WWII Veteran’s story published nearly 60 years after his death

'My American Odyssey' is about an ordinary man called upon by his country to do an extraordinary thing


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“I felt scared when we first started, but I was okay after a hundred yards.”

That statement really hit me. I read it over and over again to try to comprehend the anxiety and dread my grandfather felt as he crept along that Italian highway. After several reads, I felt his fearful anticipation of an enemy ambush or a hidden land mine. His words hypnotized me, putting me in some sort of state in which I saw the war through my grandfather’s eyes. For a moment, it was me who was creeping along that highway. I scanned the tree lines and looked over my shoulders for Germans. I heard gravel crunch under my boots and my own nervous breaths.

Thud. I blinked and saw that his notebook had slipped out of my hands onto the floor. My heart quivered at the thought of my grandfather in fear for his life. It was then that I realized there must be more to his story.

IMage of Don Byers in Italy during WWII.

Don Byers in WWII Italy.

My American Odyssey is based on a short story that my grandfather, Donald Byers, wrote about his stateside basic training several years after his discharge from the United States Army. Those handwritten and typed accounts constitute the early chapters, while the latter portion of the book is derived from notes he scribbled into pocket-sized pads while in combat. Letters that he wrote to family and friends filled in pieces of missing time and also reveal his personable side. I did my best to preserve my grandfather’s original words, only editing as needed.

I named one of the chapters after a line in a letter home my grandfather wrote “in mud, rain, and cold with no sleep”. I couldn’t imagine enduring a lifestyle like that … I won’t even camp. He went weeks without showering or changing clothes and sometimes had to literally eat whatever was nearby like rabbits and stray chickens. He also mentioned drinking rain water because his canteen was dry. Think about how nowadays we get upset when we can’t get cell phone reception.

The subtitle to the book is an “Ordinary Man Called upon by His Country to do an Extraordinary Thing”. Don Byers was like many men and women who had regular jobs and lived pretty uneventful lives until they entered the war. It astounds me to think how they had so little time to learn so much in order to do their duty and survive. My grandfather was a Boy Scout in his youth, but that experience didn’t prepare him for war. Like most soldiers, this was the first time in his life that he shot a gun and witnessed death. He wrote about marching past dead soldiers and even sleeping in a two-room house with deceased Americans in the other room.

In the book, my grandfather included personal experiences and emotions that other authors didn’t include in their memoirs.

As the war progressed, his attitude changed from being a humorous, good-hearted patriot to a depressed, angry G.I. It’s evident in a letter home in which he wrote, “None of us over here want any part of flag-waving or pretty speeches from anyone. Just give us the equipment. We’ll take it from there.”

Researching was another battle

The last photo taken of Don Byers with his wife, Ruth, and daughter Janet.

Much research was necessary in order to learn more about the influences and experiences which shaped Don’s perceptions of the people and places that he encountered. Most of the work entailed inquiries to government agencies, trips to his hometown, and conversations with surviving friends and family. I did face impossible obstacles like the fire at the National Archives which occurred in 1973 destroying thousands of military records, as well as the likelihood that material was lost in a flood that swept through my hometown in 1972. Then there’s the fact that by the time I began working on the book that many of my grandfather’s comrades, friends and family had passed away.

While researching and writing this book, I learned about my grandfather and came to love him, even though I had never met him. He died unexpectedly from polio in 1958. He had suffered back injuries while in the service which mirrored some of the symptoms of polio – so he was mistakenly misdiagnosed as having the grip; which is now an outdated medical term to describe a flu-like illness.

I do bear a slight resemblance to him, but through his writings I discovered we shared some of the same perspectives and personality traits. My mission was to help him finish his story, both for his sake and for mine. Sometimes, I question why I studied and worked in the communications field – now I know why: I had to learn those skills in order to finish telling my grandfather’s story.

In the beginning, this book was simply to be a memento for my family, but after finishing it I wanted it inspire readers to sit down with a veteran in their own family. And when it comes to WWII veterans, the time to sit down and reminisce is now. I really encourage you to do so, because I never had the chance.

