Editorial: Grandfather a hero in wartime and peace

The writer is an attorney who lives with his wife, Meg, and children Ella Blair 4, and Caelan, 6, in the Dallas area. See the report on the death of Mr. Freeman's grandfather, Church of God member E.B. Vance, on page 32.

By Vance Freeman

HIGHLAND PARK, Texas--My grandfather, E.B. Vance, died Saturday, Nov. 15, at 6:03 p.m. in a hospital in Tyler, Texas. My brother Brandon, our father, Wayne Freeman, and mother, Cheryl Vance Freeman Kern, our grandmother, Colleen Vance, and I were at his side.

My grandfather grew up the son of a working-class family descended from Irish-American immigrants in Mobile, Ala. His mother died when he was only 8 years old. At that young age he had to fill the gaps left by her death and his surviving alcoholic father, shouldering the responsibilities of raising not only himself but two younger siblings.

Early enlistment

When the largest and most evil war machines the world had ever known pulled the United States into World War II, my grandfather and his younger brother lied about their age and volunteered, entering the Army.

My grandfather was 17 and his brother was 16. Both brothers were amateur boxers and never shied away from a fight.

Luckily, his decision to enlist caused him to cross paths with my grandmother in Fort Polk, La. They were married. Against Army regulations, she followed him to flight school in San Marcos, Texas.

After they received basic flight training, the Air Force (which was at that time part of the Army) pulled him and his classmates out of flight school and sent them to Europe to replace the infantrymen who had fallen during the D-day invasion two months earlier.

My grandfather fought bravely in an Army intelligence unit of the 3rd Infantry Division.

My grandfather learned German and served as a reconnaissance scout and sniper, perilous duty that placed him in harm's way on several occasions.

He narrowly escaped death numerous times, including when he was shot in the chest.

Narrow escapes

Good fortune, however, guided the bullet into his chest pocket, which contained a thick Bible and rectangular piece of metal the size of an index card that the Army had issued as a mirror and signaling device. The combination of iron and paper stopped the bullet from piercing his heart.

On another occasion he survived being run over by the track of a German tank during the Battle of the Bulge. The ground beneath my grandfather was so soft and muddy that the tank track pushed him down into the earth, while his comrade a few feet away made the ultimate sacrifice.

He earned the Purple Heart after he was wounded by a Messerschmitt fighter airplane that was strafing troops near a convent being used as a makeshift hospital. He leaped into the back of a jeep that had a machine gun mounted in the back and began firing on the aircraft as it circled for another attack.

Smoke billowed from the plane, but it circled again and bore down on my grandfather. He was determined to fire until the last possible second.

He dove under the jeep, which was then riddled with the plane's machine-gun fire. His body was pierced by shrapnel. One piece of lead entered his hand, and it became severely infected in the ensuing weeks. Eventually he was hospitalized for several months and had to fight constantly to talk his doctors out of amputating his hand.

He and his brother were reunited on the front lines in Germany and fought side by side until the war's conclusion. He was part of the liberation of three concentration camps including Dachau, an experience that had a lasting effect on him.

Dallas skyline

After the war my grandfather did his part to build the greatest national economy the world has ever seen, and iron and paper became a theme running through his life.

He worked as a roustabout in the natural-gas fields of West Texas and later in Alaska on the 26 Mile military base. He settled in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and was a proud member of the local pipe fitters' union.

He contributed to the construction of many of the buildings that form the downtown Dallas skyline from the late '50s through the '80s.

He wrote and delivered many sermons and lectures as a respected minister of his church (the Worldwide Church of God, later the Church of God International, then the Intercontinental Church of God), touching countless lives in several states.

His 60-year marriage to my grandmother, Colleen, is the most loving, successful marriage I have known.

My grandfather was lucky in life, and I was lucky to have known him. His faith, work ethic and grit are unmatched by today's generation.

In no small way, everything that we enjoy today is a result of the sacrifice and hard work of my grandfather and the other members of his generation.

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