By: T.J. Hug
The plan was to grab a couple of steaks at Sam’s.
After all, the Blakeslee eatery has long been a favorite of Mayroe and Gertrude Michael, making Sam’s the perfect Place for the couple to celebrate their 68th anniversary.
Those who don’t recall knowing Mayroe may be more familiar with Barney, a name bestowed upon him by his father, Hershel.
“My brothers and I were named Mercyln, Devore, and Mayroe.” Michael explained. “So, dad called us Toots, Gus, and Barney.”
Barney and Gert, as she’s affectionately known, reached 68 years of marriage on July 19th. Before going out for those steaks, however, the Michaels needed to attend Montpelier’s annual Bean Days Parade. Amongst those being honored at the event, Barney certainly wasn’t going to disrespect his hometown by not participating. He’s made Montpelier his home for all of his ninety years. All except for three years in his youth.
Three years spent in the service of his country.
Drafted in 1944, at the height of World War II’s intensity, Barney entered military service at age eighteen. Fresh out of high school, he had to give up his newly acquired job at The Body Works, where he helped to build metal bodies for trucks.
Despite this sacrifice, he wasn’t deterred from his eagerness to fight for his country.
“I wanted to go (to war).” Barney proclaimed.
First, though, Barney had to receive his basic training. He was sent to Augusta, Georgia for instruction at Camp Gordon. During his six month tenure there, he learned the role of Gunner Corporal. Initially working with the 105 Howitzers, Barney felt much more comfortable using 50 caliber machine guns.
Upon completion of his training, Barney was shipped to South Hampton in The United Kingdom, so that his unit could gather equipment and prepare to enter the fray of The Second World War. Once ready to go, they departed in August for Omaha Beach on the French Coast. Omaha Beach was eyed by the Germans as an ideal place for Allied Forces to launch their first invasion force into France two months prior. Of course, the Allies selected the more treacherous, but less defended beaches of Normandy for their attack.
Having landed on French soil, Barney’s unit made for the then recently liberated port city of Cherbourg. They hauled their guns with them, some of which weighed up to six tons.
From Cherbourg, Barney joined The Red Ball Express, a massive military gasoline transport operation that operated from D-Day to the conclusion of The Battle of the Bulge. In fact, one of his runs was “hijacked” by legendary General George S. Patton, who took gasoline assigned to someone else for his own troops. No one in Barney’s unit was about to argue, however.
“When a General tells you to do something, you do it.” Barney said.
It was actually because Patton took over his supply convoy that Barney came to fight in The Battle of the Bulge, arguably the battle that decided the European Theater. Starting on December 16th and lasting until January 25th, the German offensive aimed at cutting off Allied supply lines in Antwerp, Belgium. Patton marched those under his command, Barney included, 43 miles in a single night to get in position to halt the Axis assault.
During the epic battle, Barney was stationed in The Ardennes, Belgium, assigned to the 254th Field Artillery. The 254th fired 43,900 rounds at incoming Germans. They also supported the 82nd Airborne Division during the battle, earning the outfit a General Citation from the commander of the 82nd, “The Jumping General” himself, General James Gavin.
Even though the 82nd was an airborne division, the harsh weather of the Belgian Winter forced them to enter the battle from the ground instead.
“We always thought they were coming in by airplane,” Barney reminisced, “but they never did.”
After the Allied victory at the Bulge, Barney found himself relatively unscathed. In fact, he went the entire war without being wounded.
But there was something that stuck out for Barney about the war more than his astounding luck. More than the intense fighting. Even more than the massive political ramifications of the war.
“It was colder than hell.”
With soldiers sewing rags intended for machine gun cleaning into socks and sleeping together huddled for warmth, it’s safe to say Barney wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
As Barney went through the process of being sent home in 1946, he kept in contact with his sister-in-law, Betty Michael through the telephone. Gertrude, a telephone operator connecting the calls, became curious about to whom Betty was talking, though she knew it was a soldier returning from the war. The “nosy telephone operator,” as she called herself, went so far as to refuse connecting the two parties unless Betty gave her a name. Betty quickly relented, causing Gert to give a quick response.
“Have a big party when he comes home,” Gert suggested, “and invite me.”
The Michaels did have a big party, and they did invite Gert. Four months later, Barney and Gert were married.
And 68 years later, they were at The Bean Days Parade.
Afterward, they returned to their home, with Sam’s Place their next destination. Yet, one after another, various family members, in town to help honor their patriarch, piled into the Michael home. Before they new it, Barney and Gert were holding two slices of pizza and spending the evening with their family.
Barney had no problem with his plans being altered, though. After all, when your family tells you to do something, you do it.