Howard Gorrell, 74 and deaf, has gone to Italy five times to trace his father’s footsteps. His father, the late Paul Gorrell, received six battle stars during his time with 85th Infantry Division and 337th Infantry Regiment during World War II where he served with Gen. George Patton.
“My father served as the captain of Company D (Dog Company) and did the job of four officers because they were short of officers,” Howard said.
On May 9, with the assistance of his translator Carol Stevens, Gorrell held a PowerPoint tribute presentation to his father at the Rehoboth Beach VFW, hosted by the VFW Auxilary members. “The presentation is being held in appreciation of Military Month,” said Pat Collas, president of the Rehoboth Beach VFW Auxilary. “The presentation goes over his journey,” Stevens said.
Pat Sandy, a friend of Gorrell’s and VFW trustee, said, “Howard may be deaf, but he can do more than I can do. There is nothing he can’t do or hasn’t done.”
When asked why he wanted to go on these journeys and give a presentation on them, Gorrell said, “The history books on World War II are so general, so I decided to take a trip to see for myself. I always had to be careful discussing the idea with my dad because it’s a difficult topic. Dad never wanted to talk about it much.”
His first trip was a solo one in 2001. He then took a hiatus and did his second and third solo trips in 2015 and 2018. He went on guided trips in 2016 and 2019. “I received grant money and didn’t want to waste it, so I used it to get me to Italy,” Gorrell said.
“My father was born in West Virginia and grew up on a farm during the Great Depression before being drafted into the Army. My mom and dad went to church one morning and then he had to leave. He came back and my mom asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ he responded, “‘War.’” This was on the morning of Pearl Harbor.
Gorrell’s parents were married June 3, 1942, and Howard was born in September 1945. “I was 14 months old when my father first met me,” Howard said. “My mom didn’t tell him that I was deaf until we met. He spread the word around with his men.” During his journey, Gorrell visited many Italian war cemeteries. “They were beautiful,” he said, “simply beautiful.”
“I also visited a place where they sell memorabilia – boots, helmets, jackets. I bought my dad a map; I didn’t think he’d want any of those other things,” Howard said. “My father never went on the trips with me; he didn’t want to go back.”
During his journey, Gorrell came in contact with Angel Findley, the great-granddaughter of Lt. Gen. Von Graffen, commander of the German 76th Panzer Corps. She is writing a memoir and is going to meet with Gorrell next year to exchange stories.
In 2006, during Gorrell’s hiatus from his trips, his mother passed away. Six years later, in 2012, his father passed away, too. “I was fortunate enough to visit the World War II Memorial with my father in 2009. He was a proud father and grandfather,” Gorrell said.
The term Deaf has a different meaning when capitalized – it is a reference to being a member of the Deaf Community, of which Gorrell is a member.