Teens Interview Local Veterans



Published:

The next few pages contain a representation of the many men and women who were willing to sacrifice their lives to protect America’s freedom. Their bravery, determination and love for this country and the people who are it’s heart make them heroes to all who call this nation home.

Most of the stories were written by teenagers who interviewed the veterans for the County Line and gained a whole new perspective on just exactly what World War II was all about. Being about 65 years apart in age it’s understandable a language barrier may have influenced the stories and we apologize if there are errors. The main thing is the teens were extremely enthusiastic about their interviews with the veterans and we think they did a great job of portraying the heart of their stories.

More veterans stories may be read on a website created by Fruitvale High School students—www.fruitvaleisd.net/WWII/WWIIvets.html— and videotaped interviews are available at the Van Zandt County Library of Genealogy and Local History.

In Tom Brokaw’s book, The Greatest Generation, he tells the stories of a few WWII veterans that he knows. In his foreword he writes about the courage and modesty of all those who served:

“At a time in their lives when their days and nights should have been filled with innocent adventure, love, and the lessons of the workaday world, they were fighting in the most primitive conditions possible across the bloodied landscape of France, Belgium, Italy, Austria, and the Coral Islands of the Pacific. They answered the call to save the world from the two most powerful and ruthless military machines ever assembled, instruments of conquest in the hands of fascist maniacs. They faced great odds and a late start, but they did not protest. They succeeded on every front. They won the war; they saved the world. They came home to joyous and short-lived celebrations and immediately began the task of rebuilding their lives and the world they wanted. They married in record numbers and gave birth to another distinctive generation, the Baby Boomers. A grateful nation made it possible for more of them to attend college than any society had ever educated, anywhere. They gave the world new science, literature, art, industry, and economic strength unparalleled in the long curve of history. As they now reach the twilight of their adventurous and productive lives, they remain, for the most part, exceptionally modest. They have so many stories to tell, stories that in many cases they have never told before, because in a deep sense they didn’t think that what they were doing was that special, because everyone else was doing it too.”

Here are a few stories of  our local heroes of World War II.  We’re so grateful they are here to tell them.

John Read

John Read is a familiar face around Edgewood.  Unknown by many people though, are the facts of his amazing past.  John, like many of the young men of his time, was drafted for World War II.  The experiences that he had during this war were extremely painful ones.

John was quickly drafted in 1941.  His ordeal began with the short trip to the draft board in Wills Point.  He was then sent, by train, to Dallas to be sworn in and quickly transported to Fort Sill in Oklahoma to receive necessary shots.  After a three to four day stay he was called to Fort Knox, Kentucky, to get about three months  training to learn his assigned task of tank operator.  He finished his training in Fort Polk, Louisiana, before he was transported to Angel Island, California.  At this point he had no idea where he would be sent to serve his country.  He soon boarded a boat and was on his way to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.  Here began what were certainly the hardest years of John Read’s life.

John recalls being on the grounds of Clark Air Base when the Japanese forces began bombing the air field only one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  He stated that he saw the first bomb drop from one of the 54 Japanese bombers and had to watch it land a short distance away from where he stood.  He quickly dodged into the only cover that he could find, a shallow ditch that was being dug for a water pipeline.  John and his fellow soldiers managed to hold off the Japanese forces for four months, but they were finally forced to surrender.

The American servicemen were then required by the Japanese to march the infamous 88 mile “death march.” John stated he was forced to march so much that he ended up wearing his socks out.  They went five days and nights with no food to eat.  John then became a prisoner of war at Cabatatuan for three and a half years during which time he was never able to sleep on a bed or even change clothes.  While he was a POW he was forced to work 150 acres of land with whatever tools he was given.  During the last eight months of World War II, Mr. Read was moved to a private steel mill in Japan where he was forced to work seven days a week with only one bowl of rice for food each day until the end of the war.

John stated that when the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Japan he quickly knew something had happened since he was not forced to work that day.  Shortly after this, he was transported by plane back to California.  Mr. Read spent six months in a San Antonio hospital.  He was admitted to that hospital weighing just 80 pounds.  He was finally released in June, 1946.  Out of the 150 men that began in his company, it is believed that only six returned.  For his sacrifices in World War II John received five Battle Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, a Prisoner of War Medal, a Bronze Star, and two Presidential Citations (one from the U. S. President and one from the Philippines President).

Today John lives in Edgewood with his wife, Sharon, to whom he has been married 53 years.  He says America is the finest country in the world. It is because of the sacrifices of the strong men and women of World War II that this is true.  It is because of these brave people that we are able to enjoy the freedom that we so often take for granted in America today.

— Bo Wingo

James F. Dempsey

The Second World War affected many people. Americans, Japanese, and many great nations.  However, perhaps those most effected by the war were the soldiers, engineers, nurses, and all others who were involved in fighting for their country.  These people know first-hand the rough realities and crucial decisions involved in the prelude to horror which we call “war.” To most people, World War II is something to read about in history books.  To the veterans who served in the war, it is so much more than that. The experience is never forgotten and is never taken lightly.  In fact, during our research to find a veteran for this project, many were reluctant and could not talk about the events they lived through in the war. James F. Dempsey was the man we found who was very excited about talking about the events he experienced in the war.

Buck Sergeant Dempsey entered the air force at age 21.  Like many other veterans, he began in basic training where he endured hours of calisthenics in extreme temperatures.  James describes this period as the most difficult part of his service in the war.  Even though he did not stay as long as anybody else in basic training because of the relatively short amount of time he had to train, Mr. Dempsey remembers the most memorable day of basic training as the day he left!

After leaving the basic training camps, he was sent to Scott Fields for extensive training in electronics and radio operations.  He was then transferred many times to many different locations for his training in communications to be complete. 

Finally, he was stationed in Australia for a year where, upon a very lucky coincidence, he picked up a transmission about the invasion of Europe.  The radios used at the time were not state of the art material and could only reach a mile and a half distance.  Every once in a while, though, a radio transmission could be picked up from a ship and for a little bit more distance than usual, voices and plans of attack could be heard from the ships. 

That is exactly what happened June 6, 1944, when James heard news of the European Invasion on the radio. Although he was not in any direct combat with the enemies, he did encounter many “nuisance raids” in which planes flew over the camp during the night causing much disturbance and sleeplessness to the soldiers.  Although the planes did not get close enough to do damage or have the intention to do so, the raids did succeed in annoying soldiers in the middle of the night, waking everyone every hour throughout the night. 

One such incident of these raids included a Japanese plane that flew under the American radar undetected and began to shoot off machine guns causing the soldiers to think an attack was taking place, but it was a pretense to cause sleepless nights on the camp.

The unmistakable sound was frightening to all soldiers at the time.  James was wounded in this battle, sort of.  At the terrifying sound of machine guns, he jumped out of bed ready to attack but instead was attacked by an unseen table sitting nearby.  James suffered a broken rib in the unforeseen attack by the dastardly, four-legged manifestation.

It is unmistakably clear there was a great deal of mistrust between Americans and Japanese.  There were actually some people who saw through the uniforms and the dogmatism to see the human that was within.  A story that seemed to be beloved by James was one of a time when he and some “war buddies” got a ride with Japanese citizens.  The citizens were so nice that soon he found himself in the home of the Japanese family and seated at a dining table eating a nice meal.  Although the sense of danger was unnecessary, James could not help but check his glass for possible poison.  The Japanese custom allowed the eldest to drink first, therefore relieving him of some tension.

Although the war held many painful memories that most would give anything to forget, for James the war held enlightening memories that prove much about humanity.  He learned much about the importance of life, liberty, and justice through his experiences. Although he did learn a lot about technology that proved to be important, he also learned life experiences that are often taken for granted; doing the best you can, trusting in God, and looking out for the ones you care about. 

His favorite part of his service was the time spent in Australia.  The seasons take some adjusting as they are opposite of American seasons, but he enjoyed being able to eat watermelon for his Christmas dessert.  He also reminds us that when in another country, be careful of your word choices, as they may be offending even if they are customary in America.

James F. Dempsey arrived home December 13, 1945.  Now he lives in Wills Point with his wife. He’s proud to be an American and being able to say “I served in the war and saved lives.” When one sees the different cultures of society within different countries around the world, one sees the rights they have in America.  Therefore, it is with James.  He has seen the possibilities that the youth holds in America, especially as they must come together in the present events.  Being a war veteran has given him insight into whether or not the events could lead to another world war. 

Mr. Dempsey started out as a poor country boy with a small town education, but managed to work his way up to a Buck Sergeant, which proves to him that America holds opportunities to grow and expand horizons.  He believes he had a wonderful experience altogether even though it had to come through such a horrible circumstance.  James certainly served a great debt to our country while in the war. Certainly, he deserves recognition in the eyes of today’s youth for his bravery and help in making our country a better place for us.

Amy Savannah Tucker & Melisa Kaye Arnold

Cliff H. Foss

When Cliff Foss went into the service during WWII he wanted to be an airplane mechanic but it didn’t quite work out that way.

“I wanted to go in as a airplane mechanic and they put me in the air force all right, but I ended up in gliders... no engines,” he remembers. “I was on the ground crew with the gliders.”

Cliff’s job was to keep the gliders flying.

“I was in a glider training base where they trained the glider pilots,” he recalls. “When anything went wrong with them we had to keep them fixed up so they could fly them.”

Sometimes the flaps didn’t work right or properly, he said, so steering would be difficult. And the struts that held the wheels would have to be repaired.

To get the gliders in the air they used a tow rope, Cliff said.

“The tow rope was made out of nylon,” he said.  “I got a piece of it at home that I got as a souvenir. One of the reasons why the ladies couldn’t get nylon hose during the war was because of the parachutes and these ropes. You could take a small strand of that rope and stretch it just like that. They were almost long as a football field. They’d hook up to the glider then hook up the plane. The plane would take off and be up in the air and go on a little ways before the glider would even move. Then it would pull it right along gently and just went up.”

The glider pilot controlled getting the rope to let go of the plane while in the air, Cliff said.

“He let it go when he figured it was high enough then the plane would fly to a designated area and release the rope and it would fall in the designated area and we would go and pick the ropes up,” he remembers.

The glider pilot’s job was to fly and land  in a designated area.

“The designated area was at the airport  on the grassy area if they didn’t have wheels but if they kept the wheels on them they landed on the runway,” Cliff said. “That’s how they practiced landing. Cause they had to do that right. You don’t get a second chance. Once you’re down you can’t make another shot at it.”

Cliff said there were some scary times with the gliders.

“We used to fly with them all the time as copilot  just to get extra pay for flying,” he said. “And it was kinda scary. You know those gliders are just made of fabric—just like an oil cloth or table cloth. Just fabric with wooden struts and once you’re being towed behind the plane it just vibrates terribly. Awful lot of noise. But once it lets you go you hear nothing but the wind noise. Oh its beautiful just like a bird flying around. Nothing but wind noise.”

Cliffsaid he never did make it overseas.

“I didn’t get into the service until 1943,” he said. “And was in there three years. By the time we were scheduled to go over to England with a group they didn’t need us over there. An order came that said if you’ve been in the service for 15 months you didn’t have to go overseas!”

Cliff said he was happy about that but he was ready to go if he needed to. Overall, he said his time in the service was a good experience.

—Ryan Tshirhart

Harold Staton 

Harold Staton was born in Elk City, Kansas, and went to high school in Florence.  On December 7, 1941, he was sitting in his senior English class when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor being bombed. 

After graduation, he was employed as a truck driver for the local airport.  Two or three months later, Harold knew he would eventually be drafted; therefore he went to the draft board and volunteered for the army.  

Harold went to basic training in Mineral Wells for 13 weeks.  After training, a recruiter for the paratroopers came and signed up anyone who was willing to become a paratrooper.  He and two of his friends from Kansas said they would go. 

Harold ended up going by himself because his friends backed out.  He trained for four weeks to become a paratrooper.  After basic paratrooper training, he had to complete seven jumps before he became an actual paratrooper.  If for any reason he didn’t complete a jump, then he would have to go back to the army. 

