If all goes as planned, on July 4, 2020, Harry Christy, 98, will be riding in the Miami County of Ohio parade, organized by the Miami Valley Veterans Museum. His driver on this occasion will be his son Jerry, a U.S. Air Force medic in the Vietnam War.
Born March 25, 1922, Christy graduated from Piqua High School in Ohio in 1939, married Anna Marie Wack on Veterans Day in 1942, was inducted into the U.S. Army on Nov. 19, 1942, and reported for duty on Dec. 28, 1942. Christy soon found himself in the heart of actions that would determine the fate of a significant part of the world.
Christy missed the Normandy “D” Day landing on June 6, 1944, because he was granted a five-day leave to visit his wife and see their first-born son, Thomas. He learned of the invasion when the train on which he was making the 24-hour trip to Piqua stopped to pick up passengers at Portsmouth, Ohio. He reports, “We expected the invasion, and we knew what was ahead of us. And the challenges would be significant, life-altering.”
By August 1944, Christy boarded an LST and set out across the English Channel to Omaha Beach. The next nine plus months of Christy’s life were grim, horrific with grueling work that had to be done to save the world from the Nazi Regime. Omaha Beach at Normandy had suffered the highest casualties during Operation Overlord, and over 2,000 U.S. troops were killed, wounded or MIA. Christy reports that in the two-month interim between the assault and his arrival: “When we debarked in France, there were some remnants of destruction- tanks and items in the water- but the deceased had been removed.”
Christy’s unit then began 249 consecutive days in combat in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany as part of General George Patton’s 176th Field Artillery Battalion Third Army, sleeping only on the ground or in foxholes. His unit reinforced divisions that needed help and supported the 26th, 80th and 35th Infantry and the 4th, 6th and 12th Armored.
As Christy reflects on his participation in the Battle of the Bulge in the heavily- forested Ardennes region, the German surprise attack on Allied forces on Dec. 18, 1944, the compromised supply lines, the fatigue of combat, the bitter cold, he writes in his memoir, “War is war. It is killed or be killed.” In regard to his part in the decimation a German battalion of perhaps 200 soldiers, he indicates,” I am not proud of what we did that day, but we had a job to do and we did it to the best we could. If we had not done what we did, who knows how many American soldiers would have been killed in the following days of combat? It was cold, about 12 degrees below zero with a foot or more of snow on the ground.”
Christy speaks with joy all these years later as he describes the day the clouds lifted and the American Air Force swooped in to save the day – Christmas Day 1944.
The Battle of the Bulge was over on Jan. 25, 1945, but the cost had been high with 89,500 Americans killed, wounded, captured or MIA.
With the Germans’ surrender, the next part of Christy’s tour of duty was to go to Stallag VII-A, the largest German POW camp near Moosburg, Bavaria. At the time of the liberation of the camp on April 29, 1945, there had been 76,248 POWs in the main camp and approximately 40,000 laboring on farms and in factories.
Christy found the POWs in deplorable condition: “thin, hungry, smelly. Most of the guards had left by the time we got there and the prisoners were so happy to see us. We took care of the American POWs first. It was our job to get them home. They were provided food, shower facilities, and clean clothes. Our convoy trucks took them to local trains headed to Paris and from there back to the states. We took care of the British next and the French third. We were told that the Russians were afraid to go home, humiliated about being captured as they were expected to fight to the death.”
Of his service, Christy says,” I am very proud to have served my country in World War II. At times it was very hard, but when I look back on it, it was worth it all- the hard days and long nights, the rain, the mud, the snow, the ice and freezing temperatures. But on the other side, my twelve-man gun section was courageous, dedicated, loyal, and I was blessed to lead them. We, also, had the memory of a glimpse of General Patton in his jeep on May 1, 1945, near Regensburg, Germany. The sad reality is my memory of all those who gave their lives and didn’t come back to the USA to their wives and families.”
Christy returned to the states on the USS Augusta and remembers seeing the Statue of Liberty in NY harbor, USO boats, and people waving signs “Welcome Home.” On December 4, 1945, he met his Anna Marie, Tom, and his parents at the train station in Columbus, OH. Christy went to work at Hartzell Fan in Piqua, Ohio, at 85 cents an hour on Jan. 3, 1946, and retired 41 years later on March 31, 1987.
