WW II soldier cradled dying German in his arms

Our Greatest Generation provided us with so many individuals whose heroic efforts saved lives, which in turn saved our way of life....

Charles F. Bartley, July 28, 1922 - Sept. 10, 2009, had lived in Bellingham for over 25 years. Chuck and his wife, Madeline, lived out on Marine Drive.

You may have run into Chuck at the marina during one of his daily walks. You may have seen him dropping off bundles of The Echo at stores everywhere in northwest Whatcom County. If you did, I hope you had a chance to chat with him. Chuck had a way of making you feel as you knew each other for years.

To me, my father was bigger than life. It wasn't until I was in my mid 20s that my Dad shared any memories of his battles in WW II and the Korean War. Other than the events that earned him many decorations, his time in battle wasn't discussed with us kids well into our adult years.

He shared that his most haunting memories were not the two different times he was shot, the second time being sprayed with shrapnel as they were being rescued from a POW encampment; not the horrors of the Battle of the Bulge and the D-Day invasion where dead young soldiers floated by.

It was a day of fighting, and out of nowhere jumps into the foxhole this German soldier! Eyes as wide as golf balls, the young soldier landed on Master Sgt. Bartley's bayonet.

In his helmet there was a picture of the German soldier's wife and two kids. My father reached for it and held it with the soldier in his arms, and prayed the "Our Father" and "Glory Be" as the young soldier died. Bartley, himself, was only 26.

My father, bigger than life to me, shared a moment so intense from his past. The photo had haunted him for years, but it has left an impression on me of what this man was all about. ... All the horrors and death of war, and this young German soldier being erased from his family's life, left an impact of silence upon this battle-worn, tough Irish American Catholic.

From a very young age I was aware that he was not an average soldier in the Army. He had many medals (decorations). For years he had all his memories, unimaginable memories, medals, etc., all stored in this trunk out in the den.

Every now and then I would sneak around the corner of the entry to the den, to find him looking in the trunk. He would show me all his memories in that trunk. He wouldn't talk about any stories related to the items; he would tell me what they were and what they were defined by.

Charles F. Bartley, senior master sergeant, U.S. Army, was a recipient of the Soldier's Medal for heroism; he had saved an officer's life while under fire. He also received two Purple Hearts; the Bronze Star for valor.

These were a few of the many decorations that the late, local Bellingham resident received. At the time of his death, on Sept. 10, 2009, Mr. Bartley was one of fewer than 2,000 soldiers left in the United States who were part of the Normandy D-Day invasion.

To Madeline and Chuck's seven kids and 20-plus grandkids and great-grandkids, he was our hero ... to all of the Bellingham residents, a real American Hero who lived among you has come and gone, but surely will be remembered as another great one from the Greatest Generation.

Thank you, Dad. ...Thank you, soldier.