My American Odyssey not only details a soldier’s sobering accounts of war, it also tells of the personal battles that he endured while attempting to live the American Dream, a dream that he fought so hard to defend. The tragedy is the fact that he survived the war then died a decade or so later; unable to live out the life he envisioned while fighting in Italy and unable to finish his story.

I invite you to browse 337thinfantry.com to learn more.


Image of Jim ByersJim Byers, of Wyoming, Pennsylvania, earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Bloomsburg University and an associate’s degree in social science from Luzerne County Community College. His professional career includes time spent as a newspaper reporter and a graphic artist as well as in public relations. Currently, Jim works for the County of Luzerne and his articles are frequently printed in regional publications in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Author

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Comments

  1. Michael N Epperson    

    All of this is well and good but it would be much more helpful if you could get the VA to act quicker on claims that have been appealed. They have had my appeal for almost two years and I am 77 years old and may not even be here for the final answer.
    Mike Epperson

    1. Kurt Prinz    

      So true and sad . I’m still waiting at almost 5 years .

    2. Stephen E. Katz    

      MIKE: I was in the same boat as you. My disability claim was buried somewhere in the paperwork maze @ the VA and was stalled for 28 months with no hope for timely resolution. After waiting that long, I mailed a copy of all my paperwork to the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, since I live in CA.
      30 days later I was notified that my claim had been approved, RETROACTIVE TO THE DATE IT HAD
      ORIGINALLY BEEN FILED!
      Most US Senators have at least one office worker whose job is to deal with the VA on behalf of veterans who are their constituents. If you decide to pursue that route, I strongly to JUST STATE THE FACTS OF YOUR CASE – KEEP ALL THE EMOTIONS & BAD FEELINGS ABOUT HOW YOU WERE
      TREATED BY THE VA.OUT OF YOUR NARRATIVE. Include COPIES of all documents that support
      your claim.
      If the facts are confirmed as accurate, and you are entitled to an increase in benefits, your efforts will be rewarded. GOOD LUCK!

    3. Jim Peterson    

      The American Legion is working everyday to get the VA to get more appeal judges to help get rid of the backlog of appeals. I don’t know who is handling your claim, but talk with them and if they are on top of your case let them know you are going to contact a state senator or representative about assistance with your appeal. Due to your age the senator or representative might get something resolved. There are only 3 to 4 hundred appeal judges and thousands of appeals waiting to be looked at and then decisions made. If you are doing it yourself or with VA representatives, I strongly recommend you get a VSO to help you. Our Iowa American Legion Service Office does a great job getting appeals overturned in the favor of the veteran. Good luck.

  2. Earl Pittman    

    I want to thank those men and women who served proudly so that I yes we could enjoy the freedoms that we have today.

    1. James Connolly    

      Earl has said it well. I’m a vet of two years (draftee) in the Korean War, and proud of it. I was raised in a small corn-belt town in Illinois (Flanagan), where some 150 men and women from that tiny town, served all over the world in WWII. They are really the “Greatest Generation”.

  3. Nick Del Prete    

    This article brought tears to my eyes. As the youngest of three brothers, one of which served in WWII in Europe in the Army and the next oldest in the Merchant Marines on the supply ships that supported the combat troops on the ground. One of his ships was sunk but he was able to survive the attack. My Dad put in 33 years in the Army then National Guard. When I became of age needlessly to say I joined the Army and spent six years. What Jim Byers states is very true. If you have a WWII Veteran still with your family, sit down and see if he will talk about his service time. It took until my oldest brother went to the WWII Memorial in DC, that he started to open up and talk about his time in the Army. But he would only talk to those that served in the service. In 2004 he stopped by our home with his wife and two daughters and when he saw the Memorial Display Cases I had for our Dad and my father in law, he asked me if I would make one up for him when his time came. He also mentioned that he would like to find an Ike jacket that he had searched for but never found. Well I found one and after doing an update on his service, I got all the Medals and patches and placed them on the jacket and for his 90th birthday presented it to him. Sadly a year later he went to join GOD in a better place. But I got to share some of his memories and received all of his Army memorabilia from his wife and oldest daughter and made his Memorial Display case which is on display in my military room here at home now with six other display cases of family members. I also have many hand written notes of his that I placed on my laptop.

