Serve #32 – World War II Vet – Clarence Bassett (a.k.a., Grandpa)
This Serve is written about my Grandpa, Clarence Bassett, who passed away at age 69 when I was just 15.
Some of my story comes from the perspective of that 15-year-old me, but much also comes from my uncle Butch, the last living child of Clarence and my grandmother, Marie, who lived in Northeast Minneapolis.
I remember my Grandpa as a tall, slender man with dark hair. I remember he would often have a lit cigarette in hand, and a grin on his face when we talked. I remember he was always very particular in how the grass was mowed, and meticulous in the silversmithing he did as a hobby. I always thought he was sage-like and wise, without needing to use very many words. Even at the time, I knew his wisdom came from deep and difficult life experience. He was a soldier in World War II.
Grandpa Bassett was a Sergeant, Technician Fourth Grade, and had the military qualification of rifle expert. He was deployed overseas from spring of 1943 to November of 1945. He marched across Europe during the military campaigns of Northern France, Ardennes and Rhineland.
Grandpa was very quiet about his past – especially about his service in the Army fighting against the Germans. As the years went by I learned that he saw and encountered horrific things, difficult beyond what any young man should have to live through.
My Uncle Butch recalls that the only war stories Grandpa Bassett shared were that of Ardennes – The Battle of the Bulge. Grandpa told Butch about being extremely cold and wet, about fighting a battle from foxholes, and the non-stop rumbling of the Panzer tanks on the battlefield.
When I think about my Grandpa as a young man enduring so much, I am truly humbled and proud to have called him Grandpa. I’m even more humbled to have been given the dog tag you see in the photo above, which at one time hung around Grandpa’s neck. For him, in the midst of the fight, it was a constant reminder of where he was from. If his body was ever found on the battlefield, that dog tag would have helped him find his way home.
Grandpa was a part of the Rhineland Campaign that led to the ultimate surrender of Germany on May 8th, 1945. And being there for the end of the war, he helped liberate the concentration camps. He saw the bodies of the Jewish people in those camps stacked like garbage near fences, or dumped in shallow graves. The images of the horrible things Hitler had done greatly disturbed Grandpa for the rest of his life.
The price of war was incredibly heavy for the men who served in World War II. Most who went to war “wet behind the ears” came home hardened to the life and people around them. My Grandpa likely lost friends and had fellow infantrymen killed beside him. I imagine he struggled with the thought that he may not make it home alive as the Germans’ Panzer tanks rumbled toward his foxhole.
Life back on the homefront was hard for my Grandpa and his fellow soldiers. Many soldiers came back to the United States with battle scars. Some of those scars were obvious, but many were not. The wounded were often left to cope for themselves with battered hearts and minds. My grandpa was no different. He came back to American soil to resume his life in Northeast Minneapolis, had his own struggles and worked through them as best he could.
Like many young men, my Grandpa went off to war leaving a young family behind. Grandpa left his baby daughter, Sandy (my mother), and his pregnant wife at home. Grandpa did not meet his son, Butch, until he returned from the war, when Butch was nearly two. He had one more son name Clarence five years after returning from Germany. And life marched forward for the Bassett family.
I knew Grandpa Bassett as a man who loved his six grandkids deeply, and who readily shared his home and a warm smile. He was a man who taught me about work ethic, and to keep my word. He was there for me through some really tough teen years (read Serve #6). I know that he is one of the men, along with my Dad (Serve #3), who shaped me to be the man I am today. I am truly glad that I had a chance to know my Grandpa.
Reflecting on all this, I realize we often don’t thank the people in our life enough for the impact that they’ve had on us. Maybe it’s because we’re embarrassed, or we think they won’t take it well. But some things should not be left unspoken.
I know that if my Grandpa was still living I would want to tell him “thank you” for pouring into my life, and for serving our country with his life. I would also tell him he impacted my life, and who I am, beyond what my words can begin to say.
Through these words, and through the photo I’ve taken, what I really most want to say is, “Grandpa, I love you.”
Edited by: Scott Whitman
“Tell Your Story”