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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Like father, like son

Saturday, November 29, 2003

World War II veteran John Mace and his son, Vietnam veteran Michael Mace, hold a copy of the book in which they are featured, "Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam" by Michael Takiff. They are two of only 20 pairs of American veterans whose personal experiences are detailed by Takiff.

About three years ago, a fellow Vietnam veteran and friend of Michael Mace called him to pass along some information that he knew would be of particular interest to Michael and his father, John Mace, a World War II veteran.

The friend had acquired the name and telephone number of a writer in New York from an advertisement. The writer, Michael Takiff, was looking for fathers and sons who are veterans of World War II and Vietnam, respectively, who were willing to share their personal stories. He planned to sort through all the responses and choose the most unusual or interesting ones to compile in a book.

Although he was aware that there are probably quite a few men who would fit Takiff's basic criteria, Michael thought he and John, both Brazil natives, had a good chance of making the final cut. The Maces' individual military backgrounds are strikingly similar in many ways, which is part of the reason that Michael contends, "My father and I are pretty unique."

Michael grew up on a farm, just as his father, John, had a generation before. Each of them were drafted to serve in the United States Army at age 19 and both soldiers wound up in the infantry. Usually, according to Michael, the casualty rate in the infantry is about 80 percent. Despite the odds, the Mace men survived their separate battles, even struggling through the midst of heavy combat to earn their own Combat Infantry Badges.

Neither man remained unscathed throughout his tenure. Both were injured in combat with a hostile force. Consequently, they each were awarded Purple Hearts. Then Michael followed in John's footsteps at least once more as he was sent back to the hospital.

This list of uncanny parallels in John and Michael's experiences may have been what made Takiff feel compelled to learn more about this particular father and son. For whatever reason, Takiff contacted Michael to set up an interview not long after his submission to the ad.

Michael was living in Savannah, Ga., at the time, where he has been for 5 1/2 years. He relocated there from the Brazil Great Dane and now is a material manager with 26 years of experience at the plant. He and his wife, Nancy Jones Mace, were already planning a trip to Brazil to celebrate their granddaughter's birthday in March 2001, so he gave Takiff directions to the North Harmony home of John and his wife, Leta Mace.

On March 29, ironically the anniversary of the day Michael had been badly injured during the war, he and John took turns being interviewed by Takiff, each spending about four or five hours with him.

Takiff first questioned the Maces about their personal relationship as father and son and what John had done, if anything, that made Michael feel as if he had a "duty to serve." They discussed details ranging from how they handled losing good friends during combat to how Michael in particular felt about how he and other American veterans were treated upon returning from the war.

He also gathered information on about 45-50 other father and son veterans. From those, he narrowed the field to 20 pairs, all of whom are featured in his book, "Brave Men, Gentle Heroes: American Fathers and Sons in World War II and Vietnam," which was finally released on Oct. 21. "It's taken three years," Michael says, "but it's been worth all of it."

Chapter 6, "We just lived in snow," focuses on John, a retired farmer who served in the United States Army from March 14, 1943, to Jan. 23, 1946. He was a member of the 75th Infantry. When he was drafted, there was no designation of how long he would have to serve. Soldiers at that time were only released if they were badly injured or killed or if the war ended.

John never talked a lot about his experiences in the military, which involved his being stationed in Belgium, France and Germany. His unit was first fired upon on Christmas day, 1944. He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium's Ardennes Forest.

Michael's "main motivation" in contacting Takiff in the beginning was to tell his father's story. However, he is also very proud of his own time in the service, Sept. 5, 1968, through Dec. 18, 1970. When he was drafted, it was under a two-year obligation called the EST or estimated time of separation. He had to stay 103 days past his own EST for "the convenience of the government."

In the chapter of Takiff's book entitled "Somebody had to walk point," Michael's story of serving in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade is told. He talks about being injured by a booby-trap grenade, which forced him to spend 22 months in the hospital. "Multiple shrapnel wounds from head to toe" made it necessary for him to have seven major operations between his 21st and 22nd birthdays.

Upon reading the tales, one must wonder how John and Michael survived through these most difficult times. Michael says that "one of the main things" that both he and John refer to in their chapters is how "our religious faith helped us sustain -- not just in the military, but also through life."

At the start of November, John celebrated his 80th birthday with Michael and his other children, Becky Mace-Jacob and John David Mace. He and Leta had one other son, Larry Earl Mace, who was killed in a tractor accident in 1964.

Michael and Nancy have three children, Matthew Mace of Brazil, Meghann Jeffries of Evansville and Daniel Packard of Noblesville and two grandchildren, Michaela Allen and Van Mace.

On Dec. 6, John S. Mace will be signing books at Sunshine Bible and Gifts.

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