Note: Through the years, I've had the pleasure of writing about many World War II veterans. I always wonder how many more years they will be around to share their stories. It is always my honor to hear them. This article is in today's New Castle Courier-Times.
By DONNA CRONK
On Monday, Aug. 13, Frederick Carmichael Sr. found himself back where he started 95 years ago to the day -- in New Castle, Indiana.
During the years in between, he traveled many miles, including difficult ones in service to the U.S.A. and the free world at large as a U.S. soldier in World War II, a career in Chicago, a move to Arlington, Virginia, where he retired from the Department of Agriculture and then a retirement spent traveling the country in an Airstream trailer. He’s even been back to Europe twice to revisit sites where he served in the Battle of the Bulge.
The battle is considered the turning point toward the Allies’ victory in World War II when Hitler’s last major offensive failed. However, 62,000 American soldiers died in the fierce conflict.
During the battle, Frederick was left behind due to severely frozen feet. He was discharged due to his injury. But today at 95, while he has some difficulties with those feet, he’s still walking. He sat down for an interview Monday with his hometown newspaper.
Born in New Castle on Aug. 13, 1923 to Emory and Freda Carmichael, Frederick was the middle of five children, including Marion, Helen, JoAnn and Jack. Sister JoAnn Carmichael Jones is a lifelong New Castle resident who still resides in town, where Frederick visited her over the weekend and on his birthday.
Their father, Emory, retired from Chrysler Corp. and served as a city councilman. The family lived on 21st, Vine and 17th Streets. Memories include playing basketball in the gravel alleys, using an oatmeal box for a basketball rim and playing marbles. His folks listened to the radio for entertainment. The family attended St. Anne Catholic Church, and Frederick’s faith has continued strong throughout his life.
He worked before and after school for Oscar Ellison cutting meat at two locations. “I had fun too – Memorial Park, St. Anne’s Church ...” adds Frederick, who graduated from New Castle High School in 1942. His buddy, George Todd, played a role in Frederick meeting the woman he loved, Christine Cloud of Mt. Summit. But she wouldn’t marry him until after the war.
Before the war, he took the civil service exam and landed a job at the Chicago stockyards where his older brother worked. Six weeks later he was drafted by the U.S. Army and insisted on returning to New Castle to enlist with his hometown friends.
In the army now
Basic training took Frederick to Camp McCain, Mississippi, then to Fort Jackson, S.C. While he had wanted to become a cook, the army had other plans, training him in jungle warfare. He became a corporal, then went on to South Carolina as a communications sergeant, a role he continued for F Company. From there, it was to New York where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth bound for Scotland, then off to England, and LaHarve, France.
The Battle of the Bulge ensued, with Frederick serving in F Company, 347th Infantry Regiment in the third army under Gen. George Patton. He and his captain were inseparable, and Frederick’s son Tom said the captain kept saying, “Mike (nickname for Frederick, abbreviated from his last name Carmichael) will make it.”
It was tough, with U.S. soldiers dying all around him. He describes the horrors of war in a book he helped write, published in 1997, “F Company 347th Infantry Regiment 1942-1945,” by The Men of F. Company.
One passage describes losing buddies. Wrote Frederick, “It was a terrible shock to learn how many of our men were killed or wounded – one officer and nine enlisted men died. Many enlisted men were wounded. I lost several good friends.”
During the historic Battle of the Bulge, Frederick’s feet were deeply frozen in the snow and cold, and he was left behind. Ironically, however, his friend and captain would soon be ambushed and killed. When Frederick’s boots were removed, his skin came off with them. He spent 90 days in the hospital and was discharged from the Army at 50-percent disabled.
One of three soldiers in the 180-member F Company were wounded or killed by the end of the Battle of the Bulge. Frederick left the war with the Bronze Star and three clusters signifying three battles. He carries with him constantly the memories of all the soldiers who died along side him in battle. He prays for them by name weekly, still.
His own mother prayed the rosary every night until she passed at age 89 in New Castle.
Faith is a large part of his life. He said of wartime, “You pray every day. It’s easy. You’ve got to have a buddy.” In keeping with his St. Anne upbringing, Frederick remains a devout Catholic.
After the war
When he returned to the states, Frederick married Christine on July 15, 1945. At the wedding he wore the same Army-issue shirt he wears today. He returned to his job in Chicago and for the next 37 years, he worked as a federal meat inspector. The family expanded to include three children, all still living: Fred Jr., Cindee and Tom. Cindee and Tom accompanied their dad to New Castle last week for the visit. There are also now six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Through Frederick’s working years, the family moved several times, including a 1966 move to Arlington, Virginia, where Frederick retired from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1979. Frederick and Christine bought an Airstream trailer in which they traveled all over the U.S. She was tragically killed in a car accident in 1999. Frederick survived and after recovering himself, continues to travel. At 85 he had open heart surgery and sold his Airstream but continues to travel with family.
Christine is buried in Arlington National Cemetery where Frederick will one day join her. The couple became eligible for burial there due to his war injury.
Frederick resides in Richmond, Virginia. He still enjoys life and will break into a flawless song from his war days at a moment’s notice, as well as reflecting on those years, his faith, and his happiness in being alive.
“I play golf on Mondays and Fridays go dancing at the Elk’s,” Frederick says with cheer in his voice. “I work in the yard.”
For years he never mentioned the war, but that changed. His family has taken him to Europe twice to revisit sites he recalled from his time in the war. Son Tom is amazed at how well his father recalls various locations and they were even able to visit with a family member whose same family was there during the war. He also enjoys attending Army reunions. His last was a year ago at Ft. Jackson in South Carolina where 15 of the 17 men remaining from his company were able to attend.
Frederick contributed his wartime memories to the book that Barbara Strange, the daughter of a soldier in Frederick’s company, put together some time ago. Frederick donated a copy to the New Castle-Henry County Public Library. The family donated a copy to The Courier-Times for a reader giveaway. (Details at the end of article.)
Cindee Kight says of being her father’s daughter, “It’s an honor, I’m proud of him. He’s always taught us to do our best and have strong faith.”
Son Tom says that he is “extremely proud to have a father in The Greatest Generation ever.” He adds that his father taught the kids the Golden Rule – to treat people the way you want to be treated. “He makes a friend wherever he goes.”
While Monday’s interview was conducted in the library, patron Ashley Delk of Springport studied nearby. She also listened in to the discussion and when it was over, she came over to Frederick and asked if she could shake his hand.
“It was an honor,” she said of hearing what the soldier had to say. “How often would you (get to) listen to a 95-year-old war veteran?”
And then, the Carmichaels got up to leave. Frederick was on his feet and on his way with the use of a cane. “You’ve got to keep moving,” he said.
Win copy of book detailing WW II memories
New Castle native Frederick Carmichael Sr. contributed his wartime memories to a book that Barbara Strange, the daughter of a soldier in Frederick’s company, put together some time ago.
Frederick donated a copy to the New Castle-Henry County Public Library. The family donated a copy to The Courier-Times to use as a reader giveaway. It is called “F Company 347th Infantry Regiment 1942-1945,” by The Men of F. Company.
Enter to win the book by 9 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 23 by emailing or calling: firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-575-4657. Say “World War II book” and leave your name, city or town and daytime phone number. One entry per household please; winner must arrange to pick up the signed book at the newspaper. The drawing is 10 a.m. that day.