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Pup tents, Purple Hearts and five-gallon gas cans
PARIS – 89-year-old Gordon Rawson lives in Paris, and spent much of his adult life in the Army. He is proud to have served, and enjoys the memories that those days bring to him now.
He recently took time to tell us about his life.
Q: When were you born and where were you brought up?
A: I was born in Poland on January 10, 1922. The birth was at my grandmother’s.
When I was around seven or eight, we moved to Scarborough and when I was in high school, we moved to Cumberland. Most of my childhood was in Scarborough.
Q: Did you have many siblings?
A: I had two brothers, both older than I, and both have passed away. One brother was two years older and one was four years.
Q: What did your parents do?
A: My dad was an engineer for the Canadian Railroad.
My mom was a school teacher, but primarily a housewife.
Q: What was it like growing up?
A: It was during the Depression, but we lived very well. My dad had two jobs.
Mom and Dad also were in charge of taking in the food and doling it out to the people who needed it; I don’t remember exactly how that worked.
Of course, having two brothers, we did the typical boy things. We went skating in the winter and my brothers did swimming. I didn’t like swimming and my sport was basketball.
In my spare time I would primarily read. I loved to read and still do. I always have my nose in a book and still do.
We had a small farm, and we were pretty lucky and knew it. We never worried about food during the Depression. We had cows for butter and cream and had turkeys, chickens, pigs and all the veggies we wanted.
We would even bring friends home to eat. It was not unusual to have a large meal at the table with guests.
Q: Did your dad have a car?
A: Yes. At some point he got a car and I am not sure, but I think his first car must have been an old Nash. It was a big monster!
Q: Did you have a job?
A: No, it was still in the Depression, but I did have a job helping my parents with the garden and the animals. We all had certain chores to do depending on our ages.
Q: Was there anything you wanted to be when you grew up?
A: Not really.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: I went for two grades in Poland. After that I went to Scarborough schools until I was a junior, and when we moved to Cumberland I did my last two years of high school at Greely.
Q: How did you get to school?
A: When I was in Poland, I lived with my grandparents and my grandfather took me in the sleigh in the wintertime. It was colder than hell. In the summer we walked or went by wagon, if he was too busy.
It was a two-room schoolhouse in West Poland and we lived on Bradgon Hill in West Poland too.
Q: Did you get into mischief or play pranks?
A: Not really. I was more interested in reading and basketball. I loved to read about history, politics and presidents.
Q: Did you go in the service?
I wanted to go to college because I could do anything with figures, but there wasn’t any money for that. So I did go in the Army.
There was no draft then and it was before the war; January of 1940.
A friend of mine knew someone in the office at the Reserves, so I enlisted for duty with the Finance Corp.
I was sent to Fort Devon’s in Massachusetts and was assigned to the 18(th) Combat Engineers.
I found myself in Fort Benning in Georgia, then to Fort Collins in Colorado.
I finally was relieved from that company and got into the finance department at Fort Ethan Allen in Burlington, Vermont.
After about four months of training I went to Camp Edwards on Cape Cod; from an office of about six people, we grew to over 100 as it became a major training base. My job was paying the troops.
Then one day I got a call transferring me from Camp Edwards to an Army War Show.
Q: What is an Army War Show?
A: We traveled east of the Rockies. It was all done in outdoor stadiums. It was showing all the spectators what the Army was all about. For example, we were in Chicago for 10 days and we did a show for 100,000 people each night. I was doing the payroll.
Q: What was your rank?
A: When I was with them, I was promoted to Master Sergeant, and I was believed to be the youngest one in the army.
Q: What did you do after that?
A: My boss said I should go to officer candidate school and that was at Duke University. I went there in April of 1943 and I became Second Lieutenant. Upon graduation in December, I was assigned as an instructor in Army finance school in Indiana.
Q: Did you stay there?
A: No. I didn’t want to be an instructor anymore, so I got myself in a finance unit going overseas. I went to Kilmer in New Jersey waiting to go overseas and left in February of 1944. I went to England then to France. I was in Europe until the end of the war.
