Moe - my Uncle Moshe - towered over the rest of us. He was Dad’s younger brother, and his antithesis. Uncle Moshe possessed a booming voice, an ebullient personality, and a sandy complexion that always was creased in a broad smile. He was, by far, the tallest member of Dad’s family.
Moe was a Corporal in World War II - the “big one” as Archie Bunker was wont to say. He was a tank driver in Canada’s Grenadier Guards. Moe hadn’t planned to become a soldier - neither had Dad for that matter - but life has a way of changing one’s plans.
The Canadian army liberated Holland in 1944, and Moe’s tank corps was in the heart of the battle for the Lowlands. On the day that life forced yet another radical change in direction, his tank took a direct hit. As the other members of the crew scrambled away, Sergeant Andrews looked back over his shoulder towards the burning tank. There was no sign of Moe. He was still inside the tank.
“Moe,” Andrews called out. “Get the hell out of there. The tank is on fire!”
“I can’t,” Moe shouted back. “I have no feet.”
Andrews ran back to the burning tank. He pulled Moe out and dragged him to safety. Sergeant John Andrews was awarded Canada’s Military Medal for his heroism.
Moe was evacuated to a hospital in England, but not before gangrene set in. After several surgeries to stay ahead of the infection, he was left with stumps that extended just a few inches below his knees. When he had recovered sufficiently, the army invalided him back to Canada. He was offered leave to visit his family in Montreal before undergoing rehab, but he declined. “My parents are not going to see me in a wheelchair,” he insisted. “I won’t go home until I can walk.”
And that’s what he did. Uncle Moshe was fitted with artificial legs and learned how to use them without crutches or canes. The first time my grandparents saw him after his injuries, he walked through the doorway on his two legs. And that’s how he approached the rest of his life - on his own two legs.
In 1946, after he was discharged from the army with the rank of Sergeant in the Quartermaster Corps, Uncle Moshe married. He and my Aunt Ann presented my grandparents with three grandchildren. I never heard him refer to his ‘disability’ or use it as an excuse or alibi. He was never out of work, and rarely out of sorts.
To my Uncle Moshe: One of Canada’s unsung heroes - six feet tall before the war, ten feet tall afterwards.
Acknowledgment: While I’ve known Uncle Moshe’s story since I was a child, I didn’t learn the name of the heroic soldier who dragged him from the burning tank until very recently. This episode, including the name of Sergeant John Andrews, is mentioned in Neil J. Stewart’s memoir, “Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts.”