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Carrying a father’s dying words

Steve Charles—Mike McCoy ’91 felt honored when World War II veteran Hobert Winebrenner trusted him to co-write the memoir of the 82-year-old’s experiences with the 90th Infantry Division at Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge, and the final Allied push into Nazi Germany.

"Hobert spoke of his desire to leave something behind for his children, grandchildren, and those yet to come—not so much about him, but about the men he served with: ‘the finest men in the world,’ as he often called them," McCoy writes in the introduction to Bootprints: An Infantryman’s Walk Through World War II. "How different would my life be had men like Hobert refused to stand up and fight? The very least I could do was to bring another of their stories to light."

"So began our two years of kitchen table summits, sorting through Hobert’s war step by step, bullet by bullet," McCoy recalls. "Hour upon hour I listened while Hobert laughed, cried, and prayed."

The resulting book captures "the little things that occur in battle that make all the difference" writes Military History Online’s Brian Williams. "Nothing can replace actual eyewitness accounts, and Winebrenner [and McCoy] bring the reader back in time to a place many vets will not easily go, By doing so, they ensure that the memory and sacrifice of those Winebrenner served and fought with are not forgotten."

But McCoy went a step further.

In tracking down one of Winebrenner’s Army buddies, the writer was able to bring a dying father’s words to a most grateful son.

John Marsh was Winebrenner’s Captain during the Normandy invasion. On the morning of July 10, 1944, Marsh received a letter from his wife announcing the birth of their first and only son. Later that day as he was leading his command team in the savage battle at Foret de Mont Castre, Marsh was hit with shrapnel from a German mortar round. Before he died, he whispered memorable final words to his wounded First Sergeant Paul Inman in a tone that Inman recalled as "defiant glory."

After the war, Inman searched for Marsh’s widow and son, hoping to deliver his Captain’s message, but he was unable to locate them. When Inman died in 2000, his sons continued their father’s mission.

While researching Bootprints in 2004, Mike McCoy located Marsh’s son, who had just been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer. McCoy arranged a phone call between Marsh and the Inmans and an ailing son finally heard his father’s words:

"They may get me, but they won’t get my boy."

"It was like hearing words from beyond, reaching out for me," Marsh told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

"Finally, his father is coming alive for him," Marsh’s wife, Susan, said.

Mike McCoy won’t get famous or wealthy off this self-published book. Bootprints is the only title on McCoy’s Camp Comamajo Press’s list, and the company runs out of a Post Office Box in his hometown of Albion, Indiana. Mike simply hoped to make a payment on "debt we can’t repay, for a selfless sacrifice that won freedom for me."

But as one who also has the honor of listening to others and telling their stories, I can’t imagine a deeper reward than what Mike felt when John Marsh, Jr. heard his father’s words for the first time.

Beautiful work, Mike.

Photo above right: Captain John Marsh, Sr., 1942.

Find out more about Bootprints at http://www.militaryhistoryonline.com/review/bootprints.aspx

Read more about the John Marsh story at The Billings Gazette