An Old Soldier Wraps Up

Probably the neatest volunteer group in the history of the world was doing its thing in Lincoln, Neb., recently. At a ceremony at the V.A. Hospital, they gave a gorgeous quilt, sewn with love by volunteers, to one of those amazing and fast-disappearing World War II veterans.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation sent two representatives to wrap the quilt around Clarence Osborn, 97, making him cry with gratitude, realizing that there are still people in this country who know how important it is to show appreciation and love to the military veterans who went to war for us. Four other veterans were similarly honored that day.

Osborn’s daughter, Viola Caddell of Milford, Neb., said, “It overwhelmed Dad that people still cared. He says all the time, ‘I’m a has-been,’ and ‘I don’t know why I’ve lived so long when so many other people haven’t.’ And I tell him, ‘Dad, you will never see all the reasons you survived, here on earth. But you can be a role model to the generations that follow you, that at any age, people can still contribute to society.”

Osborn won the Silver Star, Bronze Star with cluster, two Purple Hearts, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign, Army of Occupation-Germany, WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal and American Campaign.

What a life he has led: Osborn was born in a covered wagon on a Native American reservation in Martin, S.D. His family was on the way to a new home in Hat Creek, Wyo. They later moved to Staplehurst, Neb., where Osborn’s father farmed and herded to support his family of 10 children.

As a youth, during the Depression, Osborn worked at the CCC camp outside of Denton, Neb. He sent $25 a month home to his family and kept $5. He enlisted in the Army during WWII and was assigned to the European theater. Mrs. Caddell said he cherishes his “spearhead map” that outlines the path his outfit took toward the battle that captured the first city in Germany as the Allies began to win the war.

His family and friends cherish his many war stories, as well. One day, Osborn’s group was retreating from heavy fire, but he heard a groan. It was an officer, badly wounded. He picked up the officer and kept running, carried him to safety, and that officer lived.

She said he still bears emotional wounds from the war, despite being 70 years removed from the fighting. A brother was killed, and many friends.

“My father still feels the loss of his buddies after all these years. Guys were getting killed right and left, and he kept going. Being the longest survivor of the group, he was promoted up through the ranks. Then he would have to assign people to go into dangerous situations with him. He tried to take the lead, because it was the most dangerous spot. He thought it was the right thing to do. One time, another guy insisted that he take the lead – and he got killed. Dad can still name the names of the guys he knew who got killed.”

One thing that was very worthwhile about his military service was meeting his wife, Betty, in England. They married in 1950.

After the war, leaving the Army as a staff sergeant, Osborn worked at a dairy farm in Oregon. He took so many shifts to make money that he learned to lay his head against the cow’s warm belly while milking, take a little nap . . . “and his hands would keep going,” she said.

His main career was back in Lincoln with Cushman, the vehicle manufacturing company, in the plant and later in the mailroom. Ever a hard worker, he would hunt all night outside Lincoln, skin raccoons or other critters, and take the furs to Ashland to sell, then hurry to his job at Cushman’s.

His son, Johnny Osborn, now a Colorado resident, inherited the work ethic and the military service. He followed in his father’s footsteps for a 30-year Navy career.

Upon the older Osborn’s retirement in 1965, he took up running as a hobby. He ran more than 30 marathons and other events all over the country, his daughter said. He also did a wide variety of volunteer work, and enjoyed it immensely, she said.

Now he enjoys riding all over his neighborhood on a three-wheel bike, collecting cans, and taking them home to smash and turn in.

Mrs. Caddell stressed that her father is representative of the contributions of millions of Americans from the WWII era, and not trying to gain fame or glory at this late date.

But she adds, “He is just overwhelmed about that quilt, and the fact that those ladies put all that time and love into it, and gave it to him. The symbolism is powerful. We are just as grateful to them, as we are to the veterans they are honoring with these quilts.”

Yes. Daughter and dad both know it. So do the quilt ladies. America and her veterans are sewn together tightly, and keep us all safe and warm, like a well-made quilt. It feels right and good to honor them, every chance we get.

Through the generations, with thanks to those who’ve gone before, united we stand.

By Susan Darst Williams • • © 2019