Harold succeeded in becoming a paratrooper and was stationed at Camp McCall in North Carolina. Throughout the day, they trained and prepared for the invasions, which they knew would eventually come. 

He was soon shipped to New York where he boarded a British ship that carried him and other paratroopers to England.  Here, they gained control of a castle for the officers.  The other men camped outside the castle and continued to train for the invasion for ten more months.  

When they left England, the paratroopers were shipped somewhere along the English channel.  On the third day, they boarded the airplanes at 9 a.m., but didn’t jump until 1 p.m. that afternoon. 

After the pilot realized that he was over France and the plane was not going to stay up in the air much longer, he signaled for the paratroopers to jump.  Harold landed in an orchard by himself, but found 19 of the 20 men that had jumped with him. 

This group was eventually captured as they were trying to wade across some water.   The Germans loaded Harold and the other soldiers onto boxcars and sent them to France. There, they became volunteers throughout the war.  Harold went to a hospital where they brought in the wounded Germans.

“There were many comical things that happened during the war that weren’t funny at the time, but are as I reflect back on them,” Harold says now.

In 1945, Harold was discharged and came back to America.  He said it was like heaven  compared to being in the German prison camps for eleven months.

After World War II, he signed  up and participated in the Korean War.  He became a high school coach after fighting for his country in two wars.  He coached in Edgewood for around 11 years, and is still living here today.  

—Karah Douglas

 

Garland White

Many brave men have fought in many battles and wars for our great country.  They have given us our freedom and way of life that we all enjoy today.  World War II was one such war.  Brave men died fighting for our freedom in this gruesome war.  Some were fortunate enough to return home.  Mr. Garland White was one such man.  He is a veteran of World War II.

Born and raised in Edgewood, Texas, Garland was at the young age of 22 when he was drafted into the services.  He served in the 4th armored division of the infantry.  He, along with his brother, enlisted in the services in Wills Point, Texas.  His preference was the Calvary, but he was placed in the army.  He was then sent to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and   he received his basic training at Fort Walters.  From there he went on to New York where he was placed in the infantry.

Garland’s main responsibility while he was in the service was taking care of a half-track truck.  A half-track, as he called it, was a tank with wheels on the front and tracks on the back.  Its purpose was transporting ammunition and men.  Mr. White liked driving his half-track truck. 

He said, “It’s better that carrying an M-16 rifle.”

During the course of the war he only lost one truck.  He had to abandon it because the enemy got too close.

Garland said that at the beginning of the war he was afraid, but as time went on, he got settled into his routine and was not afraid anymore.  He had many close calls and was “in many jams.”

Garland, referred to as “Whitey” by the other soldiers, was in many invasions including Normandy Beach.  He landed on Normandy Beach 17 days after the primary invasion.  His favorite sergeant, by the name of Fieldings, was killed at the Battle of the Bulge.

He traveled all over the world while he was in the services.  Garland’s travels included France, Germany, and Czechoslovakia.  He was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended.  He was then put on a freight car and shipped like cattle to France.  From there, he was put on a ship.  He said he was very proud and happy to return to Edgewood. After four long years, and never sustaining an injury, he was discharged.  After the war, he became a farmer.  For about three years after the war, he could not sleep, but he was finally able to put it out of his mind.  We all owe men like Mr. White and many countless others a debt of gratitude for making such a tremendous sacrifice for America and Americans.

            —Mandy Drake

 

Bob Reese Sr.

In interviewing World War II veteran, Bob Reese Sr., of Martins Mill, Texas, we learned more than the history books could ever teach us. The journey we took was one we will never  forget. We have known Mr. Reese four years but we never knew he was a war hero until this interview.

Robert A. “Bob” Reese, Sr. was born August 30, 1922, the oldest of three sons in their family. During his high-school years, he felt called to join the United States Army Air Corps. His parents, especially his mother, were very apprehensive about the decision.

In 1941 he graduated from a Philadelphia high school, and entered Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He was very active in athletics, and was part of lacrosse and tennis teams.

He says, “One of my best decisions was to join the R.O.T.C. The experience and training I received there was to be a value to me in the Air Corps.”

This was to be a great help to him during his military physical training.

On September 16, 1942, he was able to talk his parents into letting him apply to be an Aviation Cadet Appointment for the Army Air Corps. He was accepted, but was not called to active duty until January of 1943. “My initial experiences,” he says, “were far from enjoyable.” The train ride to his destination in Miami took 41 hours.

After training in Miami Beach,  he had additional training in numerous other locations including P-40 training. This advance training was to qualify him for being a pilot for the P-47 Thunderbolt. The P-47 Thunderbolt or “Jug” was one of the most advanced fighting aircraft of it’s time. Loaded with eight 50 caliber guns, four on each wing, and several bombs, it was a true weapon of destruction. Later, rockets were added, but due to the problem with aiming them, they were not highly favored.  One of the things that made the P-47 a superior fighter, was that it had an air-cooled engine, which made it much more difficult for ground troops to shoot it down than the P-51 Mustang, which was water-cooled. One bullet into the P-51 cooling system would take it down.

Bob was then transferred to the 495th Fighter Training Squadron 8th Air Force, near Shrewsberry, England for indoctrination. The training they endured was difficult, and many friends were killed from accidents.

On July 30, 1944, Bob was transferred to a combat group in France. He was assigned to the 10th Fighter Squadron, 50th Fighter Group at the landing strip A-10 near the town of Carentan, 8 miles from Utah Beach. The 101st Airborne had captured the city on the morning of June 12th, closing the gap between the Utah and Omaha Beaches on June 14th. When the area was secure, the engineers came in and built the A-10 landing strip, 2 miles from the town. The 50th moved from England, to A-10 on June 25 and eventually became part of the 9th Tactical Air Command.

Their mission was to support General Patton’s 3rd Army through France, and General Patch’s 7th Army into Germany. Close support included strafing, dive bombing, and destroying bridges and train or motor vehicle supply lines of the enemy.

As the troops moved forward, so did the bases. Mud and rain were always a threat to a moving troop. It was during one of these rains that Bob got his P-47 Thunderbolt stuck in the mud, and had to have a tractor pull it out. Another time, a wingman taxied into the back of his plane, causing much damage.

On one early mission, while strafing, he destroyed a German plane that was taking off from an enemy airfield.

On February 15, 1945 near Karlsruhe, Germany, he had his first contact with a squadron of German ME-109’s. The fight began, and Bob was able to destroy one ME-109 and severely damage another.

Then, eight days later, on February 23, 1945, on a critical mission to destroy an enemy bridge used for troops and supplies, he earned the top flying honor, the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC). In spite of his plane being badly hit by flak on the dive bombing run, Bob released his bombs accurately, scoring direct hits on the bridge.  His courage and determination in completing his accurate attack was instrumental in severely damaging the bridge.  The aerial skill displayed by this officer also resulted in the saving of a P-47.

1st Lieutenant Bob Reese Sr. flew his last mission on April 12, 1945. That marked his 109th mission. During his military service, his plane had been shot around 30-40 times. And, on his beloved P-47, the mechanics had to replace 17 wings, 3 tails, and 2 engines during his tour due mostly to enemy fire. His crew prayed for his safe return on every mission- truly a wing and a prayer.

After he returned to America, he was discharged and completed his education at the University of Pennsylvania.

On May 8th, 1948, Bob married Mary Jo Cleeland. They just recently celebrated their 53rd anniversary. They have three children, Andy, Dorie, Bob Jr., and a daughter-in-law, Connie. Bob Jr. and Connie have nine children.

Bob Jr.’s oldest daughter, Rebekah, will be carrying on the military tradition on June 3, 2002 by marrying Chris Bartley of Grand Saline, who will soon be graduating from the United States Air Force Academy.

                           — Richard and Joel Fisher

 

Arthur “Dee” Ferrell

While the news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor  was being spread about the world  in a high school auditorium was a certain Arthur Ferrell.  Also known as “Dee” by his close friends. Arthur Ferrell was born August 7, 1924. 

He and many of his friends were all ready to fight, not one disbelieved at all in what they were going to do.  None were old enough to be drafted, so they enlisted into various branches of the service. 

Dee chose to go into the Navy.

He figured, “I’d rather swim than walk.”

After going through the gauntlet, also known as boot camp, Dee began his training in electricity.  Afterwards, he ended up being an electrician on various ships, some with high standing, important names, others smaller, and just helping in the cause, but were nonetheless as important. 

One of the things he learned was that on board a ship, the electricity is flowing in a DC current, or in a direct current from the generator, rather than AC, like in houses.

Some may think that fighting in the actual war might be more valorous, noble, patriotic, or just more fun than being an electrician, but they were quite wrong. 

Dee had to work, but he could be with the ocean a lot, didn’t have to worry too much about dying (all though he was once at a harbor where Japanese airplanes were trying to bomb their ship), got to stay with many new friends he made, and most of all, got to see the world. 

Dee helped out with a lot of the convoy ships, vessels that carried troops to and from, wherever they might be needed, and in so doing, got to go where ever they went, and got to spend some time in various parts of the world.  Dee got to go to almost every major city and country in the world; New York, England, Africa, Italy, Crete, just to name a few.  He’s also been through the Panama Canal about 4 or 5 times in his life.

Not all of these voyages were joy rides, mind you; sometimes there were enemy submarines around them, and their ship would drop depth charges around them, to scare the subs off.  These depth charges were usually about 400 lbs, although some others were well over 600.  When dropped, a tremendous explosion would occur underwater, and would rattle and give quite a shaking to any dense objects nearby. 

As Dee put it, “When one of those things went off anywhere close to the surface, it made quite a show of water going every which way.”

As the war progressed, Dee never grew worried about the happenings of war, he thought all along that what they were doing was right, believed in the cause, and therefore, always knew that they’d win.

Back home, his girlfriend would have it easier than some; she knew at least that he’d be safer than most.  During the war, Dee would have time on the weekends sometimes to get a train into New York, and they’d spend time together in the city.  Their relationship stayed steadfast  and two years later they decided to get married. 

A year later, after three years in the service of the Navy, Dee got to get out.  Once he got back he decided it’d be best to go back and finish up high school.  He got his high school diploma, and once that was out of the way, he went for two years to Henderson County Junior College in Athens.  A bit later on in his life, they had their one and only son, Josh, and now, he has twin grandchildren. 

— Jake Thornberry and Kelly Teems

 

Samuel Ray Vines

Mr. Samuel Ray Vines of Edgewood, Texas, was recently interviewed by an Edgewood High School student, Adam Hensen, and his friend, Matt Hoard.   Mr. Vines spoke with these teenage boys regarding his time spent serving the United States in World War II.  Mr. Vines also shared with them some amazing stories and wonderful advice concerning the ascent of a young boy into a man.

Mr. Vines was almost 15 Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, 1941.  He was attending Edgewood High School.  He recalled his experiences of the day the President of the United States declared war on Japan.   Listening to the news on the radio with the rest of his peers, he knew that his enrollment into the military was imminent. 

Four years later, he pleaded with the government for six months to continue to help his family on their farm, north of Edgewood, before he was sent to the military. 

Finally these six months were over, and he prepared to leave for the military.  About a week before he left, his father passed away.  He left his mother and younger brother to enlist into the infantry where he trained in Mineral Wells, Texas, for almost four months. 

After his rudimentary training, he took two months training as a rifleman.  He was assigned to the island of Hawaii as the driver of a two and a half ton quartermaster cargo truck.  He carried everything from civilian personnel to ammunition to various caves and tunnels about the island. 

He soon came down with an incredibly high fever resulting from tonsillitis.  His tonsils were removed while most of the men he knew were sent out to various places throughout the Pacific Ocean.  He had to remain stationed in Hawaii.  He considered himself fortunate about staying away from the front lines.  He took this blessing as a gift from God.

