Calvin Summers thought he was going on a routine trip to Washington recently with a busload of fellow World War II veterans. About an hour before the bus arrived at the World War II Memorial, the 90-year-old Summers got the surprise of his life.
He was informed that Maj. Gen. Linda Singh, a high-ranking officer in the Maryland National Guard, would be on hand to greet him. What made it so surprising is that Singh, a two-star general who oversees Maryland’s Army and Air National Guards, is Summers’ grand niece.
Moreover, he hadn’t seen her since she was a child.
“She gave me a big hug,” recalls Summers, who lives in an apartment complex in northwest Reading. “She called me Uncle Calvin.”
Summers handed Singh a bouquet of flowers, and they revisited old times.
When she was a child, Summers said, he would see her on visits to family members in Maryland. He still goes there for Thanksgiving gatherings.
The Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project organized the reunion as part of an annual bus trip to the World War II Memorial. About 50 veterans attended.
The project’s mission is to document and preserve the personal experiences of veterans of all wars, as well as volunteers on the home front. The interviews are filed with the Library of Congress.
Steve Savage, historian, said project officials learned of Summers’ connection to Singh when they interviewed him last year. Over more than six months, officials worked to arrange the reunion.
Savage gave Summers a bouquet of flowers for Singh, the first African-American woman to be named adjutant of the Maryland National Guard.
“He sat there like a young kid waiting for his prom date,” Savage said. “He was a little nervous.”
Singh, who lives in Baltimore, arrived in Washington in a military van dressed in camouflage fatigues.
“It was like something you’d see on TV,” Savage said. “They were two people who cared for each other and hadn’t seen each other for a long time.”
Singh was generous with her time, Savage said, and posed for photographs with veterans at the World War II Memorial. She gave every veteran a challenge coin, a military practice of recognition dating to Roman times.
Summers recounted his wartime story, now on file in the Library of Congress.
He left Reading High School in 10th grade and got a job to help his family survive the lingering effects of the Great Depression.
In 1943, when he was 18, he was drafted into the Army.
Summers was assigned to drive a supply truck in the Army’s 423rd Engineer Dump Truck Company, an all-black unit attached to the 5th Army.
His wartime experience included tours of duty in North Africa, Italy and the Philippine Islands.
The 423rd supplied troops on the front with food, personnel and ammunition.
On one trip, Summers’ truck struck a land mine and he was blown out of the cab. He was one of two people in the five-truck convoy to survive.
“I woke up on a hospital,” he said. “Fortunately, my injuries were minor and I was back with my unit in a few days.”
After Germany surrendered in May 1945, Summers’ unit was reassigned to the Philippines.
He was in Luzon when atomic bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945. After Japan’s formal surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, Summers’ unit was sent to Tokyo.
One of his missions took him to Nagasaki, which lay in ruins. There were no people, only a blackened landscape with remnants of a few buildings left standing.
“It’s terrible to see what one bomb was capable of doing,” Summers said. “I’m just glad that it never happened in this country.”