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Everybody’s Port: May 24, 2013

An Unlikely Warrior

He is just an average-looking guy—average height and weight, wears glasses and there’s a touch of pigeon-toe in his walk. There’s nothing special about him, right? Wrong.

His name is Richard Coyle. Dick was born in Chicago, but grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His father ran a branch of the family business, the Atlantic Gas Company; Dick’s mother, like many wives and mothers in middle-class America in the ‘30s and ‘40s, multitasked at home without the benefit of today’s labor-saving inventions.

They were strict with Dick and his younger brother, Harry, but nonetheless solid, loving parents. Says Dick, “Yes, I had good parents, but I knew not to fool around, ya know.” His good manners and strong sense of propriety travel with him wherever he goes.

Three months after his high school graduation in 1943, Dick received an invitation that was a game changer. It was from the President of the United States and read, “Greeting: Having submitted yourself to a Local Board of your neighbors, etc.” At 18, Richard Coyle was about to become one of Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.”

All too soon, Dick found himself a member of C Company in an infantry division at Camp Crofton, South Carolina. “Crofton was known as a Replacement Center, so there wasn’t any doubt where we were going,” Dick remembers.

During his 17-week basic training, Dick’s captain gave him a once-over and said, “You look like BAR man.” Straight-arrow Coyle admitted he was an expert. “It’s yours,” said the captain and handed him the 20-pound Browning Automatic Rifle. “And I had to carry that heavy son-of-a-[BLEEP] everywhere,” Dick said.

Basic completed, after a 10-day pass, Dick reported to Fort Meade, Maryland, a port of embarkation (POE). From Meade, Dick boarded a troopship in the Port of Baltimore, crossed the Atlantic Ocean and debarked at a US base in Warminster, England. But he wasn’t there long.

Three days after D-Day, the Landing Ship, Tank (LST) carrying Dick’s company, got them close enough to wade the short distance to Utah Beach. “There were barrage balloons overhead and you could hear the artillery in the distance,” Dick said. Fortunately, he survived the landing. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for Infantryman Coyle.

Fast-forward to the Battle of the Bulge and beyond. It was April 12. On a bank of the Elbe River, Dick’s squad spotted a house in the distance. It was either deserted or crawling with snipers. The captain ordered the company to stay put while he and a couple other infantrymen reconnoitered. Suddenly, bullets were whizzing by everywhere. Dick remembers that all of a sudden his left arm flew up in the air, as though it had a mind of its own. “I’m hit,” Dick yelled, almost in disbelief! “I was bleeding like crazy,” Dick recalled. The captain told him to lie down on the ground and help would come.

The corpsmen spotted Dick on the ground, his left shoulder area covered with blood. They lifted him onto a stretcher and made a beeline for the field hospital. The bullet had entered the front of the shoulder area and exited behind it without touching his heart, an artery or any vital organs. The Army doctor treating him said, “You ought to go to church every day and twice on Sundays.”

About three months later, Staff Sargent Coyle was sent to Indiantown Gap, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to be discharged. He remembers that vividly. “Two men in charge were sitting at a table with an American flag almost covering it,” Dick said. “One guy said, ‘Let’s salute the flag one more time!’ Then they convinced me to serve five years in the Army reserves in exchange for retaining my present rank and pay scale. It sounded like a good deal to me, so I agreed.”

Turns out, it was anything but a good deal—as  Dick Coyle would discover too late.

See ya’ next week.