.  Representative Wheat's Aide, Anthony Wilson suggested that I put my problem in writing, and formally ask for a Congressional Inquiry.


 This I did, and an Inquiry was immediately put into action.  With the assistance of the good Congressman's office, I was able to penetrate through the red tape of the military establishment.  In a short time, I had my Uncle's C.C.C. records in my possession, as well as the available military records.  Although helpful, the records did not tell how my Uncle died.  Congressman Wheat's office put me in touch with the U.S. Army Military History Institute, at Carlilse Barracks, Pennsylvania, in hopes of locating a unit history on the 702nd  Tank Battalion. 


The Institute was able to send me a few photocopied pages that barely acknowledged the existence of the 702nd.  Then, in addition to this sketchy material, taken from a book listing Army tank battalions, came the information that no published history of the 702nd  was on file in the Institute, and that John J. Slonaker, Chief, Historical Reference Branch, could not find any indication that such a history had ever been prepared.  His letter went on to say that to construct a detailed history of the unit, one would need to consult retired unit records in the custody of the Washington National Records Center.  Then the Rosetta stone of my the page of Mr. Slonaker's letter.  That magical key came in the form of an address.  That address was that of a man in Florida. This man was handling mail from those interested in an organization called "702nd Tank Battalion Red Devils Association". 


The man's name was Mr. William B. Miller.  The very cordial Mr. Slonaker closed his letter with an invitation to visit the Military History Institute.  I immediately wrote to Mr. Miller in Florida.  I no sooner dropped the letter into the mail, on it's way to Mr. Miller, when I received another letter, from Lt. Col. Charles R. Shrader, Chief, Historical Services Division.  This letter also gave Mr. Miller's address, and listed him as the corresponding official of the Red Devils Association.  I couldn't resist the urge to write him a second letter, giving him the name of Lt. Col. Shrader, in case he harbored doubts of my seriousness.  When I received a reply from Mr. Miller, I nearly fell out of my chair with shock.  His letter said that he was a retired Army Colonel, and that in 1943, he had been a newly commissioned 2nd lieutenant, and none other than my Uncle's Platoon Leader.  He went on to say that as a green officer, he knew how things were supposed to be, by the book, but it was my Uncle who showed him the realities of operating a platoon, as a Platoon Sergeant must.  I could not believe that this was real.  After all my Grandparents had been through, how could it be so easy for me?


I asked Col. Miller if a History had been done on the 702nd . He said that he had started to do so himself, but got tied down with family responsibilities and had to give it up.  I immediately offered to be the person to write the history, and asked his assistance.  He most cheerfully accepted.  I could write an entire book on how I spent over ten thousand hours researching information for the book, but not here.  The results of that work are what this book is all about.  When my research was all but done, and I had long given up hope of learning any more of the details of how my Uncle died, I took one last chance, and it paid off big.


I found the last two survivors of my Uncle's tank crew. The first man, Jack "Bucky" Weaver was able to give me the nickname that the men of my Uncle's platoon had tagged him with; "Pappy".  He also gave me the name of my Uncle's tank; "This Is It!", as well as a wealth of other information, that I had not already learned.  The one crucial question would remain unanswered for a while yet.  That question was how did Staff Sergeant Frank Lee "Pappy" Ream Jr. die?  "Bucky" Weaver had been injured and evacuated a week before my Uncle sustained his wounds.  Then the final puzzle piece was supplied by Floyd "Stew" Stewart.  He had been my Uncle's Gunner at the time he was hit.  "Stew's" story is part of this book.



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