One day he was driving a truck full of civilians when they all heard, via radio, the official surrender of the Japanese.  He explained how difficult it was to drive a truck full of thirty to forty euphoric people. 

Soon after, he was discharged and returned to his family on the farm. Nearly a year after his discharge, he was married to his present wife of 56 years.  Mr. Vines elucidated that even though he was only in the service for one year, he was proud to serve his country. 

Mr. Vines believes that all young men should enlist into the military for a few years in order to learn the essentials of being successful, such as learning to take orders.  He explained how military experience builds a boy into a man and how upon completion of service, a man becomes a productive member of society. 

Mr. Vines is happy about his experiences and through them has learned what the right path is and how to take it.  More importantly, however, he has learned to put God above all. These two teenaged boys were intrigued by Mr. Vines’ accounts of his service.  Their lives were forever changed due to Mr. Vines’ examples and words of encouragement.

—Adam Hensen

James Able

James Able was born May 8, 1921 to Lester and Beatrice Tennessee Able in Neon, Kentucky. After graduation from high school, Mr. Able played Minor League Baseball and, on June 13, 1941, he enlisted in the United States Army. Happy to serve his country, Mr. Able left for Fort Riley, Kansas for Basic Training.

Later, as a member of the 113th Cavalry Regiment, Jim Able was transferred to Camp Hood in Killeen, Texas, on December 15, 1942. Jim remained with this Regiment until July of 1943, when he volunteered for the Paratroopers. Basic jump training was given in Fort Benning, Georgia. This special training consisted of eight hours of calisthenics a day, six days each week. This eight hours included anywhere from thirty-five to 105 push-ups daily and, eventually, a 35-mile run. Mr. Able recalls his drill instructors were “good instructors” that prepared him adequately for his missions.

 On August 20, 1943, upon completion of jump school, Jim became a certified paratrooper. At this time, he was ranked Private 1st Class (PFC), which remained his rank throughout his service. He was sent first to Camp Mackall, North Carolina, but was transferred in December of 1943 to Camp Shanks, NY.  There, he boarded the U.S.S. James Parker, which sailed to Cromore, Ireland, where more training was completed.  The unit he was a part of was Paratrooper Unit 508, nicknamed the “Red Devils.”

Every day he would get up at 5 a.m. and shave, shower, dress, and brush his teeth in less than ten minutes.  Then came roll call, which was followed by training with rifles, machine guns, and even mortar rounds. 

As a paratrooper, he was responsible for knowing how to use many different weapons.  He was part of D-Day, the invasion of Normandy, France.  Training for the invasion began about two months before it was scheduled to happen. 

On June 6, 1944 Unit 508 boarded their planes in the wee hours of the morning.  Jim’s plane group jumped at 1:10 a.m. 

After landing he and his regiment were in fierce gorilla combat for five days.  During these five days his regiment knocked down command posts, communication towers, and other German positions. 

Combat was almost non-stop. These brave soldiers took machine gun fire and mortar shelling 24 hours a day.  On one raid of a command post the men had to crawl over a mile.  Jim saw one of his friends killed in combat.  Soon after a shell exploded near his ears and busted his eardrums.  He fought for 14 more days before he was sent to England to the hospital.

Approximately 100,000 paratroopers jumped and fought that day.  Out of the 22 people who jumped from his plane, only 3 survived that invasion.

Jim has received many medals for his achievements in WWII, which include: Distinguished Service Medal, American Defense Service Medal, WWII Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, the Presidential Unit Emblem, two Good Conduct Medals, and a Bronze Star Medal. 

While at Camp Bowie, Jim met his future wife.  They got married in October of 1944 and had 3 boys. Jim was honorably discharged on October 2, 1945. 

Coming home was a wonderful experience for him and he was unable to find words to express the happiness that it brought.  When we asked him what was good about returning home he replied, “Everything!”

But, he mentioned the food in particular.  He said it tasted so good, and that it was nice to be able to eat what he wanted when he wanted.  I guess that sometimes, it is the small things that make a person feel at home. 

On the darker side of his return home, he said that he had terrible nightmares of the war for 5 years after he returned.  He had them at least 2 times a week and as many as 5 a night.  The nightmares continued to haunt him until he began to talk about his experience with other people.  He said that when he finally started telling people his story, the nightmares got less and less frequent and then finally faded away completely. 

He took job training for printing, but later worked for the city government as the sanitation supervisor for 23 years. Then in 1976 he took a job as a building inspector, which he had for 16 years before retiring. His wife died a few years back and he remarried in 2001.  Today he believes that America is the greatest country in the world.  His contribution in WWII helped keep our country free and beautiful and he believes that his time spent in the military and at war was worth while and not wasted. He said he would not change a thing if he had it to do over again.

—Jayme White, Emily Whitton,
Rachelle Rodriguez, and Austin Elliott

 

Myrt Baker

Myrt Baker was a veteran of the United States WWII Navy forces.  Before being drafted and sent to boot camp in California in 1945, he was a promising football player at his hometown and loved the sport very much. 

After going through rigorous training in camp, he was assigned to the Navy to serve on the Naval fleet in the Pacific. 

Myrt remembers being on his ship when they discovered they were being followed by a Japanese submarine.  The captain ordered the crew to take a zigzag course in order to elude the submarine. 

Nobody on the ship knew that the USS Cleveland was also on the Pacific and was carrying components of the first atomic bomb.  Only a few people in the nation’s capital had any idea that this ship was on the water.  The Japanese succeeded in sinking this ship, but up until the last four or five years nobody had come out and said anything about the ship being anywhere in the area. 

By the time Myrt’s ship finally arrived at their destination the war was declared over. His ship passed the USS Missouri, the ship the treaty with Japan was signed on, and they gave the Missouri a 21-gun salute. 

When they landed in Okinawa, their job was to clean-up the area.  They were not allowed to carry weapons of any kind including knives or guns.  He had the job of watching all the Japanese guns and deciding what to do with them.  He did not enjoy this duty, as a matter of fact, he did everything in his power to give them away. 

Upon leaving the bay, the US fleet met a typhoon that sunk over 100 of the Naval ships.  Myrt lost his best friend in the storm. He was with him only a few minutes before he was swept overboard.  Come to find out, he was found on the anchor of a sister ship. 

Upon arrival to the states, Myrt spent a night in Hollywood. A party was given at a cafe and he danced with many of the Hollywood sweethearts of his day. 

He went home, finished high school, and he went on to play football at Texas Tech University.  To conclude, Myrt thanked the Lord for his life, and told of how much he matured during his time in the US Navy.

—L.J. Cleaver & Brandon Frosch

 

Bernard Roberson

World War II Veteran Bernard Roberson has had experiences that many may never experience.  In 1938, at the age of 18, Bernard Roberson enlisted into boot camp.  Then he and ten others volunteered for submarine services. 

Bernard went to boot camp in San Diego, California.  He enlisted into boot camp early.  The recommended six months of conditioning was only six weeks for a lucky man.  He recalls the hardest part of boot camp to be the physical part, and the toughest was the swimming.  They had to swim in a pool until they couldn’t swim anymore and sank.  When they did sink someone would pull them up out of the water.  He also said they were training to build muscle and endurance.  He spent a total of two rough years in boot camp.  He said it very clearly that he did not want to go through it again. 

He said, “There was nothing easy about boot camp.” 

After boot camp he enlisted in submarine services, where he served for eight years.  During his submarine training, he was aboard the Dolphin, a sub from World War I.  Bernard stated that half the subs that were in World War II were from World War I. 

After his training was over, he was placed in Submarine Squadron Four.  His job was to handle all of the electrical work.  He said this job came easy to him because he made very good grades in physics. 

He had his work cut out for him.  The whole sub worked mainly on electricity.  The submarine had several batteries and also ran on diesel fuel.  They had to recharge the batteries and refuel at night.  He was responsible for recharging the batteries.  The submarine used the diesel and batteries very quickly unless they crept along at a very slow pace. 

While recharging and refueling, they were  vulnerable to attacks and being blown out of the water.  Another hazard was when the sub was under the water, the air supply was rapidly used.  Because of this, they would get very weak and winded.  They could not even light a match because the oxygen supply was so scarce.

The attack of Pearl Harbor sent the U.S. into a panic.  Bernard was only an island away, under water, during this attack.  He was inside the Dolphin doing maneuvering exercises.  The next day ships were still blazing with fire.  They tried to put out the fires, but they would spring back to life as soon as they thought they were out. 

“After the attacks on Pearl Harbor the security was very tight,” Bernard said . 

The ships went one way and the subs went the other inside the series of canals for safety precautions. 

In the crew’s leisure time, they fished for sharks, which gave Bernard a thrill.  They caught some monstrous sharks. They wore out the pages of any books or magazines that would find their hands.  Bernard was also a domino player.  He said that he made a decent living playing dominos while he was aboard the sub.  

After his service was over, he experienced many occupations.  He was in the postal service for two years, he made cabinets, he worked on air conditioners, he farmed, and also worked on tractor motors.

Mr. Roberson was a valuable man in World War II.  He kept the many subs he was on running and never quitting.  He is a man who lived through a memorable time in history.

 —Blake Cecil

 

C.A. Waites

C.A. Waites was born in Myrtle Springs, Texas.  When Mr. Waites entered the service, he was 18-years old,  married with no children.  He felt proud to serve and help his country. 

C.A. went to Camp Polk in Louisiana for Basic Training where he acquired the mumps.  His sickness kept him in the hospital for 3 weeks, while his unit went on to leave basic.  When he was better, he worked at the hospital as an army nurse. 

The most important thing C.A. learned at basic training was to follow directions. After leaving basic, he was sent to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he continued to help out at a hospital. 

While serving in the Army, C.A. never felt scared or afraid.  He said while many Americans did not know exactly what was going on, he was continuously shown videos of everything happening. 

He was later shipped to North Carolina where he helped troops practice falling from airplanes.  This was his best experience from his service.

C.A. was discharged in 1946, where he and his wife rode a bus home from North Carolina.  Once he got home, he was relieved, but he said it didn’t feel any different than before he left.  He does not normally talk about his military experience with others unless asked because he does not feel his service was sufficient or interesting.  He is proud to live in America because he feels we are rich and have a lot to offer.  If World War II would not have been fought, C.A. does not think we would have any of the freedoms we do.

—Taylor Tomme and Andrea Houser

 

Cecil Jacobs

Cecil Jacobs was born   in Whitton, Texas. When the bombing of Pearl Harbor took place, he was in church, and he went home and listened to the details all day on the radio. He went into the air force when he was 18.  He got to basic by taking a bus.  He knew no one at basic. He gained much respect for authority figures while he was there.

After basic, he went to England. He took the largest ship in the world (at the time), the Queen Elizabeth. While stationed in England, he learned how to work on planes, and keep records of everything wrong with them. This would be his duty throughout the war.

What he remembers most is one winter when a plane had ice on its wings, and couldn’t clear the trees at the end of the runway, and it crashed, along with the 4 bombs aboard. 

While he was running out to help, the bombs exploded, throwing a 20 pound piece of metal within feet of him. He learned to live for the day, because it could be ended within seconds.

He returned home on a ship, and came back to the most missed thing—the cooking.  He has many pictures, and “souvenirs” from the war, and the memories will last forever.

— Justin Starnes

 

C.L. Howell

Clinton L. Howell  was born to Cleveland and Alli Howell October 4, 1921, in Martins Mill, Texas.

He was drafted into the Army Air Corps and  entered the service October 9, 1942.

“I was ready to go,” Mr. Howell said.

He had one farewell party on his 21st birthday, October 4, 1942, before going to the Mineral Wells induction center. From there he went to basic training in Pendleton, Oregon. 

Mr. Howell remembers quite a bit bout basic training.

“During basic the things that worried you were the snow and ice you trained in,” he said. “We had a good drill sergeant, Laskovski, who was a loud mouth from the Northeastern part of the U.S. He was a good instructor and a good man.

