Purple Heart – Private First Class Mel Pitt

Mel Pitt

Disclaimer: I try to tell you his stories by my memory, so don’t quote me.
All photos copyrighted dehk © 2011

Me and Mel talking outside the garage.

Mel is an older guy that lives up the road from me for years, but I never met him until last year he came down to my house and looking for someone to plow his driveway in the winter. Eventually I also cut the grass at his house and fixing the roof. I never really talk to him that much, it’s the usual “how are you doing today” at the most. That all ends until one day he asked me to come up and help him move some stuff around since he’s trying to sell the house and move.

“Do you see that frying pan there?”

Carol his caretaker just had surgery she cannot move heavy stuff around, so i went up there, changed couple light bulbs for him, and he instructed me to move some totes out from the closet to the sun room.  Between the two rooms, is the dining room. There is a little display case hanging on the wall with different medals. Inside the case, there is a paper saying

” To all who shall….. This is To certify that the president of the united states of america has awarded the Purple heart, Established by …   To Private First Class Mel Pitt United States Army, for Wounds received in Action  France  August 1944″

It’s really hard to notice it when you walk by.

I didn’t really want to stop and look at it, I felt like it was really none of my business. So what I did was, every time i move a tote outta there, I will continue reading the papers and look at the medals. I was really amazed by all the medals and ribbons, but i kept my mouth shut, until later that night when we were making small talks outside the garage. At first we were talking about trains, he used to have a train room in his garage with model trains, but he packed them all up by then. Then I try to test the water by saying, “hey I noticed you have a purple heart hanging on the wall from WWII, man you don’t see something like that everyday.” His replied was “Yes” “And now, about that train….”  . I figured he might not want to talk about it, So I never really tried to ask since then.

The stars are not at the right spot, yes you got it.

Little do i know, I ended up going up there almost once every one of two weeks, sometimes more often. He started to tell me stories about his life. I am not here to tell you his whole life story, but here are some interesting except. He was born in Chicago, IL in 1924.

Story of learning how to weld,
He worked on a pipeline for his uncle in the summer while he’s in school, and that’s where to learned how to weld. He told me basically he’s cleaning up behind the welders at that job. And at lunch time he will practice welding instead of going to eat. One day one of the welders asked him If he really want to know how to weld, he ended up teaching him how during lunch time. He got so good that he’s trying to get a welding job in a factory later on. When he went for the interview, the guy said to Mel “So you think you’re a welder huh”. Mel replied “Well your ad said you wanted a welder and I can weld” . “Alright Smart ass go weld that bracket up there by the ceiling” Mel went on a welded the bracket up on the wall, and then he start hanging onto the bracket with his hand , and said “How long you want me to hang up here for” the guy replied “Yes you got the job you smart ass”.

“Mel point at it and act like you are telling me a story”

The Purple Heart Medal.
“Damn German dropped a bomb right above my head and it blew one of my ear out, this side it’s completely empty, it got no guts in there” And later on he explained to me how he got frost bite on his feet up to his ankles also.

“How many shots are you taking you know models get paid a lot of money each shot”

My favorite story.
Here’s my favorite story, is about him almost getting court marshaled. He got a flat tire on his jeep in a convoy. His sergeant let another guy stayed with Mel but its going to take an hour to get another tire back. Well, where he got a flat, is right next to a German Brewery. Right, what are the odds. Mel said that place is very beautiful, and it got a little pound in the middle and you can drive around it and stuff. Well while they are waiting for the tire, Mel and the other guy decided to go into the brewery. He went into a barn like building and some guy was sweeping the floor, he asked where he can get some schnapps and the guy led him upstairs. Upstairs there sits a man behind a table. Mel said “Schnapps”, the guy said “Nein”. It went back and forth for the same question and answers about 3 times. Right at this moment while he’s telling the story, he looked at me with a smile, and asked me “You know what a Thomson sub-machine gun is?” I said yeah. And He said, “Right when the guy said Nein the third time, I went bang bang bang bang…. (he was doing the motion of shooting a circle around) . So yes, he shot in a half circle around the guy behind the desk. After that, he guy pressed a button on his desk. And it reveals all kinds of imported top shelf liquor and barrels of different booze including the schnapps. They proceed to load up the jeep with the flat with schnapps, and when the other jeep comes, of coz, they loaded up some more. Now by this time, every body else is pretty drunk. Mel told me he wasn’t that drunk. He said the other guy who drove the other jeep was really drunk, he decided to drive through the pound and stuff. Now of cause, when they got back, the colonel was really mad that he got everybody drunk, almost got court marshaled for it but didn’t. And than later he added, well the guy behind the desk could have turned me in to, i am lucky that he didn’t.

Happier than a 10 yr old with a cap gun.

   Working for the bank.
When he got back from the army he started buying and fixing repossessed cars. He bought, fixed up, and sold 36 cars in 30 days the bank decided to hire him and head that department.

