Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Update on a quiet friend

Awhile ago, I republished here a column I'd written in 1994 about barbershops and, specifically, about Bob Noody, who used to cut my hair, drive my school bus and usher in my church, and who, it turned out, had also been a member of the 101st Airborne and had dropped into Normandy on D-Day. That's him on June 5, 1944, looking at the camera over the pile of gear he was about to jump with.

I mentioned in the piece that he hadn't planned to go back for the 50th anniversary D-Day reunion, but just got a comment on the blog from his niece that he has gone back since, a couple of times, and is worth Googling. And, indeed, a search for him gets a lot of hits, including this one and this one.  In both cases, once you get to the page, you need to scroll down a bit. It's worth it.

Turns out this kind, gentle man who helped me understand the world did a lot more than parachute into Normandy and get wounded. Reading about his record is kind of jaw-dropping, in fact, because he not only was in the thick of things, but he kept going back for more. And learning about what he did reinforces the lesson I originally took away from him: It's not a simple as "some people talk and some people do," but it certainly is that there are people who do great things without letting that moment forever define them.

It reminds me of the time I tracked down Cpl. Rupert Trimingham, the black GI who wrote to Yank magazine during the war about being forced to go to the backdoor of a Jim Crow cafe at a Texas train station while German POWs ate at the counter.

By the time I found him, he was gone, but I spoke with his daughter, who said she had never read the letter and didn't know much about it, just that they used to say he wrote a letter that got published. Yes, and provoked a storm of hundreds of angry letters from black and white GIs around the world who were infuriated with the treatment he and his buddies had received while wearing the uniform of their country, and was turned into a radio program on Mercury Theater and was the basis of a short story in the New Yorker and has been stolen several times since for every story of black GIs in World War II. It was transformative, but he never thought to talk about it, apparently.

There are heroes among us whom we do not know. But here's the real lesson: I already knew that Bob was a good guy, and I'm always happy to see him. I'm hoping to go back to Star Lake for a weekend this summer, and I hope I see him then. And I'd feel that way about him without knowing he'd ever served in the army at all. But I do think that what he did under the circumstances in which he found himself was reflective of the things in his personality and character that make me like him so much.

There are probably people in Detroit who knew Rupert Trimingham and liked him, too, without ever knowing that he wrote that letter. Good people do good things, and the example they set is in their character, not in their deeds.

(Even when their deeds make you say "...wow...")

4 comments:

Ronnie said...

Wow indeed...
And the line about our Liz not knowing until she saw a picture in a magazine...now that is really not telling...

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for that, Mike! Franciscan to Fox Company is quite a leap...
Sis in Sleepy Hollow

jward@harpercollege.edu said...

Dear Nellie Blog
Please send requested information on a Negro soldier Rupert S. Trimmingham, born August 17, 1899 in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and had died May 1985, at 85 years old. Last known address residence at h801 Redeemer Av., Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, Michigan, residence (Michigan) 48103. Social Security Death Record SSN 716-XX-8950 [?]. Rupert had been a member of the Trimmingham family. Rupert's spouse's name had been Harriet L. with two daughters Andrea and Rosemary Trimmingham. I Joseph J. Ward III is presently doing a report on Rupert S. Trimmingham history because of the necessary information required for my Harper College World War II History course by Mr. Harkins a Professor of William Rainey Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois. 1200 East Algonquin Road. Cpl. Rupert S. Trimmingham had written a letter dated April 1944, in regards to an incident Rupert had experienced, to Yank Magazine. Yank Magazine sent Rupert a letter published in its magazine at the time and Rupert had been much appreciated by the return and publication of his letter. My direct telephone number is 847-925-6184 at formation desk in Harper College Library. Please continue to educate our communities.

Thank you for your patience and effort,
Joseph James Ward III

John Dudley said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.