Digging Into My Roots
January 18, 2020 marks the 74th anniversary of my Grandpa Rodney Senske officially separating from the United States Army. Therefore, I felt it only appropriate to dedicate my next blog to him and to honor his service to our country as a young man.
Rodney’s birth name was James Rodney Senske, and he was born April 7th, 1920 in Watts Flats, New York to Stanley and May (Hodges) Senske. He was the oldest of four children, with siblings Richard (d. 1927), Joan (d. 2014), and Wayne (d. 2005) following after him. When Rodney was 18-years-old, his father passed away, therefore leaving him to be the “man of the house”. He grew up tough, and fiercely protective of his family. There is a story I remember hearing that after their dad passed away, his little brother was having a difficult time with one particular teacher at school. So, Rodney took it in his own hands to handle the situation. He went down to the school, went to the teacher’s classroom, picked the teacher up, and put him in the garbage can. Needless to say, his little brother didn’t have any further “problems.
It was only a few years after his 1939 high school graduation from Chautauqua Lake High School that he was inducted into the United States Army to go off and fight in the Second World War in the European Theatre Operation. According to his discharge paperwork, he was inducted August 11, 1942 in Buffalo, N.Y., and entered into active service 14 days later, at the young age of 22.
Rodney was an infantryman within the 175th Infantry Regiment. He left the United States for the “ETO” (European Theatre Operation) on September 15th, 1944 and arrived September 22nd, nearly two years after his initial enlistment. His particular regiment had been involved in many historic wars and battles since it was organized in 1774 in Maryland, eventually getting their start during the Revolutionary War as well as being present at the Appomattox Courthouse when the Confederates surrendered to the Union.
(Side note: The U.S. Army Center of Military History provides very detailed information on most infantry lineages and honors, for those wanting to learn about others (https://history.army.mil/html/forcestruc/lineages/branches/inf/0175in.htm).)
While enlisted, Rodney fought in the following battles and campaigns as part of the 175th Infantry:
My grandpa’s specific military occupational specialty was that of a Medium Tank Crewman (2736). Based on my research of what that job would have entailed, this is the general gist of we could imagine he was responsible for doing:
“As member of crew of a medium tank or medium tank-mounted assault gun used in the attack of enemy positions, performs one or more of the following duties: Drives the vehicle to secure maximum fire effect without undue exposure to enemy fire.
Considering that by the time Rodney earned his Purple Heart in March of 1945 he was a Corporal, and left the Army as a Sergeant, I’d take a guess that he had a supervisory role. But research has told me that often everyone was cross trained to do all areas of a Tank Crew, and were put in the places they were best at. I could also see him being a gunner because according to his discharge paperwork, he earned Expert Marksmanship on the 45 caliber Submachine Gun. He was all around an impressive infantryman.
Speaking of Rodney earning his Purple Heart, I have been trying to narrow down where he could have received his wounds, since no one seems to know. All we have is a newspaper article that makes vague references to it; but using the timeline of the campaigns he served in, my bets on him earning it during the Rhineland Campaign since he was specifically wounded on 4 March 1945. How or why he was wounded is still a mystery (for now, anyway).
By the end of his service in 1946, Rodney had earned not only the Purple Heart medal, but also the American Service Medal, EAME (European–African–Middle Eastern Campaign Medal) Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. Some of the medals sound self-explanatory, so I think I’ll elaborate on the Good Conduct Medal and how soldiers are selected to receive one. It is awarded for exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal military service. It is awarded on a selective basis to each Soldier who distinguishes himself or herself from among his or her fellow Soldiers by their exemplary conduct, efficiency, and fidelity throughout a specified period of continuous enlisted active Federal military service. Sounds easy, right? Except that the soldier cannot have had any non-judicial punishments, court-martials, or other offenses. This behavior must be for three consecutive years. If a member of the military has such an infraction on their record, the three-year timeline for good behavior restarts. The fact that my grandpa received this medal during his 4 years of military service speaks to his quality of being an upstanding soldier considering that soldiers could get NJPs for simply not even showing up on time some place.
As a disclaimer, I never had the opportunity to know my grandfather because he had died nearly nine months before I was born. I don’t know if that is the reason that I became so intrigued and interested in military history, particularly World War II, but I know I certainly would have had so many questions for him growing up if he had been around. However, over the years, I have been able to glean some understanding about what he experienced between studying the specific battles he fought in, as well as learning about his particular regiment (the 175th). We are lucky enough to have a few stories that have passed down through family, but like most veterans, Rodney did not speak about his time in the war very much, and understandably so.
I am also lucky in that I was given his Purple Heart, one of the only medals of his that still exists since he returned home from war. I have it proudly on display in my apartment next to the small bible that was given to him from the Blockville Watts Flats Methodist Church before he deployed.
I am very proud of who my grandfather was and for all he had done when he served. I was told he was apart of the liberation of some of the concentration camps, and the proof we have of this are his original photographs he took during his service. Photographs which are much too graphic for this blog. (Note: if anyone would care to see some of these photographs, I will be happy to share them privately, so as to avoid upsetting anyone on this page). The only photo I am willing to share from the liberation he was present for is above. A prisoner standing next to a U.S. medic. The end of a catastrophic genocide that many of us can relate to personally in some form. Mine is the form of my grandfather being witness to the atrocity, and coming home to tell family that they could smell the camps 30 miles away. May we never forget. Thank you, Grandpa Rodney, for all you did.