By Eric Larson
This Independence Day, my wife’s grandfather, Ed Pollock, turned 96. A sharper mind you’d be hard-pressed to find. An accountant by trade, Ed can remember the amount he paid for electricity any month going back practically to when electricity came to the rural North Carolina tobacco farm he grew up on. The fact he can remember such intricate details comes in handy when you sit him down in front of a camera to talk about the war.
Ed is a veteran of World War II, a war that doesn’t have many veterans remaining. (Of the more than 16 million who served, about 1.5 million remain. About 850 WWII veterans die every day.) From January 6, 1943, through the end of the war, Ed was stationed at a number of air bases in England. The base that produced the most stories was a B-17 field called AF-110, located near the village of Oundle.
That’s where Ed Pollock got to know the English people for the first time. Their way of talking was a little different, using words like “crumpet” for biscuit, and pronouncing lieutenant like “left-tenant.” Already at war for years when the Americans arrived, the English people were by then rationing all food items. “We arrived in England ahead of our food. For a while all we had to eat was powered eggs, powered milk, and cereal,” Ed recalled.
As someone who handed paychecks to the soldiers, Ed was more popular than most. He made a friend in one Lt. Clark Gable when he safeguarded some traveler’s checks for the well-known actor. (See a short video of Ed relating some of his conversations with Clark Gable.)
Ed Pollock didn’t see combat; he doesn’t have any medals to his name. He’s just one of millions of veterans who have supported our country’s overseas’ missions. Fact is, the Second World War was a dire time no matter where you were or what your mode of service. Many Southern country boys like Ed died while crossing the ocean, victims of German submarine attacks. Ed recalls his own small ship, the Empress of Scotland (its name changed from the Empress of Japan, for obvious reasons) traveling unescorted and literally zigzagging across the Atlantic to make it more difficult for enemy subs to torpedo.
In mid-1944, Ed was returning from temporary leave in London when he was met on the train by several MPs demanding to see his identification. As he looked around, he realized that he was one of very few American soldiers out and about. When he arrived at the base, he knew something big was afoot. Planes took off and returned all night, only to be reloaded and refueled and sent out again.
It was June 3, and the bombers were attempting to pave the way for D-Day, the largest sea landing in human history.
Ed’s service was not without a price. Right after the war, while he was briefly stationed in North Dakota, Ed’s father died back in North Carolina during gall bladder surgery. Most likely, had he not been in the service, Ed would have been present for his father’s illness prior to the surgery and been able to spend time with him during his final days. That’s time you can’t get back.
Thank you, Ed Pollock, for your sacrifice — and your stories. You are the star of our family.