Reading Eagle, Pa., Living History column
Jan 12, 2013 (Reading Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Mark Seaman was raised on a small dairy farm in Centre Township with seven siblings and has had a lot of firsts in his life.
And the 92-year-old has the photographs to prove it.
In one photo, Seaman, a corporal technician, is driving the first American armored car at the Arc de Triomphe during the World War II liberation of Paris in 1944.
In another, he is among the first American soldiers about to shake hands with the Russians in Germany at the Elbe River in 1945.
In still another, he is in a landing craft with comrades waiting to come ashore on D-Day, part of the mechanized 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron.
"We were an independent unit always sent ahead of the infantry lines to do reconnaissance work," said Seaman of Tilden Township, who earned five bronze stars and an Invasion Arrowhead medal. "I was the driver with a radioman, gunner and a lieutenant.
"Honestly, we had trouble with our own people firing on us when we came back from being out in the front. I was glad I was in the armored car and not in the jeeps that accompanied us because a lot of those guys ended up wounded."
After the war, Seaman rarely talked about his service years.
While one of Seaman's lieutenants had a nervous breakdown and was replaced by another leader, all of his armored crew survived the war.
Seaman said it amounted to luck.
"My dad is a hero," said Ronald Seaman, 61, of Shartlesville, the cavalryman's youngest son.
Ronald Seaman's sister-in-law, Jill Seaman, 60, of Dauphin, Dauphin County, and one of Mark's grandsons, Adrian, 39, of Kutztown gathered in Seaman's home, where an enlarged map of the European campaign route was displayed on the kitchen table.
The map and an accompanying written history of the squadron tells the story of a 334-day European campaign that began on the shores of Normandy in France and ultimately led to the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes Campaign to the Allied movement across the Rhine and into Germany and on to the Elbe.
Seaman, who learned to drive a Model T on the farm at the age of 10, estimated he served 324 days on the front lines as an armored car driver.
He drove across Europe amid bullets and bombs and plane strafings and minefields.
After his war years, he spent about 30 years as an operations manager for a fuel-oil delivery company.
Photographed in 1942 on his wedding day in cavalry riding boots and breeches, Seaman wound up caring for his beloved wife, Esther, in their home. She died last year after suffering for eight years with Alzheimer's disease. He has two grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
"Dad has had hip issues, but when we tried to get him a card for handicapped parking, he told us, 'Give it to someone else who needs it,' " Jill said.
People remember that kind of guy. A granddaughter of the Belgian family who sheltered Seaman for several weeks during the war went to some lengths recently to contact him after her parents died.
They have corresponded. She praised him as the soldier who released her country from oppression, and called him a great man.
Seaman is humbled.
But he still just believes he was one lucky soldier.
Living History profiles Berks County residents whose lives have intersected with historical events large and small. If you have a story to tell, submit your idea to Living History, in care of Bruce R. Posten, P.O. Box 582, Reading PA 19603; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or phone 610-371-5059.
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