“Kitchen Duty is one of the most memorable things about basic—you didn’t want it.  The saying there was ‘Keep Peelin’  and my name was drawn for it the second day there. The most important thing you learned at basic was how to stay alive and how to help your buddies.”

Mr. Howell left basic training as a Private, First-Class (PFC). He went to Stockton, CA to a school for Desert Maintenance Training because he was supposed to go to North Africa. While there, they decided he would go to India instead and he had to  change to Tropical Climate Maintenance. 

Mr. Howell remembers there was no usual daily routine.

“Our schedule changed daily,” he said.  “You had to adapt to things as they came up. You didn’t know where or what you would be doing on any particular day.”

Mr. Howell was with the 1819th from Oregon until his discharge. He was stationed in Northern Burma.

“We were on the first air transport plane in and we had to supervise the construction of all vehicles and equipment,” he remembers.  “When we landed the Japanese had control of the northern end of the runway and the British had control of the southern part.  We had to fly in over the Japanese and they shot up the bottom of our planes.”

Of the 65 men in his unit and they lost five—  3 were killed in an air crash, 1 suffered a heart attack and the third had dysentery.

Mr. Howell had the duty one time to go behind Japanese lines to capture an officer.

“The officer I captured turned out to be an engineering graduate from California,” he recalls. “ After graduation he went back to Japan to visit his family and they wouldn’t let him go back to California where he had a job.  I had to rough him up to get him to talk, but after that we had an understanding and he answered all questions asked of him. He told us he had tried to cross over the American lines to surrender but he would always get scared he would be shot or taken prisoner so he would return to the Japanese.  After a short time he was put on the radio to try to get the Japs to surrender or cross over to the allies.”

There were other times too.

“I went behind the enemy lines many times to rescue pilots and I never lost one,” Mr. Howell said, “but I can’t count the number of Japanese I left. “

Young Mr. Howell said there were times when he was afraid.

“ I was very scared, “ he said, “but I had a job to do, so I had to overcome my fear.”

Mr. Howell said the worst part of his experience was making the trips behind Japanese lines by himself, at night, after parachuting from a plane.

And he remembers one experience in particular.

“Five or six  of us were pinned down behind a piece of timber about six square inches and that was the only thing protecting us from the bullets that were hitting the other side of the timber,” he said. “One guy wanted to see where the Japs were and I kept swinging and hitting him telling him to keep his head down. After I was married, I nearly broke my wife’s neck during a dream about it.  I was telling her to keep her head down.  I can’t say the words that I used to tell him to keep his head down.”

The best experience from the war Mr. Howell said was when he was told he was going home and the day he boarded the boat. 

“We hadn’t had fresh meat the entire time we were over there,” he said.  “For a treat we would put cokes or other drinks in the airplanes that were traveling at high altitudes so we would have a cold drink when the plane got back.”

Mr. Howell returned home and was discharged in January of 1946. He said it was good to be home.

“You didn’t have to worry about what would happen next,” he said.

Life was a bit different at home than in the service.

“We had a saying in our unit,” Mr. Howell recalls. “At home, when you got an ant in your food you threw (the food) away.  After we got to India if an ant got in your food you threw (the food) out.  Six weeks later if an ant got in your food you’d throw the ant out and keep on eating.  Six weeks later if an ant got in your food you’d throw it out and if it came back you’d just eat it.  Six weeks later if an ant got in your food and got out you’d put it back in your food and eat it.” 

After the war Mr. Howell was married and went to work for WinTile in Tyler, then the Canton Insurance Agency.  After that he had an agency in Grand Saline and then one in Canton for awhile, then he worked for Calvert’s Fire Insurance Company.  He also opened a frame shop in 1978 and sold it in 1995.  He and his wife had a son and now five grandchildren.

For many years Mr. Howell said  he couldn’t even think about the war . 

“The first time I said anything about it was four or five years ago,” he said. “You had to put it out of your mind.”

He’s since attended several reunions with other WWII veterans.

“The guy I saved when we were behind the timber I found out was living around here and I didn’t know it until a few years ago,” Mr. Howell said. “I tried to contact him but he passed away about two years before that.” 

Mr. Howell has lapel buttons for being a good shot with a rifle. He also has the American Theater Campaign Medal, 2 Bronze Stars, the Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal for the defeat of the Japs in Burma.

He’s saved some mementos from the war.

“I have some ash trays I made from Japanese shells, a piece of shrapnel that hit me in the back after the last Japanese bombing run on Missional, and the knife I took with me every time I went behind the Japanese lines,” he said.

Mr. Howell said things would be completely different in this country if America hadn’t won the war.

“ We would have no freedom at all,” he said.

He’s proud of America today for the most part.

“ I think there is no country better,” he said. “(But) I would like to see people be friendlier.”

—Megan Howell Jessica Ainsley

 

Ted Deen, Sr.

Ted Deen, Sr. was drafted into the military in 1944. He reported to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. While in basic training, Ted was assigned to the artillery division where he became a weather observer. His job was to launch weather balloons into the air to determine the direction and speed of winds so the men aiming the guns could compensate for poor weather conditions. His basic training spanned over 11 weeks with a few weekends where he was allowed to go home. At the time his unit was training to go to Europe so they were sent to Fort Mead, Maryland. Since the tide of the war was changing in the European Theater in favor of the Allies, his unit was sent on a five-day train ride to a fort in California.

From California, he was sent on a 32-day trip to the Philippines. On the account of the threat of submarines, the ship he was on zigzagged back and forth so the submarines couldn’t track them. On the way to the Philippines, they stopped by Pearl Harbor. Ted said this was really when he realized that America was at war. When they arrived in the Philippines, they were stationed at a remote beach.

While stationed at the Philippines Ted and his unit were part of several units of soldiers with the sole purpose of being replacement troops. Ultimately, they all waited about 30 days to replace the fighting troops in that area. Some of the men felt as if they were forgotten. Ted at the time took place as an acting barber, and made some extra money while doing so.

After waiting about a month, they were reassigned to Mindanao. All that was at the location where they were stationed was a beach. Ted remarked that this beach was one that people dream about. While waiting again to replace someone, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Just three days later, the second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Upon hearing the news of the atomic bombs, Mr. Deen and his unit really didn’t know what to think of it. They really didn’t even know what it was. Ted remarked that all he knew about it was it was something new and something of unimaginable destruction.

Before all the horrific undertakings that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki nearly all U.S. troops were preparing for an invasion of the Japan mainland. This includes Mr. Deen and his unit. However, when they all learned of what happened, this training was dismissed. Although the troops did advance on Japan on the same route as if they were continuing with the assault, stopping by on a small island the Japanese still had control of. They arrived on the beach by means of seaplane. Ted was one of the first few troops to arrive at the disastrous scene of the bombings. The area they arrived at seemed run down and poverty stricken.

Once on shore of main land Japan, Ted and his unit moved farther inland and moved into some former Japanese barracks. Most of his duties while stationed in these barracks consisted of guard duty. There was never any one certain thing that he guarded. Ted stated that he guarded all kinds of things including a boxcar full of Chinese money that the Japanese were using to make bullets with. After a short stay at this base, he was sent to Osaka, which is home to the famous Osaka Castle. While in Osaka, his life became very easy. He became the secretary for the supple Sergeant. His life became a whole lot easier because the work was easy and the food the supple staff got was a whole lot better than the food the GI were getting.

Ted saw the effects of the A-bomb first hand. He and his unit traversed the Japan mainland until they arrived at the target city. He commented that the terrain continued to worsen through their travel. The trees were bent over, and as they went further inland they became flat next to the ground. They eventually were black and nearly destroyed completely. When he got to the city the area was decimated and he commented that they probably wouldn’t let them walk in that area today if something of equal proportion occurred. From Osaka he was sent to Yokohama to return home.

After spending about 30 days in Yokohama, he went to the main office there to find out why he had not been sent home yet. Come to find out, someone had accidentally thrown away his papers that stated he was going home and when they found them he was immediately put on the next ship home. The trip home took 17 grueling days in which they were only fed two meals a day. The living conditions were horrible because they were sleeping six deep. Finally upon their arrival at San Francisco, there was a large crowd that had gathered on the Golden Gate Bridge to greet them home. Upon his arrival in America, he was sent to Fort Sam Houston were he was dismissed. From there he returned home.

All in all, World War II was a turning point in history, which led to many events. Despite Ted never actually saw combat, it was an important part in his life and many Americans thank him and the countless other for his services.

—Jack Deen & David Miracl

 

Dodson Harris

Dodson Harris was 21 years old when he went into the Army to serve his country during World War II. He boarded the USS Republic, a navy ship headed for the Philippines that changed its course when Pearl Harbor was bombed December 7, 1941, by the Japanese. The USS Republic was then sent toward Java (an island in the Dutch East Indies) to aid the Dutch there. They arrived in Java January 11, 1942. The British and the Aulstalian troops were already there.

The Japanese landed on the island and on March 8, the Dutch surrendered to Japan and along with them Dodson’s entire battalion was taken prisoner. His group was known as the Lost Battalion because the government had no idea if the crew was alive or dead until after the war.

The prisoners were sent to Burma along with the survivors of the USS Houston (a ship that had been sunk just off the coast of Java and all survivors were taken captive by the Japanese). Also in captive were Indonesians, military men from England and Australia, and local tribes (better known as Coolies). Here they would go through the most torturous and painstaking time anyone could ever imagine.

They had to build a railroad from Burma to Siam so that the Japanese could send troops and supplies faster. This railroad was known as the “Burma-Siam Death Railway,” or even more commonly, “The Railroad of Death” and named so for good reason. The railroad had to be built through coal mines, thick jungle, rivers and docks and shipyards. The prisoners were given very little to eat, sometimes going more than 100 hours without food or drink. They were literally starving to death. The ones still alive were said to look like walking skeletons and weighed approximately 80 to 85 pounds. Dodson said he had a friend who was a doctor and told him to watch the monkeys and eat what they eat and he would be safe. And so he did this when possible and it helped him out a great deal, he says.

When the Japanese felt things were not moving as fast as they should, they would push the prisoners even more.

Escaping was virtually impossible. Even if they did manage to get past the guards, they were surrounded by thick jungle so if they did take off, they had no where to go and would die anyway.

The railroad took 42 months to complete and when it was finally finished, the prisoners of war did not know whether to be relieved or scared because they thought the torturous labor was for the most part over. This was a false thought unfortunately. They were afraid because the Japanese could now send men and supplies much faster than before.

Once the railroad was built, the POW’s were beaten severely and the Japanese were killing them one at a time. In Dodson’s journal, he wrote on August 26, 1944 that he among many more of the POWs were packed in boxcars on a train and sent to a camp in Singapore where they were forced to work in coal mines. They remained in torment there until Harry Truman sent over the atomic bomb and the Japanese surrendered.

Dodson says he wasn’t too terribly far from where an atomic bomb was dropped and some feared he and those he was with to be dead. But indeed they were not dead. Weighing about 85 pounds, Dodson Harris came home.

The POWs say that when they were held captive, they did not dream of women, but of food. In his first visit to an American restaurant Dodson asked for the biggest steak ever. He said the waiter looked at his frail body and brought a very small steak out. Dodson complained about this, but in the end he couldn’t even eat all of the small one because his stomach had shrunk so much.

Dodson eventually married and had two children.

He was one of the very fortunate ones that was able to tell his story to those who came after him. He said his wish for America today is that we do not forget what happened, and to remember those who did not make it and could not be here to tell their story.

—Chrystal Vann & Drew Weesnere

 

James E. Conaster

James E. Conaster was born November 10, 1915.  He’s the second born of  seven children. There were four other boys, three of which also served in World War II.

Mr. Conaster was working as an army camp instructor at Wichita Falls when war was declared for the United States. Just barely 25 years old, December 7, 1941, would change his life like never before. 

He volunteered for induction December 8. He was inducted February 5 in Mineral Wells. In Fort Leonardwood, Missouri, he was assigned to Army Engineers with seven weeks of basic training. He was then shipped to  Vancouver, Washington. Then he shipped to Alaska to help construct the Alkine highway .

