“In your silence.. We still know”
by Cate Murway
“I have had a wonderful life in this country, and I want to thank you sincerely for what you did to preserve our way of life in this country." Dr. Sam Bierstock
PFC Joseph Martin Haak, Sr. BHS, then Bristol Township H.S. [now Delhaas] class of 1944 shared that he was “Not a good dancer, 2 left feet; just a good marcher as a soldier.”
Currently a Grundy Towers resident, Joe recalls the 32nd President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served 4 terms from1933–1945, a President for much of his young life.
He remembers conditions of the great depression, the dramatic, worldwide economic downturn beginning as early as 1928. His widowed mother was affected by economic conditions that were beyond her control and she cleaned offices for a living; and often times, cleaned the homes of the Doctors on Radcliffe Street.
His mother was the Philadelphia born Catherine [Carrigan] who also worked “pasting labels on medicine bottles”, who married an automobile painter, George Keyes when Joe was only five years old. His father had died before he was even born. He is the youngest of the three children born to the Haak couple, with a sister, Regina McCarthy who worked for the PA RR since graduating from High School and his late sister, Dorothy Geiger, who was a Fairless Hills resident.
While in High School, Joe was a machine press operator in the Manhatten Soap Company, stamping the die to make “Sweetheart” soap, the streamlined pink oval bar with the filigree border. He also worked at the Grundy Mills as a pinsetter, replacing the damaged pins in the combing machine. Wool combing was an important step in the manufacture of worsted yarns, reducing the formation of noil [short fiber removed during the combing of a textile fiber]. He made $15.00 a week. He shared a memory, “Senator Grundy’s car broke down in front of our home and the chauffeur asked to use our phone and my mom let Senator Grundy come in to make a call and she made him a cup of tea.”
At the end of his junior year at Delhaas, Joe enlisted in the Army Reserve and then he was drafted in August 1943. His first stop was Fort [George Gordon] Meade, MD [first known as Camp Annapolis Junction], the basic training post. He was given his uniform and the new recruits received instruction to provide a mission ready workforce to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.
His travel had just begun! He was sent to an Army training camp, Camp Gruber Military Reservation, OK [named after Brigadier General Edmund L. Gruber, the composer of "The Caisson Song."] that closed at the end of WWII and then reopened in 1977 for reserve and active unit training. He trained with the “Rainbow 42nd Division” before going overseas and returning to Fort Mead.
Since the beginning of man's awareness, a rainbow spanning the horizons has been a mystical symbol displayed in the heavens to signal the passing of yet another storm and the birth of new hope for mankind. Twice in this century, the Rainbow Division has signaled to millions of people the end of tyranny and oppression and the beginning of new hope for a better world. These companies were used to defend against and attack and counterattack powerful German forces along a furious battlefront.
Before long, he was on his way to Camp Myles Standish, outside of Boston, MA. He was then shipped out to a temporary Army base in Liverpool, England on 6-6-44 on the Wakefield ship, that in civilian life was a pleasure cruiser, the “Manhattan”, converted to a Naval transport ship. He recalls, after singing the “Star Spangled Banner”, he and the troops courteously remained at attention and remained saluting for the British National Anthem, “God Save the King” for King George VI at that time. England’s fields were “khakied”, jammed with American men, planes and weapons.
He invested 2.5 years of his life in the service and traveled in 5 countries, including England and the invasion area in Utah beach [the codename for one of the Allied landing beaches during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France along the English channel]. Joe fought in Normandy minor skirmishes and also in Belgium and was hospitalized in France in the 40th General Hospital for a month and a half after an artillery shell pummeled through a house in which they were sheltered. It went into the ground and detonated. He was shell-shocked after that ordeal long after his uniform was hung up in the back of the closet. Joe was one of the surviving 35 of the normal strength of 189 men. A soldier had gone limp and died in his arms and he still has nightmares about this.
He was reclassified “unfit for further combat duty” and was briefed very strongly in March 1945 in the 726th Military Police Battalion. His job then was to look out for high- ranking German officials leaving to go to neutral Spain or Switzerland.
PFC Joe was on the small, sixty-acre Mogmog Island when Germany surrendered. He was there at approximately 8:15 a.m on August 6, 1945, when the U.S. used its massive, atomic weapon, an American B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay, and Hiroshima, the major port and a military headquarters and Nagasaki, disappeared under a thick, churning foam of flames and smoke and the Japanese surrendered.
"You never boasted, bragged or asked for adulation for your past. You did the job you knew was right and quietly you cry at night."
It was time to return home.
His entire battalion boarded on trains and moved to Marseilles, France and then boarded ship to pass the Straits of Gibraltar, cross the Atlantic Ocean into the Caribbean and travel through the Panama Canal. It was interesting, he thought, passing through the locks and into a large artificial lake, Gatun Lake, a key structure of the Panama Canal.