His legacy does not stop there as four of his sons and his youngest grandson decided that they would serve as well.
Christy’s oldest son, Thomas, was the first to join the military and chose the U.S. Air Force. He had just completed courses in computer science and had a job operating an Addressograph-Multigraph computer. He says, “I knew my draft number was close and wanted to use my electronics ability that the Army could not guarantee. I got my draft notice when I was already in basic training in the Air Force. Thomas excelled in electronics and spent his time in the military operating various crypto equipment in the Pentagon and the D.C. area.
Christy’s son Jerry graduated from Piqua Catholic High School in 1965, not a good time for young men as the reality that they faced was the Vietnam War. Jerry says, “I didn’t want to be drafted into the Army and carry a weapon, so I joined the Air Force and became a medic. My parents’ patriotism had a tremendous impact on me, so I wanted to serve my country as I had been taught that freedom is not free.” Jerry served as a medic in Okinawa, Vietnam (Bien Hoa Air Base) and California. Of Vietnam his most memorable experience was “teaching English to the Vietnamese kids and providing health care to Vietnamese villagers.” The era was a difficult period, and Jerry rarely speaks about his many experiences there. After his military service, Jerry used his GI benefits to become a registered nurse. Most of his career was spent in the cardiology units and teaching in his field. His 41-year career took him from Stanford Medical Center to Miami Valley Hospital with several years in hospitals near Knoxville, Tennessee.
Son Donald loved American history classes on World War II, because he was permitted to take a few of his father’s souvenirs for show-and-tell: a German helmet, a piece of shrapnel, and a Nazi armband. After graduating from high school and working for a time at the Hartzell main office, he says, “I just felt I needed a change in my life and needed to move on and grow up.” He indicates that his parents neither encouraged nor discouraged him from joining the military: “It was a decision 100% on at least my part. I looked up to my two older brothers, Thomas and Jerry, as the main reason why I joined the Air Force since they were both members of the U.S. air Force, too. I joined in March of 1974, went to Lackland for basic and advanced training as a security guard.”
Donald’s military years took him to the Industrial Air Center at Roswell, New Mexico; to Davis Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona; to a British air force base in Cypress; to Lajes Field in the Azores; and to Cannon Air Force Base in Clovis, New Mexico. Many of his assignments required top security clearance. After leaving the Air Force, Donald spent 20 years as a police officer and a detective in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Donald looks on his brothers and father as “role models and instilling in me patriotism and loyalty to the U.S.”
Another of Christy’s sons Rick chose the Air Force (!985-92). Rick served in Desert Storm and was a Phantom Jet Mechanic. His family was stationed at George Air Force Base in California. He later worked as an engine mechanic for Delta Airlines for 26 years in Atlanta. Rick died suddenly of a heart attack in 2018 and is buried in the National Veterans Cemetery in Canton, Georgia.
The tradition of service in the Christy family, however, moves on through Rick’s son, Sean. Sean, a 2011 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy and a captain has been selected for promotion to Major. He and his family are stationed at the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. Sean served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Sean says, of his family’s influence on him, “My dad had a large impact mostly by not attempting to have an impact. He was careful to not push me to go to the Air Force Academy, and, in turn, seeing how much it meant to him probably helped me make the decision. All that sense of service was passed to him from Harry, his father, my grandfather.
Grandson Sean says of his exemplary military family, “Overall, Harry has set an amazing example for his family, providing a roadmap to put family first and, in turn, others. Christy is definitely a God, country, family man, and I take great pride in my family, their values, their sense of purpose.”
No story would be complete without listing the wife and siblings left behind to worry about the safety of those in service, so I want to mention that Christy’s son John chose a degree in economics from San Diego State University and a career in real estate; daughter Susan Miracles graduated from Miami University and taught for 40 years; and daughter Kathy Bengston opted to work in California. Christy’s wife Anna Marie, who passed in 2012, kept detailed records in scrap books, but that is another story.
In conclusion, I want to give a shout out to Christy’s daughter Susan whose assistance was invaluable in providing materials and helping me sort out this complicated story of the Christy family’s service to our great nation.
Vivian B. Blevins. Ph.D., served as a community college president for 15 years in Kentucky, Texas, California, and Missouri before returning to Ohio to teach telecommunication employees from around the country and students at Edison State Community College and to work with veterans. Reach her at 937-778-3815 or [email protected]