[August 25, 2023] The room smelled of stale cigarette smoke and spilled beer. My uncle DJ (Douglas James, and my namesake) Satterfield, much older than my dad served as a cook in the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II. Later in life, he was a long-serving member of the Pine Bluff, Arkansas VFW, where he spent many Friday nights having nickel beer with his buddies, telling those stories only they could appreciate. Our family visited him, his lovely wife, and my cousins one week in the summer of 1963 or 64; I was used to hearing great veteran stories from the small Louisiana town where we lived. One weekend, Uncle DJ took me to his VFW to meet some friends. I remember the place. It was dark inside, and as the sun shined through the dirty windows, I could see the smoke as it drifted past, and more smoke curled up from cigarettes and slowly turned to ash.
I was in no way intimidated by those rough-looking men. But some of the older veterans were the kind of tough men you don’t want to meet alone in a dark alley without a handgun and extra magazines. To my surprise, I felt calm around them. Why, I don’t know. I was a young boy, and looking back, I could see why. If they liked you, nobody would ever think of messing with you for any reason at school, work, church, or a ball game. My uncle DJ, was grossly overweight but was fast on his feet. He said his speed had “saved my ass at the Battle of the Bulge.” Indeed, he was there. He didn’t know it then, but this would be one of the most incredible, most famous, and most deadly battles in the history of the 20th century. Uncle DJ volunteered for the Army in his mid-20s in 1942. He had not finished High School, only getting as far as the 10th grade, as standard practice at the time.
Uncle DJ told me the story of the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. His unit was alerted that a big battle was brewing somewhere east of his location, and the 82nd Airborne Division was to play a significant role in what was about to happen. He told me that all the cooks and support staff were lined up and given M1 Garand rifles, ammo, and grenades. Uncle DJ complained to his commander that all he knew was cooking. The response from the officer was something like, “Now you’re an Infantryman.” And then, “The Germans are that way.” A few days later, my uncle was wounded in the ankle in a firefight. It would be over a month before the Allied lines would be re-established, and Uncle DJ would finish the war without further wounds. He was proud of his military service, as it seemed to be the case for the other veterans at his local VFW. I’m sure many of his buddies embellished their war stories, much like the fisherman’s big fish that got away. Interestingly, my future dad and mom graduated in the same High School class in 1946. My Uncle DJ graduated with them at nearly 30 years of age.
On the way home, my dad asked what I thought of Uncle DJ’s VFW. I said, “It had a bunch of old guys drinking cheap beer and smoking cigarettes; it smelled awful.” I would not want to go back; it was too dark, smelly, and scary. My clothes smelled worse than a skunk, and Mom had us roll the car windows down all the way home. We froze, and we were happy to get home and warm up. Mom made me strip my clothes off before going into the house. I was embarrassed, standing buck naked in our front yard. My brother laughed at me. Dad smiled. But I learned a lot about my Uncle DJ and am proud of him and his Army service during WW2.
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