World War II Veterans to Lead Piggott Parade
Arguably, the greatest time of sacrifice of the 20th century came during the second world war. At home, and in faraway lands, the United States came together as a country with its allies to withstand the threats from both Europe and the Pacific.
On the home front there was rationing, metal and rubber drives and those all-important War Bond sales efforts. Meanwhile, a generation of young men and women defended their country in locations across the world most of them had never heard of before, and often couldn't pronounce.
With the war nearly 70 years removed, the numbers of those who fought the battles both here and overseas are dwindling and with each passing month there are fewer of the heroes and heroines of the great conflict.
In recognition of the contributions of this generation, the Piggott Cemetery Association has named two World War II veterans as grand marshals for the annual Fourth of July Picnic parade, set for 9 a.m. Friday, July 4. Selected to lead the parade this year are Norman Steward and Tim Tanner, both of Piggott.
Tanner and Steward are both natives of Clay County, and both grew up on family farms. Following the war they both also returned to a life of farming, although Steward eventually chose the factory over the plow.
Earlier this week each of the grand marshals took a moment to reflect on their years of service, with Steward reminiscing from the comfort of his dining room while Tanner chose to hoe his garden during the visit.
A native of the Call's Chapel community, Norman Steward and his wife, Marietta, now reside on South 12th Street in Piggott. The elder of the two grand marshals at 95, Steward entered the service much earlier than his younger counterpart Tim Tanner, who is a very active 88.
"I was inducted at Camp Robinson with a truckload of other local guys in January of 1942," Steward notes. "I never saw any of the local guys all the time I was in the service, only when I came home on furlough."
During more than three and one-half years of service in the U.S. Army, Steward saw his share of action in both North Africa and Italy, earning four Bronze Stars in the process.
He earned the accolades during action in Tunisia, Naples, Rome and North Africa. "Have you ever heard of the Anzio beachhead?" he added. "I saw a lot of action around there, that's for sure."
During much of the time the soft-spoken Arkansan was part of a reconnaissance car crew. "We didn't always know if the Germans had fallen back, or moved up, along the battle lines," he explained matter-of-factly. "So, it was our job to go out and drive a jeep around until we found out where they were, and then let headquarters know so they would know whether they needed to move the line up or back."
Although he seemed to downplay the danger, Steward noted the war did take a great toll. "At one point of the war we had a platoon of 30 men, and I later counted only 17 of them were still around," he remembered. "Not all of them were killed, there were some who got hurt, crippled or sick too-but they were gone."
Following the war he returned to Clay County and life on the farm, at least for the time-being. "It got to where I couldn't make any money on the farm so I took a job at Emerson Electric, in Kennett," he explains. "I retired from there in the early 1980's."
These days Steward chooses to take life much easier, and notes he is thankful to have remained fairly healthy. "I was doing pretty good until I hit 90," he explained. "But, the last few years seems like I've been going downhill a bit more."
Except for the time he spent in the service, life on the farm in Clay County is all Tim Tanner has known for his 88 years on this earth.
"I have lived around here my whole life, except for the two years I spent in the Army," Tanner explained. "My dad was a farmer, and me and all my brothers were farmers."
A native of the rich farmlands southeast of Piggott, Tanner has lived and farmed southwest of the city since 1952 with his wife, Ruth. But, as a young man he also answered the call of his country and was off to exotic locales.
"I registered on March 29, 1945, the day after I buried the grandfather," he reminisces. "I was called to service on May 5, and shipped out with six other local guys to basic training."
Afterward, Tanner joined a group of soldiers for extensive training. "They made us walk everywhere we went," he explained. "They worked us and worked us, I think they were getting us ready to go over and fight the Battle of the Bulge."
Following the extended training period Tanner boarded a Liberty ship for the voyage to the European Theater, but added it was not a comfortable journey.
"We were on a ship that had been converted from some kind of ocean liner, I think it was called the Miss America or something, and it was a lot faster than those military escorts," he remembered. "We kept running off a leaving them."
Despite the added peril, Tanner arrived in Europe and was transported into France with his artillery battalion.
"We got there right after the Battle of the Bulge, and helped a lot with the support," he added. "I had the chance to travel down the Rhine as a member of the support battalion, and we crossed there at the bridge at Remagen."
During the months following the battle Tanner, and the other members of his battalion, advanced north across France in support of "The Big Red One" First Infantry Division.
"We advanced all the way to the German border, and pushed north, I saw a lot of things I'll never forget," he reminisced. "Before the war was over I had the chance to travel all over France and Germany, and I was in Czechoslovakia when I was discharged."
Leaning on his hoe in the mid-morning sun, Tanner remembered what it was like to be a young soldier. "We were just kids, young and full of life and energy," he reflected. "That's what made us so tough as any Army, we just kept going after them."
He also pointed to the cultural impact of a young man from Clay County traveling the backroads of Europe. "I've been watching some of those "World War II in Color" shows on television, and I've seen a lot of places that looked familiar," he noted. "It sure was different from around here."
Tanner's battalion was made-up primarily of southerners, but he never crossed paths with any of the men he had originally shipped-out with from home. "I think our bunch was about 90 percent southerners," Tanner said with a smile, "But, I never ran across any of the local guys that I shipped out with originally, not until I got home."
In looking back on the two years he spent in service to his country, Tanner is also quick to point out that he does not think of himself as a hero. "Us guys who went over there and served, we weren't the heroes--the heroes were the ones that didn't come back," he surmised. "Those were the real heroes of the war."