Ten years ago today on Rainy Day

Tuesday, 25 September, 2012

Originally posted on 25 September 2002: Lit a candle last night in one of Europe’s most majestic cathedrals and said a prayer for Mick Upton, my father’s first cousin, who gazed in wonder at the same building 57 years ago, but under dramatically different circumstances. Back then, he was a solider in the 1st US Army under General Courtney H. Hodges and he had crossed the Rhine in an assault boat — the first time that such a manoeuvre had been undertaken since Napoleon’s time.

In 1929, when he was 22 years old, Mick Upton left an Ireland devastated by its War of Independence and the ensuing Civil War for New York. He survived the Great Depression and enlisted in the US Army when the Second World War broke out. After seeing action in North Africa, he entered the European theatre of combat, where he remained until the end of hostilities.

After the war, he worked for the New York Mass Transit Authority, selling tokens from booths in various subway stations. Under different circumstances, he might have taken advantage of the GI Bill of Rights and acquired an education that would have led to a better job.

With his wife Mary, he returned to Ireland in 1969 and spent most of days until his untimely death in 1973 rip-roaring drunk. He had seen a lot, perhaps too much, in a life that was a remarkable tale of survival, often against enormous odds.

As I watched the candle flickering, I thought of Mick Upton, the Irish farm boy who escaped ruin only to find depression, who entered a war where his life was put on the line to save Germany from fascism and whose hard-earned tax dollars became part of the Marshall Plan that rebuilt the country.

Cologne Cathedral

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