One night Mr. Conaster’s colonel called him up to his tent. The colonel had found out Mr. Conaster had been a foreman for a utility contractor prior to the war. He told Mr. Conaster he wanted him to take control of their battalion.

Mr. Conaster said, “There ain’t no way, I‘m a buck private and everbody out ranks me.”

He thought there was no way he could tell sergeants, lieutenants, captains, and majors what to do.

The Colonel said, “If they don’t like it send them up to me and I can tell them. I’ll make you corporal in the morning, and a grade higher a month, and then a Master Sergeant.”

So Mr. Conaster went to work.  He became Master Sergeant in Alaska while working on the Highway. They lived in pup tents and moved up the road every day.  The only thing they had to go by  was an aerial map. The route hadn’t been surveyed at all but they bulldozed on.

It was dangerous to ship things on the ocean, so they built that highway to get supplies back and forth safely. The rail road ran as far as Dawsons Creek, Canada. So the highway would run from there to Fairbanks, Alaska.

There were four engineer regiments that built that road. Two started in White Horse, Canada going north and one regiment going from Fairbanks, Alaska going south. On the sixteenth of October they finally met  and completed the road. It was 1,681 miles long and ready for the army engineers.  When it was over he ended up in charge of  the equipment for one of the engineer regiments, which had 340 engineers.

February of 1943, Mr. Conaster left for California to organize and train another battalion there. It was an engineer combat battalion of a 144 men. He got his recruits and trained them. He said it was not the nicest job in the world but after the unit became combat ready they shipped them to  Seattle, Washington and then to Honolulu in the Hawaiian Islands. 

They loaded for combat and boarded the ship, U.S.S. Callaway. They passed the equator three times with no air conditioning and the ship was so crowded they were assigned a bunk for eight hours and then someone else took the bunk. They were on board for  36 days. Food on board  was only good if you liked sea rations. It was normally a can of hash, meat and beans or stew, with a can of hard cookies and a piece of candy. While on board they went to the Guadalcanal and Peleliu in the South Pacific. 

The Army Engineers hit the beach at Peleliu right behind the Naval bombardment. They secured the beach for the infantry and removed under water demolitions. The first day Mr. Conaster’s unit landed on two different beaches. They needed roads built through the jungle to connect the beaches. 

He ran the bulldozer to clear the area while security watched over him.  A little while later he headed back toward the beach in the bulldozer and found the lieutenant and men hiding in a ditch. The Japanese were shooting at them and no one had told him. He couldn’t hear because the bulldozer was so loud.  After that, the commander assured Mr. Conaster he would receive security to get the road built.

From there his unit was sent to New Caladonia in the South Pacific, a French penal  colony. There they regrouped and got replacements for men they had lost and loaded again. 

Then they went to the Philippines to secure the island before General MacArthur arrived with the Army. The first thing they did was clear the beaches and blow up a few pale boxes and then tried to get the  Japanese off the other end of the Island.

Then they loaded up for the invasion of Japan. The first sergeant and he were good friends and they both volunteered to go  blow up a pale box with the infantry.  They went up behind the tank and a knee mortar came up and  hit the right side of his friend (Punchy, the whale weight champion).  Mr. Conaster didn’t get a scratch on him but it broke Punchy’s leg in two places. The infantry started running and Punchy asked James to leave him but he couldn’t. So he called a guy from the tank to button up the pale box with the machine gun until he got Punchy  back. Punchy weighed about 200 pounds. He had to carry him about 500 yards until they got back to the base. The last letter James ever got from Punchy was a  note from a hospital back in the United States thanking him for carrying him out and telling him how good looking the nurses were.

Mr. Conaster was in five invasions which were all successful . They always invaded on beaches and would land in salt boats and then run in. When they’d get off the ship in what they called waves, there’d be ten boats come in and unload and later they would rendezvous out there in the water on these flat bottom boats.  They would stay out there for an hour or two and those boys would be so sick. Once you landed on the beach though, you tried to  take cover, see what was  going on, or get  behind something.

When the war ended Mr. Conaster was in the Philippines in his motor pool and he heard every horn, and every siren go off , celebrating that it was over. He felt so blessed that after five invasions he didn’t get a scratch.

Coming home he went on a ship Japan to Vancouver, Washington. Then they gathered up the boys headed to Texas and put them  on three railroad cars, and he was lucky enough to be appointed to do that.

He told the boys “ Now you’re all going home for discharge. I’m not gonna check anybody out or check anybody in . If you want to go AWOL be my guest.”

It felt pretty good being home and his mother was proud of him and his brothers, all which made it home alive. From the day he left until the day he made it home was three years 11 months and six days.  He was an enlisted man later commissioned as an officer, of which he is proud.

Mr. Conaster bought two new bulldozers and went to work as a contractor.

It wasn’t an easy job, but the men went out there and did what they had to do. They all had to fight with their heart  and passion, to do what they had to do for America’s freedom today. Mr. Conaster enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor , so that just goes to show how much heart he had to do something for our country. He might have just been a small town boy, but out of those many men that fought, his purpose still reigns today through our freedom. I am so proud to have met James E. Conaster—someone with such honor, patriotism, and heroism. He is just one of the truly great men, a real true American soldier. 

—Hillary and Hannah Smith

 

John Beall

John Beall was born in April of 1924 in Edom, Texas. He was 18-years-old when he entered the army during World War II. His brother Horris also entered about the same time.

“We were together for one year to the day and then we went our separate ways,” Mr. Beall recalls.

Halfway through basic training in Texas he was transferred to the 103 Infantry Division.

“I got on as a clerk typist and wound up as a cook,” Mr. Beall said.  “I became a cook overseas.”

Mr. Beall began to see the world.

“I was in France, Germany, and Austria,” he said.  “The first day I caught KP in France.”

KP stands for Kitchen Police, Mr. Beall explained, mostly washing dishes and preparing food.

“The mess sergeant talked me into going to the kitchen and they taught me how to cook so I was very fortunate,” he said.

Mr. Beall was a cook for a year and supported the front lines.

“The cooking units were generally several miles behind the front line so we took hot food to the front line whenever the boys were in positions that we could get to them,” he said. “ If they were in too hot of a battle zone they wouldn’t let us take food out.”

Mr. Beall said there were some funny times but often it was  a serious atmosphere.

“It was very serious,” he recalls. “We had artillery bombardments from time to time.  I’d hear German planes  strafe us. Seemed like every time we moved our kitchen.”

Mostly they thought about the guys on the front lines.

“We enjoyed being able to carry out hot food to the boys,” he said. “They deserved it  I don’t know how they made it in the bitter cold.  This was through the winter of 1943-1944. Temperatures were 10, 15 below zero. I was just always very thankful that I ended up in the kitchen and always had plenty to eat. “

Besides Mr. Beall’s brother Horris he had two other brothers in the service—Thomas and Roy. The brothers spent a combined 13 years in service, and almost six years combined over seas. 

“None of us were put in a position of having to raise a rifle and point it at another human being or have one pointed at us,” he says gratefully.  “We were a very fortunate family.”

When the war was over in Europe Mr. Beall was transferred into the 45th division and scheduled to go to the South Pacific.

“We were supposed to come home for a 30-day furlough then go to the South Pacific,” Mr. Beall said. “When we were still in France, Japan surrendered.”

He was discharged at Brownwood, Texas in November of 1945 after two years and eleven months of service. Two of his brothers had also been discharged by the time he got home, and the fourth brother was discharged a short time later.

— Kendel Gardner

 

Fred McGregor

Fred McGregor was one of the many countless men who fought in the Second World War.  He was born in the small town of Blytheville Arkansas.  When he was 17, Fred was anxious to enter the war but his mother was not ready to let him go.  When he finally reached 18 he enlisted in the United States Army. He went to basic training to prepare for the hard fight ahead.  During his six weeks at basic he learned many things such as discipline, self-esteem and teamwork.  He said that was the anxious moment.  He mentioned that the most valuable lesson he learned at basic was to hit the ground when you heard gunfire, artillery, or bombs.

He was deployed to France via ship.  When the men’s names were called in France, those men had to cross the Rhine into Germany to fight.

“During the war a man cannot have time to be afraid,” he said. 

In January, after basic, Fred came down with frostbite, and went to the army hospital in France.  He spent the remaining winter there and when he came back most of the fighting was over. 

He says the frostbite saved his life because while he was at the hospital his division went and fought in Germany. 

After the fighting was over, Fred joined an Army boxing team and met several famous fighters.  He said he had many fun times while on the team.

Mr. McGregor is proud he fought for his country and says it taught him some good lessons and discipline.  He believes he fought for freedom and for what America stands for.  He is definitely proud of his country and for the many freedoms we have as citizens of the United States.

—Erick Blakey and Ryan Lee

 

Elton Taylor Boon

Elton Taylor Boon was born in Cass County, Texas. He was married at the time he went into military service for our country. His friends call him “Doc.”

Mr. Boon was 28 when he was drafted into the Navy. He felt he was honored to serve his country. His basic training, or boot camp as he called it, was in San Diego, California. The Navy transported Mr. Boon and many other Americans to boot camp by way of trains. Boot camp lasted a total of nine weeks. One of the things he remembers doing during boot camp is firing rifles. Mr. Boon remembers the people from Tyler that were at the boot camp with him. The most difficult part of going into military service for him was leaving his family behind. His rank while in the military was Apprentice Seaman, which did not change while he was on active duty.

Mr. Boon was stationed on board the LSP 611, which was a cargo ship. The 611 was used to transport troops and munitions, including artillery, however it was also equipped with weaponry. Weaponry consisted of 20mm and 40mm guns. He remembers going on practice bombing runs and using the big guns. He was in the Navy for 11 months and one day, and did not see any combat.

Mr. Boon remembers sleeping in a bunk aboard the ship. The bunks were very small and stacked three high. He slept on the middle bunk. Quarters were very tight and there was never a time when you had your own personal space. Mr. Boon said his ship spent a lot of time near Honolulu, Hawaii. He reported that service men were dismissed by way of a point system. You are given so many points for being married, so many points for children, and so many points for your age, etc. He remembers one man by the name of C.T. Mincy, from North Carolina was on his ship. They became pretty good friends and he has spoken with him several times since his active duty and dismissal from the Navy.

Because of the point system, Mr. Boon was released from active duty in the Navy sometime during 1945, and returned home by train. He said that it was sure good to get home. After he got back home, he and his wife Catherine and family spent a short while in New Orleans before moving back to Tyler. He had two children, a boy and a girl and he now has three grandchildren.

He did not have any problems adjusting to life at home. He shared some of his experiences with his family. Mr. Boon remembers that cars were hard to come by and so was gasoline. His family used stamps to buy food, because it was rationed. His wife also remembers these tough times. The first product that she would purchase was milk for her babies.

When I asked Mr. Boon what he thought about America today, he said that it had changed in many ways. For one thing, in his day and time if someone from his generation was caught burning an American flag, something would happen to him. He said that he is very proud to be an American and to live in a country where people can worship freely. Mr. Boon feels if we hadn’t won the war the basic freedoms we have today would have been taken away from us. Several examples of these freedoms are the freedom to read the bible and worship in a church of your choice. He is glad that he served his country to protect our freedoms.

—Josh Johnston

 

Carl Garris

Carl Garris is a veteran of World War II. He was trained at Camp Davison, Arkansas, as an engineer in the 35th division. During his involvement in the war he participated in the Battle of the Bulge, D-Day, and fought in Germany and Central France as part of General Patton’s third army.

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest land battle the United States participated in. Over one million people fought in this battle. Half of the people who fought in this battle (some 500,000 people) were Americans. Carl Garris was one of those brave Americans. At the conclusion of the battle there were a total of 81,000 American casualties with 19,000 killed.

