I am delighted that you were able to “rescue” the book, read it seriously, and that is was useful in learning about the service of your husband’s great-grandfather. Herewith, I will try to answer your questions as best I can in light of the passing of time and gradually failing memory.
No, I have never believed that his “walking away like that” was out of cowardliness or anything similar to that. Actually it was not all that unusual except for the fact that he was an NCO and that it was a little longer. Often, after a confusing offensive action, some men would turn up late claiming to have been “lost.” Well, maybe so, maybe not. Usually nothing happened if their story seemed reasonable. My belief has always been that Wm. Via had a kind of mental breakdown and turned himself in to the MPs as soon as he realized it. Captain Carpenter, I think, felt the same way. It is notable that he did not court martial him and subject him to prison and a dishonorable discharge. I had a conversation with Len Carpenter about this case and others while researching the book. When it came to Via, he simply said that he never considered court martial and thought that it would have served no useful purpose.
As to personality, there is no question that Wm. Via was quite different from the typical NCO among what we ASTPers called the “old guys” in the company. Many thought him odd and standoffish. In a sense I guess he actually was. But a military unit, particularly under those circumstances, bore little resemblance to real life elsewhere. So, I just can find no basis to approach an answer to the question as to whether he was less distant in real life. But why not?
As to getting the stripes back, I do have a take on that. He was a platoon leader with the rank of T/Sgt. (the highest ranking NCO in a rifle company except for the 1st. Sgt.) when he was down graded to Pvt. On April 29, 1945 he was reappointed only to S/Sgt., a significantly lower rank. George Prewitt had a rather unique personality of his own. He could talk tough and be tough but he was also passionate and understanding. He was also a pretty good judge of character and most of all, as it applies to this case, he was smart. By April 29 the war was virtually over. Thus, there was no risk of push back from what Prewitt regarded, with some distain, as the “higher ups.” Ole George knew Wm. Via well having served with him as a fellow NCO. So, from his point of view, he “could do the right thing” and give back a good portion of his rank. I really don’t think it had anything to do with performance, ambition or anything else. Via, like the rest of us, was simply trying to do the best he could and survive. Ole George made the right call on this and many other unique problems. As noted in the book, he may have had only a little formal education but he was a Phi Beta Kappa when it came to soldiering.
I do hope you find these rambling observations useful. Great hearing from you and please let me know if there is anything further.
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This board is dedicated to the memory of CAPTAIN LEONARD REED CARPENTER, Company Commander, November 19, 1944 - March 27, 1945.
BOARD HOST: Allan W. Howerton (E-mail: Allanhowerton@aol.com)