Friday, August 23, 2013


                                             D-DAY SURVIVOR


The first hint that Reuben was a "Tough Hombre" was seen in his role as a  survivor from the sinking USS Susan B. Anthony, the day after D- Day, on June 7th, 1944,  during World War II.  The ship on which he rode to the shores of Omaha Beach near Normandy, France,  the USS Susan B. Anthony, won world recognition for having no fatalities when it sank close to the beach.  All 2,689 survived. In fact The Guinness Book of Records documented it as breaking all kinds of records, since it had the largest number rescued without loss of life.  Reuben was one who escaped the burning ship and went ashore with no weapons. He was a Tough Hombre. Reuben was also a member of the 90th Division in World War II and moreover it was properly nicknamed, the Division of Tough Hombres.

"T O" was the original name given to the 90th division because it was made up of men from Texas
and Oklahoma. During World War I they had many dangerous missions and consequently many losses. During World War II the reputation of bravery followed the 90th Division and so much so, the famous General George Patton nick named them "Tough Hombres."

After my father, Reuben Koether, arrived on Omaha Beach, he survived long enough to move inland, but I don't know where he went exactly or how long he remained in France. I don't think it was long. Eventually, he was hit by schrapnel that punctured one lung and shattered it. And later, was sent to England to a  hospital that was set up for the injuries of the June 6th D - Day and the battles that followed. He told us the story about his being triaged and left at the end of a hall in an old British hospital to be treated after the less serious were first treated. He said he waited for days and days before they finally operated on him. The main provisions given to the injured were GI cigarettes. They depressed their appetites and their state of boredom. At last, Reuben was operated on and most of his damaged right lung was removed. After convalescing for months in the hospital, he was then sent home to the United States with one lung in tact and only a piece of the other.  He was a Tough Hombre.

                                       D-DAY HOSPITAL, THE NETLEY HOSPITAL

The old British hospital, the Netley, was declared a military hospital during World War II. It provided care for the patients connected with the D-Day operations. It has an interesting history, but was not a positive memory for Reuben. However, he persevered because he was a Tough Hombre.

Reuben returned to his home after his long convalescence in the old British hospital. He returned to his work as a civil engineer and was city manager in Yoakum, Texas for 24 years. During that period of time he developed a city park with a swimming pool, golf course, and eventually an airport on the north side of the city, all for his love of Yoakum.

When Reuben was in his 60's he retired to his surveying full time and died in 1980 from lung cancer. It was probably connected with many years of smoking. The smoking of the cigarettes were what he had been taught to exist on while doing his duty in the army.  And the shattered other lung , as a result of war injuries, was no use to him.  For several years before his death while living with cancer, Reuben kept working in the south Texas heat, surveying and working cattle on his family ranch.  During this time he also applied for 100% VA disability from his military injuries because he had always felt that he deserved more than the VA gave him, which was only partial disability, rather than 100% disability. However, he was never able to convince the Veterans Administration that he was entitled to more disability because of his war experience. The VA always  answered that his present health problem with cancer was "not connected" to his war time injury because it was his other lung that had been ripped apart in France, not his cancerous lung.  In Reuben's heart, he knew it was related to his injury so he applied over and over and each time was rejected.

While dying in the hospital in Victoria, Texas, an attending doctor injected a medication into a hole that they had drilled in his back. When he asked the nurse what they had administered in the hole, she told him it was mustard gas. Of all the years I had known him, I never saw him so upset. He immediately associated the mustard gas with what he knew about the two world wars. And of course it was terrifying to him. He asked, "Why?" I told him I would find out. That evening I called the doctor at his residence and asked him. He answered, "Don't worry about it. I'm the doctor and I'm in charge." Needless to say, this made me very angry. I had seen enough of Phil Donahue shows which were similar to the later Oprah Winfrey shows that appeared years later on TV. They were famous for exposing the idea that doctors were not gods. And that patients had rights. Reuben seemed to give up after that experience and died about a week later. He had been tough, but the cancer won the final battle.

I promised my mother that I would try to help her receive the VA benefits that were rejected. I asked for the paper on which I needed to write a summary on why Reuben's World War II injury and his present cancer were service related. I had learned to write summaries and abstracts at UT. So, I proceeded to write in as few words as I could in the small amount of space provided. I simply stated that had Reuben not lost his one lung while serving his country in the war, he more than likely would have been able to depend upon that lung to serve him when cancer took away the other lung. We had his home doctor sign it and alas it finally was approved. I know that PaPa Reuben was happy and smiled down from Heaven when that occurred.  

Reuben was indeed a  Tough Hombre and I'm glad his government finally recognized his valor in defending his country with the only two lungs he had.