Carl also fought at the D-Day invasion, arriving just five days after the initial invasion. He took part on the Utah invasion. They arrived on the beach at 0430, two hours in advance of the main attack. This was directed to clear enemy minefields, control points, and observation posts. They found the land heavily mined but otherwise unoccupied. During the main attack, Germany artillery managed to sink the U.S. destroyer Corry. Swift currents carried the landing craft of the 4th division well to the south of their target onto a portion of the beach where it was lightly defended. Also, thirty-two amphibious tanks assigned to land in the first wave of the attack were delayed by the loss of one control vessel that struck a mine. Even with those setbacks, the assaulting troops quickly took the upper hand. Within three hours the Germans had surrendered and Allied troops and supplied were able to move inland. In all, some 23,000 men came ashore at UTAH, at a cost of 197 casualties among the ground forces.

Carl also saw action in Central France and Germany. He was involved in the effort completely throughout the war. He saw most of the fighting in Europe and participated in four major battles and for his bravery and courage he wears four bronze stars. Mr. Garris is a true American and we feel privileged to have had the opportunity to interview him.

—Adam Dyess & John Rowan

 

J.N. Cockerham

J.N. Cockerham entered the war in 1939 at the age of 17.  He was a sergeant and worked in the medical field.  He spent six years in the service and was involved in three battles.  Two were held in the Philippines and the other was in Peleliu.

While  Mr. Cockerham was in the war,  he received a “Good Conduct Award.” In order for him to receive this medal, he had to go through some tough training.  He was stationed in the Army Infantry Division at Fort Louis and was trained for six weeks. 

After his hard training, he finally got the chance to use his skills in the war.  Mr. Cockerham was sent off to the South Pacific for battle and was stationed with 15 other squad members.

When Mr. Cockerham entered the war he had no idea what to expect.  There were days where he would go without food and sleep.  When there were times he could sleep, he would curl up in fox holes, which were holes dug in the ground.  Mr. Cockerham used  a 30/30 and a 35 pistol when fighting in the war. 

He said, “There were times when I thought I wasn’t going to come back.” 

He stated that one time he was out on the ocean with his squad members and a storm came up.  Waves began to go over the ship and he thought the water would eventually flood it.  He said they finally made it back to the island to seek shelter.

There were other times he thought he wasn’t going to make it, but he had rather not bring back those bad memories.  It was hard back in the war for him because he saw one of his close friends get shot right before his eyes. 

After he got out of the war in 1945, he was glad to return home.  That was one of his best memories.  Although he was glad to return home, he was also scared because he felt like a stranger and did not know anyone.  The surroundings he remembered before he left were no longer the same.  His family was glad to see him step on their front porch.  Although he was out of the war and with his family once again, it was hard for him to block out the memories of the war.  He had nightmares for years and eventually he went to a GI school for farming and then after farming for a few years he went to work at the Terrell State Hospital.  While he was working, he was able to start blocking out all the memories of the war.  Today Mr. Cockerham is happily married and has children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that he loves dearly.

—Monica DeLaRosa and Lelan Luckett

 

Harold Wise

Pride in America makes us look back to our past, where we see the lives of a young generation who sacrificed for freedom’s cause during World WWII.  This generation has grown older, but the work of their hands remains as part of America’s heritage.  As we stop to honor these veterans of World War II, we find their individual stories varied, rich in color, and most importantly, a vivid window into the days spent serving our nation during World War II.

Harold Wise was very young, like many of the army recruits and enlistees, when he got his first taste of the military.  A 17-year-old senior at his school in Yoakum, Texas, he was a mediocre student.  Nonetheless, he and three others scored high enough on a military program test, issued in the spring of 1944, that they received a scholarship from either the army or the navy. 

In June of 1944, Harold and a buddy headed to the University of Oklahoma, where attendance rates had plummeted since the war, to join the ASTP Program.  A year passed before the scholarship program faded, leaving Harold with orders to leave for San Antonio December 20, his birthday.  He recalls this was upsetting to his family, who had already yielded one son to duty, and his mother’s expression as he boarded the bus is branded in his memory.

Arriving at Fort Hood by train, he was promptly put through a series of tests, including a quiz on his knowledge of Morse code.  Having been a Boy Scout, Harold was familiar with the dots and dashes, and scored so highly that the army was prepared to send him to radio school. 

On his way to Camp Maxie for radio training, however, the train cars were switched, landing him and about 20 fellow soldiers in the infantry without papers.  For two intermediary weeks, he and the other stray soldiers focused on work detail, such as K.P. duty and raking, while the army recovered their papers.

Eighteen weeks of anti-tank training followed, during which Harold’s assigned position was that of an Infantry Rifleman.  He describes this time as strenuous, especially the simulated combat.  Playing “war games” included harrowing but realistic experiences, such as being run over by a tank while in his foxhole, or scrambling beneath barbed wire as bullets whizzed above him.

But by the time those 18 weeks were completed, well-organized authority, efficient training and good weaponry had produced a unit of confident young men ready to take out the German tanks with their 57 or 37 mm anti-tank guns. 

Harold had developed a few friendships as well, but he describes those as “short and intense,” for his unit was to be sent to Europe without him.  This was due to a hasty new law that set the minimum age for combat at 18 and a half, prompted by protests against the slaughtering of a unit comprised of 18-year olds during European combat.

Young Harold was finally sent to Fort Mead in Maine after a short intermediate period, where he learned advance infantry training.

He says his most vivid memory of the time spent at the numerous bases was the vast number of GIs, and the efficient manner in which their needs were met.  Even if it was merely marching and inspections, the soldiers were kept busy and their minds distracted from the gravity of the war.  When they were told about killing, it was neither an overpowering nor a shocking concept, but rather, a patriotic duty to “take out the leaders” who had grown in evil power.

While in Maine, his unit was at first issued heavy, woolen winter gear, and then unexpectedly re-issued tropical gear, such as khakis and mosquito nets.  They knew this meant they were being sent to the Pacific rather than to Europe, a change initiated by Germany’s surrender.  There was left only one powerful enemy remaining: Japan.

Harold was loaded with hundreds of others onto a ship launched into the Pacific. This seven-day journey to Hawaii introduced him not only to seasickness, but also to the concept that he was about to play a role in something very influential. 

In Hawaii, Harold’s unit was re-trained in amphibious landing, beach landing, and jungle fighting.  Driven to ships destined for Okinawa three to four weeks later, he was surprised to be loaded instead into a truck marked AAA.  He was later informed that he and twenty others had been selected to serve in the Anti-Aircraft Artillery. 

Again, his duties had taken an unexpected turn and he was spared some of the most intense combat of WWII. 

The threat of being recruited for the imminent invasion of Japan, however, hung heavy over the soldiers stationed in Pearl Harbor during the autumn of 1945.  With the suicidal Kamikaze and Bushito methods of Japanese fighting, hand-to-hand combat was something to be dreaded. 

It was with surprised excitement, then, that Harold and his friends were informed August 6 that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and killed around 180,000 Japanese.  Severely crippled, Japan nonetheless held out until a second bomb was detonated three days later, destroying Nagasaki. 

On September 2, 1945, the surrender of Japan was made official and VJ Day declared.  In Hawaii, clouds of noise arose from the wildly ecstatic soldiers, horns and whistles clamoring their relief. 

Discharged in August of 1946, Harold had a chance to relax in the warm Hawaiian sunshine before finally returning home.  He felt no reluctance in leaving Hawaii, and was so relieved to finally be home after sacrificing two years of his life to active duty, that he was reluctant to leave again for college. 

“It took me about two days (to re-adjust to civilian life),” he said with a laugh, while also reflecting on the maturity that his army service had brought to him. 

On his service to America and what he thinks of her today, he declared, “America is the greatest country in the world. Had we lost WWII, we’d be speaking German or Japanese right now.”

When America is attacked, we must be prepared to “put on our armor and go to war,” as Harold states with conviction.  Let us hope the younger generation may serve our country with as much honor and selflessness as the veterans of WWII.

      —Ali Reese

 

John Lee

John Lee was born in Van Zandt County in 1920. He was about 22 when he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard just 20 days after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

He went to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for boot camp where he endured about six months of intense training.

“I never did like it but is was something you had to have,” John said. “We got good training and it prepared us.”

He became Seaman First Class John Lee and was sent for detach service in Miami where he worked the checking stations.

“We checked every foreign ship that came in and we put people aboard and kept everything in line,” John recalls. “We made sure everybody was accounted for aboard the ship and it was secure. It was like guarding a bank and making sure the money didn’t leave.”

During this time John was corresponding with a young lady from back home and after two years in the service he got a leave of absence and came home to marry his childhood friend Mary Elizabeth Luckett.

Then John was sent to Baltimore, Maryland, where he was trained for fire boat duty.

“I was like a fireman,” John said. “We were trained to go aboard the tankers and fight fires.”

From his training in Baltimore he was sent to Honolulu, Hawaii, on a fire boat. His job was protecting the harbor and fighting fires on the docks and ships.

He made trips on a landing craft mechanism, on a white planes aircraft carrier and one trip on the Saratogo aircraft carrier.

“The old Saratogo was a large aircraft carrier, not like the ones today,” John said.

He recalls one event on the ship he’ll never forget.

“We went through a typhoon,” he said. “The storm was so strong and the ship lifted and took on so much water I wasn’t sure it was going to make it. But it stood the storm. We got on where we were going.”

From boot camp to security to fighting fires to sea storms, Johns next adventure would take him a lot further from home.

“I got put in a pool where they picked crews for the ships,” John recalls. “That’s when I caught the USS Morbely.”

The USS Morbely was a destroyer escort.

“They didn’t have but four of them,” John said.

He boarded the ship along with about 265 others and they ran patrol duty around Iceland and Greenland. Honolulu was their home port. Among other things the crew was responsible for sending out signals to planes to guide them to their destination.

When the war was over John was shipped home, first to San Diego, and then he was discharged. After four years, four months and 21 days John came back to his country home in Van Zandt County.

“I was proud to get home,” John said. “It was wonderful. We lived out in the country and I could just breeze through the woods.”

He said his training in the military helped him succeed in work. He first tried farming for a while and then did construction work. Then he worked for Ford Motor Company building automobiles and the last 25 years before retiring he was with General Electric.

He and Mary have been married now for 57 years. They had two children, a boy and a girl. They now have three grandchildren and seven greatgrandchildren.

John said he’s proud of his time in the service and the freedom gained for America.

“I love America,” he said.  “It’s the greatest country there ever was.”

—P.A. Geddie

Gordon Barlow

Many men have fought battles for this country’s freedom. One of the most memorable battles is World War II. Many men’s lives were lost just so we could maintain the freedoms we take for granted to day. These men understood these freedoms and were willing to give their lives, if it came down to it, for our country. Gordon Barlow, a World War II veteran, was one of these men who fought bravely for our country, our people, and our freedoms.

Mr. Barlow has lived in Edgewood, Texas, for most of his life. He entered the Army Air Corp on January 13, 1942. He was 22 years of age at the time. He headed to Sheppard Field for his basic training which lasted only for three weeks. He said the drills were the most difficult part of his basic training. His brother, A.J. Barlow, also entered the service about a year later.

Gordon’s travels took him to New Guinea. After his basic training, he went to Connecticut by train which he said was non-stop. From there, he traveled to Boston for more training. He left for combat in June of 1942. In Connecticut, a plane crashed and one man bailed out. Mr. Barlow and the other soldiers had to search and search for the man. They finally found him.

Mr. Barlow served in the Eighth Army with a P-40 fighter squadron. From Boston, he went through the Suez Canal to Egypt. He received a little training in Israel. He and his squadron pushed the Germans out of South Africa. Then, they moved to Sicily to push the opposing soldiers out. He and his squadron also took part in the Invasion of Sicily.

After Sicily, they moved to Italy. Before moving, Mr. Barlow remembers, they served with the British army and received awful British rations. When they moved, they were back with the American Army and received American food rations.

