I grew up knowing Pop Steele. He wasn't my dad, my grandfather, or any other relation. When I was small he was just Pop. All I knew when I was young, was that he came to our house almost every summer; that he was an old bachelor, that he was a wheat farmer in Kansas, and that he was a great and funny man who usually wore overalls and favored a straw hat. It wasn't until much later that I came to know how Pop figured in with my family as well as the many other families of the I Company, 310th Infantry in World War II. Here's Pop's story: Most of this has been related by my dad and through other tributes to "Pop" after he died. Pop's real name was Eldo Steele, Pop became his name because that was what he was, just like a dad to his men, most of who were at least 10 years younger than he was, many away from home for the first time, going to a war they knew nothing about, and needing a father figure desperately.
Pop answered his country's call to duty at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. on September 13, 1942. When he reported to Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Ark., he was 35 years old, certainly more "seasoned" than most of the recruits. He took this war very seriously. He knew the only chance you had in war was to do it right the first time, and he was determined that he and his men would do it right. He was often referred to as "the strongest and toughest piece of steel in the 78th Division," that was a very high compliment coming from another brave comrade in arms. The enemy Germans also developed a healthy respect for the 78th Division. They called them the Blitz, because of the lightening patch they wore on their shoulders.
My dad first met Pop in March of 1943 when he had just been assigned to Durham, N.C. Dad got the "iron handshake" when he arrived and met Pop and Pop welcomed him to the 4th Platoon Company I, 310th Infantry. That first meeting was the start of a great friendship that lasted all throughout the war, and until his death a few years ago.
Soon the company moved onto Germany. Pop was a sergeant, and a good one. He was the kind of leader that when he said to get ready to move out, no one argued. The Colonel conferred with Pop before many of the battles, as he seemed to have that sense of when and what was happening and had all the men's respect.
By October 1944, the big push was on to end the war. Every able bodied soldier was being sent overseas for Eisenhower's plan to crush Germany once and for all. They lived in foxholes for two months. The foxhole life came to an end at the Battle of the Bulge in the densely forested Andennes Mountains. After the Battle of the Bulge, the next target was Germany itself, meaning his company had to cross the Rhine River in February. The Rhine was the symbol of German resolve. No invading forces had crossed the Rhine since Napoleon did it in 1805, but the Allied Forces did. All of them received Presidential Citations for crossing the Rhine, and the Ruhr Pocket, a battle in 1945 that resulted in 300,000 German troops being taken prisoner and marking the end of organized resistance on Nazi Germany's western front. The Unit Citation read in part: "The exemplary courage, aggressive spirit, and devotion to duty shown by the members of the Third Battalion, 310th Infantry Regiment in attaining difficult and important objectives against determined resistance during this period are in accordance with the highest traditions of the military service." Signed by Joseph A. Nichols, Colonel. General Staff Corps, Chief of Staff.
Recently as my dad was moving, he came across some remembrances of Pop Steele. He told me that Pop had always lived life to the fullest, fought for liberty, and would have died for it. He never dwelled on sadness, but tightened up his grip on life and moved on because, "It had to be done." When he died, a bunch of his comrades made the trip to Kansas for his funeral, and had a bronze plaque made commemorating his life. This was Pop Steele.