    1. Michele Easton    

      Dear Nick, thank you for your story. I was wondering if your family member was on board of the seakay ship? My Dad was in merchant marine and his ship was torpedo, they had 18 minutes to jump ship. I have pictures. My Dad passed away in 1999.

  4. Cliff Coburn    

    The VA is still a cumbersome bureaucracy. I’ve been working for 11 months just to get my medical records to work on a service related disability. I’ve even enlisted the aid of one of my congressmen. All to no avail.

  5. Frank R. Brown    

    As I read all facets of a WW2 veteran performing his duty in Italy. It reminds me of my Father who witnessed after math inside Germany AFTER the war. Our youth today have no desire to learn let alone read history that was in making for our lives now today. Sacrifices made were by normal folks who with grace and personal Will power just wanted to get job done and over with! I’m proud to read there stories of inspiration and hope youth Will one day understand events of the past. Continue onward!

  6. RAYMOND JACINTO    

    I was in Vietnam in Combat went 4 Days without food, Water yes Bullets yes Sleep no Feet hurt Tried throwing up didn;t have anything Throw-up.

  7. Dan Stewart    

    Truly a great generation. Most of those men and women came through the Great Depression, knew what real hard times were, yet stepped forward, put their name on the line and pledged their very life for God, country and family for the most noble of causes. Yet now we are concerned that a traitor, “Chelsea” Manning can get his sex-change operation paid for by the military. May God forgive us.

  8. Maurice E. Crider    

    Serving in Germany in the Army in 1955 to 1957 you could still see the damages that the Allies caused around the country blown up gun bunkers in the middle of fields stores in buildings with just a front on them with nothing behind them remind you of a movie set it was a sight I won’t forget and I was proud to be over there helping the US Army Triple 7 3 signal Depo