Mr. Barlow’s squadron captured some Italian prisoners who stayed with the American soldiers for about a year. The Italian prisoners did kitchen patrol for the American soldiers during their stay. The prisoners enjoyed their stay because they received good, American food rations.

When the American soldiers left Italy, they moved to Corsica. There he received devastating news that his 13 year old sister had drowned in a pond. He said the fighting was terrible and he wanted desperately to go home. He was told he would be discharged in 1942, but it was not until 1945 that his wish came true.

He came home on a plane in order to get home faster. He received three citations. He and his brother both received the rank of a Sergeant. When he got home, he “fooled” around for about a month and then went to work for the Mobil Oil Company. He worked for the Mobil Oil Company for 35 years.

It is heartwarming to know we have men in our country like Mr. Barlow, who answered to the call of duty. One would hope we have young men in our country today that have the same feel for America as Mr. Barlow. On behalf of all Americans, “thank you” to these men who have fought to make America what it is today.

 —Jennifer Stewart

 

Herman Molen

Herman Molen was born in Hunt County and went to school at Merritt. He was raised in a rural community, his father raising produce and livestock. He lived not far from Audie Murphey but because they went to different schools, they did not know each other until after the war.

In 1941, Herman was studying to be a Baptist minister, when December 7, Pearl Harbor, changed his plans and those of thousands of young men. Out of patriotism and an urge to serve his country, Mr. Molen joined the air force May 4, 1942.

Once in the military he flew B-17s out of England. During the next two years, he completed over 20 missions. On his 25th mission he ran into big trouble.

August 17, 1944 (Black Thursday) his plane was hit head on over Yugoslavia. Some 60 planes were shot down and 60 others lost for other reasons that day. The copilot saved Herman’s life and those of two others by flying the plane until they all bailed out. The pilot had no time to get himself out and he died.

After that, Herman vowed he would do whatever he could to help win the war. That “whatever” soon narrowed down to escape, for he was captured.

He was escorted to Stalag 17B, a prison camp in Germany. As soon as he got there, he was told he had lost his freedom. The war was over for him, they said. If he tried to escape, they would shoot him hard. In fact, if high Nazis had carried out Hitler’s command, all prisoners of war would have been killed.

Herman was interrogated in Frankfort and was actually listed as MIA (Missing In Action) for about three months. This was because the crew he went down with was not his regular one. They had needed an extra bombardier and he had volunteered. When questioned by the Germans, he gave his name, rank and serial number like a good soldier. His interrogators could not tell which crew he was from by that. Herman’s family went through terrible anxiety at that time because there was no way to find out whether he was alive or dead.

Conditions in the camp were horrible. That winter, the prisoners fought the cold with their clothes and small German issued blankets. Every morning the men were dragged out of their cold, cramped barracks for roll call. The Germans rationed the water by having it on for only one hour during morning and afternoon roll call. Breakfast was hot, greasy water. Sometimes one was blessed with a Red Cross package and then everyone shared a bit of coffee or cocoa.

At 10 a.m. or so each morning, loaves of black German bread were rationed out. To get the weight of normal bread, the bakers put sawdust in the loaves. The last meal of the day was soup brought in the same wooden barrel that the breakfast water was in. The prisoners were served split peas or cabbage soup with bugs and worms for meat.

Tension was heightened by the guards attitudes. Every morning they would start the day by saying, “You killed some of my family in air raids. Before this war is over, I am going to kill that many of you.”

At one point Herman helped plan and lead an escape, but was recaptured March 3, 1945. He was taken back to the camp and placed in solitary confinement. After three weeks, he contracted double pneumonia. The Germans forced him and many others to walk 30 km a day across Austria. When he couldn’t keep up, he rode on the supply wagons. They finally reached Braumau, Hitler’s birthplace. They were put in a forest on a high hill where they stayed about a week without shelter or food. The surrender of the Germans about that time brought liberation for all the prisoners.

They were in poor condition. The guards kept watch over them one more night. The next morning, the Red Cross brought parcels and the men had FOOD! Herman and some others were suffering from dysentery and stayed on the hill until friends came to get them with a horse and cart. They were taken to an aluminum plant, where they stayed two or three days. It wasn’t the most comfortable place, but they had food.

After that Herman went back to Germany and then to France. There he was sleeping in a tent. It was raining, but that didn’t matter. He had food and the first bath in about two years and clean clothes. On June 1, 1945, Herman came back to the states.

He remained in the Air Force after WWII. In 1948 he was at the North Pole keeping an eye on the Russians as they built their Atlantic fleet headquarters on St. Joseph Island. He did photo reconnaissance from planes. When the Korean war broke out, Herman worked in Africa and Europe, assisting in radar and telephone relays. He retired in 1963, only to be recalled in 1966 for the Vietnam war. Mr. Molen never went to Vietnam, but trained pilots to fly F-111s. In 1969, he retired for good.

Later a play was written about his escape from Stalag 17. He was invited to the opening on Broadway but had to decline. A while after that a movie was made from the play. William Holden played Herman’s role.

Recently, German veterans invited U.S. veterans to see a monument entitled “Friends by Choice.” The monument was a large rock, split in two, with Germans on one side and English on the other. Herman didn’t understand the name until a German came up and told him how many planes he had shot down. Now, Herman did not want to hear about this. And, according to him, that German probably wouldn’t want to be friends with him either if he knew he was one of the ones dropping bombs on him. Other than that, Herman had a very nice time.

Herman currently lives with his wife in Phalba, Texas.

—Julie Schuttger

 

Ken Oxford

Ken Oxford was born in Van, Texas, in 1925. He grew up in this small community and attended Van High School. When World War II hit the America shores, he and many of his buddies joined the fight to defend this country.

Ken enlisted in the Marines at the young age of 17. He first went to boot camp in San Diego, California, where he received about six months training.

From there he went to Pearl Harbor for advanced training in jungle fighting.

“There was not a lot of jungle there but they had some,” Ken recalls. “We’d go shoot at moving targets in the jungle.”

He was there two months and then went to New Zealand where he joined the 2nd Marine Division and endured more advanced training.

Then he and about 18,000 men of the 2nd Marine Division were sent in to the Battle of Tarawa. They arrived by transport landing ship tanks (LST) on the two-by-one mile island of Tarawa about 2500 miles southwest of Hawaii where the Japanese were. They also came on to the island by amphibious tractors, those tanks that can operate on land or sea.

“That was the first campaign I was in,” Ken recalls. “We were sent there to take the island from the Japanese.  We lost about 1500 and they lost every one of theirs ( about 8,000) except a dozen prisoners. It took 72 hours to take it.”

Ken said he felt confident about their plan of attack.

“Everybody had job to do,” he said. “I was a rifleman and anti-tank assault infantry leader. We had knock out tanks, flamethrowers, and machine guns.”

After this campaign Ken and the 2nd Marine Division shipped back to Hawaii on the Hilo island where he underwent more training on the Parker Ranch. It reminded him a little bit of East Texas.

“It was dusty,” he remembers, “One of the biggest ranches in the world. There were rodeos. Some of the boys tried to ride.”

From there Ken’s company made a maneuver on the Hawaiian island of Maui where they practiced landing.

Shortly after that Ken and the 2nd Marine Division went back to Pearl Harbor for a few days. There, they were joined by the 4th Marine Division and the 27th Army.

“Half of us got off the ships to go to shore to rest and relax,” he recalls. “While we were on the beach the LST started blowing up from sabotage from the Japanese and we lost about 400-500 and the 4th Marine lost 400-500 and I don’t know how many others.”

He said the Dallas Morning News later did a story on this event calling it Pearl Harbor Two.

“One (ship) would blow up and another would catch,” he said. “I think they (the Japanese) slipped in and set ammunition affire and they (the ships) started burning up in rows. These boys were all on there.”

The very young Ken Oxford from Van, Texas, had already seen much destruction in his time in the service. But there was much more to come.

The 2nd Marine Division joined the 58th Navy Task Force with 25-30 aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers and went to the island of Saipan about 1500 miles southwest of Pearl Harbor. They were then joined by the 4th Marine Division and 27th Army to take the island from the Japanese.

“It was bad too,” he recalls. “Really bad. It took about 30 days to take it. Japs were there. Lots of them.”

Just three miles from Saipan the troops went in to Tinian.

“It took about two weeks to take it,” Ken recalls.

The island of Tinian, Ken said, is where American forces had the B-29 bombers that took off towards Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the atom bombs a short while later.

Ken’s last campaign was in Okinawa.

“We landed and it wasn’t too bad a landing at all,” he said, “and we pushed on and took half the island in about two days.

“Some more army outfits landed too in different places and they had a lot of American troops there. That’s where the kamikaze planes came down and hit all the ships.”

He was there. He saw it happen. And he lived to tell about it.

It took about 60 days to secure the Okinawa island. Then the company went back to Saipan. They were there when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“As soon as they dropped Nagasaki we were aboard ship and went straight to that island,” Ken said. “We landed there and of course the whole city was flat, destroyed.

Ken and the 2nd Marine Division went in to Nagasaki to help clean up.

“My infantry went to different little towns and policed the area and took weapons away from the Japs,” Ken said. “We went into the hills and destroyed their shore guns that were overlooking the bay where we had landed.”

They were there for about three months and then they went to Sasebo and joined the 5th Marine Division that had been at Iwo Jima and was deactivating and sending people home.

Ken was 21 years old when he came home.

“It looked great,” he said. “I was ready to get home.”

He stayed home for 30 days and then went to school for embassy duty in California for one year. Then he went to the American embassy in Spain and worked as a security guard/marine detachment for a year. He was discharged from the Marines in 1947. He joined the Marine reserves where he would train once a month at the Naval Air Station in Grand Prairie, Texas, and he went to work for Union Oil of California.

In September 1950 Ken was called to the Korean war, another conflict of freedom over communism. He came home in 1952 and rejoined Union Oil who had paid him the whole time he was gone.

Ken married Mary Gulledge from Ben Wheeler, Texas, in 1955 and they had two children, a boy and a girl. They transferred with Union Oil a few times and landed in Mobile, Alabama in 1977. Mary died in 1985.

On a visit back to Van a couple of years later, Ken ran in to Ruth Carter, a girl he’d known for 50 years, and they began to date. When Ken retired he moved back to Van and married Ruth and for the last 14 years they’ve lived the simple life that only a home town can offer.

Ken has four grandsons living in Alabama.

“The oldest just got out of the Marines,” Ken said. “It’s good. I think he did real good.”

— P.A. Geddie

Dale Creasy

Dale Creasy was born December 12, 1922, in Des Moines, Iowa. He was 20 years old when he was drafted for the service, leaving his pregnant wife in the care of her parents. He returned home to a two- year- old son. Before he was drafted,  Dale had been in the CCC ( Civilian Conservation Corps ), as well as serving in the National Guard. Army life, therefore, was no surprise to him.

After some training, Dale decided to apply for the Air Cadets. He fulfilled the necessary requirements, and was waiting in Roswell, New Mexico, to begin his training, when orders came for all men with previous ground force training to be dismissed from the Cadets.

Much to his disappointment, Dale was “invited” back to the ground forces. He was enlisted with the Heavy Automatic Maintenance Company, because of his previous experience with truck driving. Before entering active service, he received full mechanical training.

Dale worked in Europe until the termination of the European war, driving a truck loaded with spare parts along all the highways to rescue broken down vehicles.

Once, when he was traveling with a friend they accidentally stumbled into the Germans.  It was night, and although they could see little, they could hear the sentry’s challenge. It did not take long for them to make a U-turn!

Dale volunteered once to transport tanks. The assignment sounded simple enough but it turned out to be more difficult than he expected. He had to unload tanks from a boat, drive them across an icy, rail-less bridge and load them on flat cars. His commanding officers were not overly pleased when he, slipping about on the ice, managed to derail an entire train by colliding his tank into it.  That was the only time that he ever drove a tank.

At the culmination of the European war he was sent to the South Pacific, via the Panama Canal. There when they were not needed, he and his friends camped in tents on the beach, swimming and enjoying themselves.