Q: How did you meet your wife?
A: When I was in Kilmer waiting to go overseas she was working in one of the offices.
I knew as soon as I walked in that that was the woman I wanted to marry.
We had one date and I had to leave after that. We wrote quite a few letters and you get to know someone that way. I wrote her a letter and told her she needed to consider herself engaged.
When I arrived back to Kilmer, Ruthie was right there and we were married on December 6, 1945.
Q: Did you stay in the Army.
A: I was in Kansas City in the finance office for a while and then I left the Army for about a year and we lived in Maine. We ran a store in West Minot.
Q: How long did you have that?
A: Not that long, after that I went back in the Army and went back as an instructor in St. Louis.
In1951, I was ordered to US Forces in Austria with primary responsibilities as budget officer for the unit. This was without a doubt the best assignment of all time.
Q: Did Ruthie go?
A: Yes, she joined me there with one of our daughters and we had one daughter there in Austria. We were there for a little over three years and I was ordered back to the Pentagon. I didn’t want to go, but you do what you are told.
I was there for two years and assigned to the Army Depot in Schenectady, New York, where I served for two years. I went to Vietnam for a year, but I didn’t take Ruthie there. At that point I was ordered back to Schenectady for retirement. It was March 31, 1961 and I retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
Q: What did you do after that?
A: We moved to Paris Hill and I was employed by Canal National Bank for roughly 15 years.
Ruthie raised the children and ran an antique shop. She was having a ball and was entitled to it. When I retired, I helped a bit.
Q: Any good army stories?
A: My biggest problem was probably the American politicians.
My work was extremely top level when I was overseas and had to make many trips back and forth from Washington, but one time I had to go to Italy.
I got the order to go to Italy to take care of a matter. The command I was with had ordered gas and the Italians wouldn’t let the ship dock in the harbor. Come to find out, the crazy people in the Pentagon had it shipped in five-gallon cans! There was no way the Italians were letting them off the ship to bang together at the port. I had to make arrangements with the Italian government to take the five-gallon cans out of the ship, one at a time, into small boats and move to the port and put them on a truck and put them on another boat to the canal and a place we had reserved to transport them. It was then tanked and sent to Austria.
I don’t blame the Italians, but I can imagine; some guy back at the Pentagon probably got a big bonus for that one!
Q: Which place was the most fascinating and why?
A: The country of Austria was just beautiful. There was music no matter where you went. The scenery was outstanding and we had access to all the facilities. We had nice accommodations; Ruthie even had a maid.
Q: Did you receive any medals?
A: Yes. There were many medals, but the one I am most proud of is the Purple Heart.
Q: Do you collect anything or have a hobby?
A I still enjoy reading. I tried golf, but I could never understand hitting a ball and chasing it; that’s if you could even find it.
Q: What is the last book you read?
A: The new book out by George Bush. I got it as a Christmas Present. I also have the Mark Twain book. It’s about eight-inches thick and it was his autobiography that couldn’t be published for 100 years.
Q: What is the one thing you could not give up?
A: You can give up anything that is necessary. I did it over a period of about two months when I quit smoking, but I do like my candy and also my wine before dinner.
Q: What is the one thing you would happily do over again?
A: My wife. I would happily do that all over again. She gave me two wonderful daughters; Deanna and Linda. We lost Deanna to a car accident three days after graduating from Maine Med in 1967. Linda lives in Massachusetts.
Q: What was the best memory that this interview brought back?
A: The army – I had an exceptional life in the army.
Q: What would you like people to know about you?
A: I am an introvert. Ruthie is the extrovert and between the two of us we get along very well. I am just me. I have had one hell of a good life and I occasionally have a sense of humor.
Q: What scares you the most?
A: Snakes. I am petrified! I stay away from them. When I was in Georgia, the unit was sleeping in pup tents. I slept in the truck and listened to the screeching by the guys that had snakes visit them in the night.
Q: If anyone could walk in right now, who would you most want to see?
A: My daughter Deanna. I'd like to tell her that I love her and miss her.