He celebrated the New Year on the USS Savo Island escort aircraft carrier and they landed in Seattle, WA early in 1946. President Truman wanted to get everyone home as soon as possible! He remembers buying a box of the first filled candy bar “Milky Ways” when he returned. Their last stop was at Fort Lewis, WA [named after Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition] a separation center that discharged its first soldiers in November of 1945. He boarded a train to Indiantown Gap Military Reservation (IGMR) in Lebanon County, PA and then set out for Bristol Borough.
Immediately, he went out looking for work and secured a position in the Madsen Machine Company, with an apprenticeship to be a machinist under the G.I. Bill. His next employment was at the Tangent Tool Company in Morrisville to learn to be a custom specifically designed tool maker, engineering extreme precision and high performance tools and he completed his on-the-job training and apprenticeship. He still carries his tools with himself! “I’m a bug on tools. I’m a tool maker. This is a 30 degree carbide cutter. It’s in my blood.”
Joe even squeezed in shop math courses at the current location of the BCTHS and then continued his employment until his retirement, at the Ingersoll-Rand Company in Princeton in the research center.
He and his late wife, Joanne Marie [Hafele], NA ’50 met through friends and they resided in Oaktree Hollow in Levittown. Joanne worked at 3M for a short time before they had their 5 children: Lockheed- Martin computer programmer, Joseph Martin, Jr.[Jay], BE ‘70/WCU/U. of PA; Texas resident, Charles Francis [Charlie], Delhaas ‘72 who is an electrician; Denise Marie, Delhaas ’74; Joanne Margarite, Delhaas ’76; and Wyoming resident Barbara Ann, Delhaas ’78. He enjoys spending time with his 9 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren whenever possible.
“Quietly you’ve all turned grey. You did your job and saved our way.”
Joe returned to Bristol two years ago and is living in the Grundy Towers. He was familiar with the Grundy Towers since his mother had resided there [he has the very same apartment!] and he appreciates living with people and friends his own age. He would visit with his mom at least once a week and she would make him a delicious dinner and ice cream pie for dessert. Joe claims, “I’m a horrible cook. I eat out 2 or 3 times a week.”
In the pleasant weather, he sits outside the Grundy Towers with his male chums [and the ladies!] and loves to reminisce about his salad days in the small Borough town.
Joe is proud of his “mixed up education and everything in his lifetime!”
“Bristol has always been a great town!”
Joe would go on dates to the beautiful Grand Theatre. As a child, he always admired the great big dome light in the ceiling and he remembrs thinking that it was big enough for a truck to drive around on it!
One of the biggest changes he can see is the wharf area behind the BRT. “It was a horrible mess and the Lions Club made it the beautiful park it is today.”
He used to “hang out” on Mill Street with “the boys” and he recalls “hundreds of people” shopping in the local shops. After WWII, he would drive around in his $750.00 1940 black Nash that he purchased from the Green & Lawrence dealership “chasing the girls”.
His next vehicle was a 1942 tan Chevrolet Club coupe that he purchased for $1027 from Reedman Motors.
His fond memories include “trying the violin, riding his bike [a lot!], and catching catfish and sunfish in the Delaware”. He remembers wearing knickers, “tight at the bottom”, and thought he was “king of the world in 1940 when he got his first pair of long pants.”
Now, he smiles, “I do what I want to do. I’m 83!”
[lyrics from “Before You Go” by Dr. Sam and pianist John Melnick]
To recommend a Bristol Borough Senior to be spotlighted:
Joseph M. Haak
Bucks County Courier Times
Joseph M. Haak Sr. of Bristol died Monday, Feb. 1, 2010, at St. Mary's Medical Center. He was 84.
He was a proud U.S. Army veteran of World War II, having served in both the European and Pacific Theatres.
Joseph was a tool and die maker, retiring from Ingersoll-Rand Corp.
After retirement, he enjoyed engraving plaques, trophies, nameplates, etc. He also enjoyed spending time with his friends at the park and wharf by the Delaware River in Bristol.
Joe was a daily communicant at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church.
He was a member of Morell- Smith Post 440, A.L.
He is survived by his five children, Joseph M. (Mary) of Moorestown, N.J., Charles M. of Hallsville, Texas, Denise M. (Kevin) of Croydon, Joanne Haak of Croydon, and Barbara A. (Harry) Riener of Summerset, S.D.; a sister, Reginia M. McCarthy of Bensalem; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Relatives and friends are invited to his viewing from 9 to 10 a.m. Monday at Tomlinson Funeral Home, 2207 Bristol Pike, Bensalem, followed by a funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at Immaculate Conception Church, Levittown. Rite of Committal will be in Washington Crossing National Cemetery, Newtown.
In lieu of flowers, Mass cards would be appreciated by the family. Tomlinson Funeral Home, Bensalem
February 5, 2010 3:27 AM