A cherished flea market find
My dad, George Robert Hill Jr., fibbed about his age and joined the Army when he was 17, in November 1942. During World War II, he saw action all over Europe, including the Ardennes offensive, commonly called the Battle of the Bulge.
In April 1945, his division liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, an event Dad was especially proud to have participated in. He was honorably discharged in January 1946.
Dad was in the tank corps and had been part of the crew of an open-top tank fitted with a 105 mm Howitzer gun. My father rarely discussed the battles he fought in, the medals he won or the buddies he lost on the battlefield, but occasionally he would talk about the big fighting machine he served on. So I had some idea what it looked like.
Fast forward to January 2013. My wife, Terry, and I were at the monthly Kansas Coliseum flea market north of Wichita. Normally Dad would have joined us—he was always on the lookout for John Wayne or movie-cowboy memorabilia— but he was sick that day. At a booth I came across an envelope labeled “Official Photographs U.S. Army Tanks,” and one showed what appeared to be the type of open-top tank Dad had served on in the war. Printed on the photo was
“105-mm Gun, mounted on a medium tank chassis.” After a quick call to my father, who confirmed that was the gun his tank used, I bought the old set and sent Dad a copy of the open-top tank picture.
A few days later, he called. “You must not have looked very closely at that photo,” he told me. “Because I’m in it!”
I took a good look this time and, sure enough, there was my father standing in the middle of the group of men, his helmet cocked a little to one side. Dad always wore his helmet that way, which was how he was sure it was him.
I’m still amazed that I just happened to stumble upon something so small yet so significant to our family history amid the thousands of items at that sale. Dad passed away in 2015. The photo of him serving his country will remain a cherished Hill artifact for years to come.
GEORGE R. HILL JR. showed up in a collection of reproduction militaryissue photos of Army tanks. He’s fourth from left, with his crew mates.