  9. Prisco E. Entines    

    I NEVER ever saw even a picture of my father – Pfc. Enrique Hapa Entines – VA File # (redacted). For my mother has to destroy any evidence that may justify our family’s Japanese massacre if found out that he was with the US-organized August 1901 Philippine Constabulary (PC) since 1927. And he died as a World War II (WW2) Conscriptee as a US National-War-Casualty. By virtue of the criminal Military Order of US President Roosevelt on July 26, 1941.Thus this story has touched me very deeply. Most especially that since July 15, 1985 till the present, the “historical” WW2 Injustice against our family and some 265,000 Filipino NEGRO War-Conscriptees’ families has been deliberately, if not by systemic conspiracy complicity grossly and culpably ignored by the US Congress. And it is very appallingly unconscionable that the US National-demoted “Filipino NEGRO” yet the only US National singled out to be criminally ordered under death penalty of Articles of War #58, yet was massively defrauded of full and equal war pay and their VA and SSA concurrent benefits – either arbitrarily divested and/or decreased. Making matters worse they were “denationalized” and by Section 107, 38 US Code their war-service was NOT recognized as “ACTIVE” service in the US Armed Forces. Hence,they were either deprived/divested of their full and equal VA and SSA concurrent benefits and very lately per SECTION 405 of IMMACT 1990 were by a “double jeopardy” War-FRAUD “naturalized” and tyrannically required to be at least a Green Card holder and ACTUAL resident of US, to be qualified for full and equal VA and/or SSA concurrent benefits. But at first they were granted the most demeaning SSI (appropriately labeled as “S-oldiers S-lavey I-ncentive for constitutionallly their war service entitled them not only to INSTANT, Native-born US citizenship with full and equal VA and SSA concurrent benefits). NEVER welfare benefits. Hence if honestly analyzed the “FILIPINO NEGRO’S “Conspired WAR-Conscription, with Massive Fraud and “Heartless” Treason” constitute the “Most Vulgar and Criminal Desecration of the US Constitution”. Aside from being the US National-demoted FILIPINO NEGRO’s Cruelest Human Rights Violation.” Thus every “Memorial and or Veteran’s Day” opens the very deep and unhealed wound of PTSD (properly defined as P-ilipino T-reated S-lave D-espicably) as result of the “Day of Infamy” that for a certain Marine Historian and Author is a “Day of Deceit” or ‘Day of Infamously-Conspired Treachery).But the most painful and treacherously-racist tyranny is that the more than SEVENTEEN (17) years of compulsory Military service since 1927 till the War-Conscripted “death-in-line-of-duty (DILOD) on March 25, 1945 in the still US Commonwealth-PHILIPPINES had only FIVE (5) months service record and as a Recognized Guerrilla only. From November 9, 1944 till March 25, 1945, respectively. So can anybody reach out for the final and permanent correction of this judicially-sanctioned, very criminal and blatantly-racist federal legislation – SECTION 107, 38 US Code, that till this writing has NEVER been REPEALED. Rationalizing the flagrantly perpetuated and extremely-racist SECTION 2169 Revised Statute that since 1870 racially barred the FILIPINO NEGRO even from “naturalized” US citizenship based on Section 4, 7th subdivision of May 9, 1918 ACT and more particularly SECTIONS 303 and 324 of October 14, 1940 ACT. If they were “ALIENS” and NOT US Nationals criminally ordered to fight the US war ans US Nationals, at that.
    Can I have a strict analysis of the facts and issues whether they constitute as very Cruel WAR and Hate-CRIME of the Century? Thanks for any least concern and most kind attention and truly honest, and just empathy for WAR-buddies and WAR-conscriptees. God bless and reward any least concern that may be shown this 73 year old Elderly Orphan of a US National and WW2 Conscriptee-Casualty Veteran. A victim of an aggravatedly-perpetuated nativist and systemic racism in the its cruelest extreme. God reward all sacrifices for all services to our WAR-Hero-Veterans of all US wars.
    Sincerely grateful with prayerful regards for one and all,

    Prisco E. Entines – 73 yr. old US National-Orphan of 1927 PC US National and WW2 Conscriptee-Casualty
    (redacted)

  10. DAVID YONTS    

    I WAS IN VIETNAM FROM 7-70 TO 6-71. IT WAS TUFF BUT I THINK WW II AND KOREA HAD IT REAL HARD. I THINK ALL THAT SERVE MY HAT OFF TO YOU WELCOME HOME BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

  11. Leslie Price    

    These stories are so precious to us the sons and daughters of vets. My dad was a fighter pilot in the air force. He fought in Korea, and Vietnam. He was known as The Red Baron in modern time. He loved flying and made it home safely. He died in 2012 from COPD. I miss him every day. He served our country well. To all children of vets, tell their stories. Their memories are precious.

  12. Thomas Jenkins    

    My grandfather, my father and uncles never talked about their experiences in WWI, and WWII. Reading this story made me realize that there was void in my family that could never be filled. That sam void still exists. Few children know anything about Viet Nam except that their father or grand fathers were there. They will never know. They will never know. I’m around of my my family who served in our wars, all of them. Today all that exists of them are their names in Ancestry.com. Names and no stories. this story means a lot.

  13. Michael Robertson    

    You know what bothers me now, I was in the army in 68-71 and now I see some people not wanting to stand up for the Star Spangled Banner because of some poem someone wrote long before any of us can remember. Stand up for the flag and country, not for someones written word that nobody remembers.

  14. Curt Tomlinson    

    The VA is a a joke I am a usmc veteran and I have been diagnosed with ptsd from something that has happened years ago. I cannot get the proper treatment and twice have been denied trying to use the va for help with my condition. How pathetic to find out they don’t care.

  15. Rodney Shepherd    

    I am parked a Vietnam vet.68,69,70 I want to thank all the men and women who served before me. You all have my respect .
    Thank you for your service.

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