Snowmobiling in the Upper Peninsula.
He lived in Marquette for about 10 years. He told me that in the winter time, you can ride snowmobiles everywhere, you didn’t have to stay on trails or whatever like down here. We used to go to parties in snowmobiles. Girls can be all dressed up and put a snowmobile jump suit over you and when you get to the party you just take it off and still look fabulous. One time when me and my wife left one of the party, we started going over some big drifts, it was fun for a while, until i noticed there was no one on the backseat anymore. He turned around and found his wife sitting on a snow bank pouting, she said “I was wondering when you gonna notice that your backseat is empty and turn around”

Backing up his workers.
I don’t remember every details of this story so don’t quote me. But it goes something like this. One day the bank is looking for someone to plow snow, and a guy showed up ( i can’t remember his name, so, i will just call him, the guy ). He told Mel he would like a job but there is something he should know before Mel hires him. He said that he is easily get over emotional(somewhere along that line, or angry) when someone yells at him or giving him shit, ever since the Korean War. Come to find out that he is the only survivor from his company. Mel said Ok as long as you do your job if someone gives you trouble you come talk to me. And he told other workers too if they ever have trouble with The Guy, go talk to Mel first. Eventually they guy helps move stuff around the bank and all that too. One time Mel asked him to move some furniture around in a branch to give it a new look. The next day one of the worker goes into the bank and wonder why the furniture looks different and wonder who moved it around. The worker found out it’s “The guy” that moved it around and started going off on him like crazy. “The guy” actually kept his cool and went to tell Mel. Mel fired the other worker because it was non of his business anyways since “The guy” has higher order, and whatever the worker told the guy probably wasn’t good anyways.

One day “the guy” showed up in Mel’s office and showed Mel a letter. The letter is from the army, saying something about his pension and it needs to be reviewed in Washington DC. Mel called up the bank’s lawyer in the room, and said to the lawyer, how about you two take a week paid vacation and takes a trip to Washington DC. The lawyer happened to be an army guy too, and they showed up in to Washington DC in full military uniform. Now as far as he told me the lawyer guy was actually quite high a rank in the army. Now when they showed up in the room, the people who review the pension were just some lower rank guys, or as he will say it”kids”. The lawyer said to them, “i believe you said you have a problem with his pensions?” The guys behind the bench seeing he is a senior officer and said “No No I don’t think there is any problem with this case”  The lawyer said “are you sure, because I don’t want to come back here in a year”  Guys behind the bench “No his case looks good, there won’t be any problems in the future.”

  Helping someone out at Christmas time
It was almost christmas eve, there is a guy who walked in the bank. He sat down and Mel asked “How can I help You”. The other guy said “Well I need a loan, but well, I probably shouldn’t be here anyways, I don’t even know if I still have a job” and he proceed to get up and walk away. Mel said “Come on back, have a sit and lets talk, you’re here anyways”. Turns out the guy works in a factory where all the people were on strike, he got no pay check for that month so he didn’t have money to buy food and gifts for christmas. All he wanted to borrow is a hundred bucks. Mel’s secretary came back with his credit report. Mel looked at it and the guy actually has a very good credit report. So Mel said to him, “Ok, I will loan you the $100, and you have so and so month to pay it back, but If you have a problem where you can’t make the payment, you come and talk to me”. After the guy left he told his secretary if the guy ended up having trouble paying it back, instead of sending him the notices, just send them to me and I’ll pay for it. I asked Mel, so how did that turned out. He said, He paid it all off in a fairly short time and I never saw him again after that day.

Now, why are we shooting the pistol?
Well, i was moving stuff around the garage for him and I went on a smoke break just outside. He came out and ask me, hey do you see that frying pan over there. I was like “Over where?” He pointed towards the tree. There is a frying pan hanging on the branches 200ft away. I asked Mel Yeah why? He said “You think you can shoot that frying pan from here?” My replied was, “Huh With What?! Pistol? Rifle?”  He said “I’ll be right back” and bought out the pistol.  Right, he can hit that pan more than I do, We both still sucks at 200ft, but hes a better shot than me.

Right there he said “Here’s to you kid”

  Hey Mel what do you think about the Luger?
I was wondering if he , well, that’s a dumb question if he shot a luger, more so what he think about the luger. He said They are good guns, I had one of them, but i sold it on the way back home on the boat. He said “You know we are not really supposed to bring guns on the boat and back home, but the times were different then” “I remember before i board the boat the MP standing by the ramp saw the Colt 45 on my hip and said to me That no guns allowed on the boat, surrender your weapon” Mel looked at him and said “There was a German solider told me that once too, I didn’t do it then and why would I do it now” MP:”NEXT!”

  Mel is definitely an interesting guy, After a while i finally asked him if i can photograph him, and he said “It’d be an honor”, and I am very glad I have the chance to. Ok, This is getting very long, I think I am done for now, until next time.


Right, Last thing, Mel’s first car was a Model A with a Rumble Seat.

And By the way He likes his Kodak East Share better than My Rolleiflex T or Mamiya 645 that I used that day. (The flex kicks ass over the 645) HP5, And Tri X. in Xtol 1+1 Rotary

Taking days before him moving, I went retrieved the frying Pan.
Argus C3 Sandmar 35mm f4.5 Neopan 400 dehktol.

© 2011

6 thoughts on “Purple Heart – Private First Class Mel Pitt

  1. Cool photos and stories! Loved them. Since you don’t post that often, it was a chance to look back. I like the way this old timer looks at the world. The WWII must have been a life changer… But the world was working differently anyway. If he is still there, just say Hi and thanks for sharing to him, from around the globe.

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