Sometimes they volunteered to sink “ducks,” the two-and-a-half ton flat bottomed amphibious boats. They would take a string of them out to sea, and chop holes in the bottom. Generally they rode back on another “duck,” but if someone new to the job was with them they destroyed their own as well. Everyone had to swim to shore.

During the time Dale spent in the service, he allocated all of his paycheck except for six dollars and fifty cents a month to the care of his family. However, he had an ample supply of income, due to successful poker playing. Although he saw his wife only once, at the birth of their son, he was able to write to her. Finally, December 24, 1945, he received his honorable discharge. He left as Sergeant Creasey.

Although Mr. Creasey was never in actual combat, his work was a necessary part of the war. A body is not complete without all its joints, and an army cannot function unless every part does its share. This paper is dedicated to all those brave young men who gave up their jobs, their families, and, for some, their lives, for the sake of our country. God bless America!

—Amber  Daniels

 

Lloyd Cook

October  18, 1919,  Lloyd Cook was born in Van Tx, to W.H. and Twill Cook. He was the fifth child of eight children. Mr. Cook grew up on his family’s farm in Van, and he later attended a college in Denton, Tx, for a flight program.

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was devastated by Japanese bombers. Lloyd said that it was a Sunday he would never forget. He was still attending college in Denton at this time. He knew that war was inevitable and he would surely go. After talking to his folks at home he decided to enlist in the Coast Guard.

At age 22 Mr. Lloyd Cook enlisted in the U.S.C.G.R.( United States Coastal Guard Reserve). August 25, 1942, he left Ft. Worth at 6 p.m. heading for New Orleans by train where he would receive his basic training.

Arriving in New Orleans by 8 a.m. he and his fellow enlistees were starving. Before they could devour the first thing in sight, which happened to be some street venders candy, they were escorted by the military police to their “home” for the next few weeks where they were fed their first meal of “Navy Beans.”

Of all the different areas of training for basic Lloyd recalls that gunnery was his only difficulty. He said that basic was not a bad experience for him. Although he laughingly recalls his second week at basic when he received seven days of K.P. which he thought was a “good” duty everyone should experience, he got along with his officers and his drill instructor “just fine.”

He attributes this to the fact that he was disciplined all his life and was taught to obey, which made obeying orders natural. He also recalled the fact that he had been “weaned” from home while attending college which helped him a lot during the weeks of basic. Some of the younger boys, he remembers, got pretty homesick during those difficult weeks away from home.

After graduating from basic as an A.S.( Apprentice Seaman), his unit was sent to Seaside Heights , New Jersey, for Beach Patrol. His unit was housed in an empty hotel which was devoid of heating or hot water. Being winter and he being from Texas, the minus 5 degree weather was not particularly comfortable.

He recalls one night about a week after their arrival to New Jersey that despite the weather he would rather take a shower and die clean than stay dirty. He did get clean and it was freezing.

Three months later, he was transferred to New York City to take a  pharmacy course at Columbia University. As a 3rd class pharmacist he transferred from New York to Biloxi, Mississippi, where he served as a dentist’s helper for about  three months.

Next he was transferred to Gulf Shores, Alabama, where he and his unit where housed in empty C.C.C. ( Civil Conservation Corp.) barracks.

About three months later he found himself as 3rd class medical personnel on the U.S.S. Magnolia patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico. On August 18,1944, he embarked on a ship from San Francisco headed for Milne, New Guinea, which was conveying 10,000 troops.

After reaching their destination, he was transferred to Hillandia, New Guinea, where he replaced a 1st class pharmacist on board the LST 22 which had 125 crew members. From here they conveyed 100 troops to the Lingayan Gulf for the January 4th D-Day invasion.

Later they found out that of the 100 troops they had conveyed only three survived.

After making a trip to New Guinea for supplies and back to the Lingaayan Gulf where they picked up 13 wounded troops, he and the crew headed back to San Diego on the LST 22 where it was decommissioned, cleaned and emptied.  While in San Diego he was able to see his brother, Bayne Cook, who was also in the military.

From San Diego they sailed to New Guinea to pick-up troops and convey them to the aid of General Douglas Mac Arthur in order to secure an island in the Philippines.

Lloyd was aboard the LST 22 in the Philippines when the atomic bomb was dropped and  WWII was ended.

He returned by sea to Long Beach, California, where he was discharged March ,1946. He then traveled to San Diego where he found a ride home to Van, Texas.

Shortly after arriving home at the age of 26, he met and married his wife Mable. They had four children. After working for a business in Tyler for a year, he and his brother-in-law bought a pharmacy where he worked for more than 27 years. Mr. and Mrs. Cook have been married 55 years. They live in Van, Texas, and they have nine grand children.

Despite the fact that the children of this generation have not been properly disciplined, he says, the United States of America is a great nation. When asked what freedoms we would not have if we had not won WWII, Mr. Cook replied that he believes we would be virtually devoid of freedom. He said our freedoms today are definitely worth the cost we paid in WWII.  

-Keri a. McGatlin

 

Tom Fritts

Tom Fritts is a World War II veteran who made the initial invasion with General George Patton in North Africa, Casablanca, and again in Iran.  He was with the invasion in Southern France and caught up again with the General for the Rhine River crossing and ended up in the Battle of the Bulge in the winter of 1944.

He was also in North Africa.

“There are a lot of experiences I had across North Africa,” Tom said. “When we ended up in the Battle at Cesarean Pass, at one time we were down to three operable tanks and if the German General Rommel had of known we were that hard up for armor, he would have probably run us clean back across Africa.”

Tom worked night and day at 16 hour shifts trying to get the tanks put back in service.

Tom also made amphibious tanks by putting large inner tubes made of canvas around the tanks.  He made four of these and floated the four tanks across the Rhine River.  He was in the advance on the Germans about six miles from where they were expecting them to invade.  They captured 28 German tanks and 1800 troops with only their four tanks and the trucks that could cross the river.

After the Rhine River crossing he ended up in the Battle of the Bulge.  “In about two and a half weeks we were getting low on supplies,” Tom remembers. “We were without too many heavy clothes, and we were getting anywhere from 14-18 degree temperature, two and three feet of snow, and it was the most miserable two weeks I believe I have ever spent. I didn’t ever think I would ever get warm again.”

After the war was over he stayed in the army reserve for a total of 18 years. Tom was discharged in November of 1946.  He has been a tooling engineer all of his life except the time he was in the service and during the two years of college he attended.  He has worked on the moon landing vehicle, the Gemini and Saturn Programs, and later on the space vehicle they used to take to the moon.

Thirty-two years ago, he took a job at Love Field in Dallas.  He was senior tool and equipment engineer for 28 years.  Now that he is retired, he is still called to work on a consulting basis at Love Field.

Tom brought home an extensive collection of memorabilia and has many books concerning World War II.  He has pictures of the entire German General staff, including Adolph Hitler.  He acquired these pictures from an officer’s desk in an air force training facility.  “I helped myself to them and I am very happy I was able to come up with that group of pictures,” Tom admitted.

He also has a German 9mm Mouser Para Trooper pistol that is encased in a walnut stock.  Also in his collection is the “Victory” edition of the Stars and Stripes Newspaper along with several others.  He also has pictures of his unit which was composed of 228 men who were all specialists in their field.

Tom made his own personal mementoes that he put together while he was over seas.  He sketched around 15 scenes he came across in Africa, including a beautiful cathedral, several breath taking landscapes, and the raid at Pearl Harbor.  In another book, he has pictures of a Sherman tank. He worked on and designed a special gun barrel for this type of tank.

Tom designed an inside cradle for the gun tube on a tank while in the German forest.

“The gun tube is on the rear of the tank,” Tom explains. “When you try to swing it around with trees on both sides, you couldn’t very well get the tank around.”

The tank he designed had a spring latch so you could take the tube across the top and drop the gun tube down into the catch.  When you got ready to fire, you could just pull the latch from the inside and raise the gun tube and aim at whatever you needed to.  The latch was to keep the gears that rotated the tank from wearing out as it went across rough terrain.

Tom feels very fortunate at his age to have the experiences that he has and to be lucky with his health.  Tom expresses his feelings and his thoughts of patriotism by saying, “Patriotism isn’t just a word in my opinion, it comes from the heart, it represents the way you feel about the United States and the flag of our country.”

—Brittani Ledesma

Earl Clark

Earl Clark, born on February 6, 1926 to Roy and Letha Clark, lived in Wills Point, Texas, for most of his life. He grew up like any other country boy, until the summer of 1944. It was two and a half years since Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the war was still bringing devastation to Europe, when Earl was drafted to the 80th division, 317th infantry. 

He was 18, and still in high school when he left for an extensive, 17 week training course at Camp Walters in Mineral Wells, TX.

“I was very excited,” he said, “like any boy today would be. I was a part of the war.”

But basic training was more strenuous than he had expected. 

“It was very difficult,” Earl remembers. “I thought I would be in good shape since I had played football at school, but I found out I needed to have played a lot more.”

Their day began at six o’clock in the morning and sometimes they would march 20 miles at night, returning around four only to head out again by six. It was the middle of summer and the heat was extreme.

“We were never allowed in the shade,” he said. “They wanted us to be tough.”

KP, or Kitchen Patrol, was a part of basic training he detested. He was certain he received the unwanted duty more than anyone else. He recalled with a cheerful indignation, he had it five weekends in a row. 

By the end of training, he had gained confidence and skill in marksmanship.

“Out of the 386 men in our group,” he acknowledged, “only two were considered really top.”

He was one of those two. In late November, Earl was shipped out of Boston on the USS Wakefield. They were without escort and had to change direction every 17 minutes to elude enemy submarines. The water was so cold that had they been torpedoed they would not have survived more than 20 minutes.

But the voyage was uneventful, and they landed in safety at Liverpool, England. By train they traveled across the country to Southampton and from there crossed the channel to LeHavre, France. They were transported across France in cattle cars, known as “40 and seven’s” because they were designed to carry 40 men or seven horses.

The cars had been machine gunned, and were covered with holes and scrapes. In these trains they traveled nonstop for two days and two nights. There were no bathrooms, there was only enough room for each man to stretch out his arm before touching a companion, and the food consisted of  “C” rations.

At last they arrived in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, where they stayed in the Grand Duchess Castle for a few days to recover from their harrowing trip. The rugs had been rolled up and put in storage, but Earl and his friends took them out and laid them on the floor, to make it warmer.

They were taken by truck to the front lines. The first few trucks had tarps over them, but no such comfort was available for Earl. There was no room for him, so he had to ride on top in the bitter wind from early morning to late evening. They walked the last half mile; it was too dangerous to ride. They came to a spot where an American soldier had been shelled.

“The snow was so white,” he recalled, “and the blood so red.”

They arrived at the deserted village where they were stationed and a sergeant met Earl in the street.

“You’ve got 30 minutes,” he was told, “and then we’re heading up to the hills.”

So, on his first night Earl started up into the hills. It was a moonlit night and the snow was deep up to his knees. He was loaded down with equipment. As ammo bearer he carried 80 pounds of ammunition in addition to which he carried his rifle, two wool uniforms, wool sweater, combat boots, overcoat, helmet liner, and four pound helmet. He began to fall behind, but was afraid to call out. He struggled on through the snow but the distance continued to widen. At last the others stopped on the crest of a hill and he was able to come up to them.

Down in the valley a fire was burning where a US tank had been destroyed several days before. The men who were inside were trapped by German soldiers and burned inside the tank. Every night for a week the Germans burned a fire in that place as a taunting reminder.

On his second night as he and another GI walked down the road between the hills and the village, they walked into an ambush. Nine unidentified soldiers faced the two of them, and Earl gave himself up for lost. The nine remained silent when Earl’s companion challenged them, but just as he lost all hope one of them spoke saying, “We’re GI’s.” Earl’s friend was furious with them for not identifying themselves more quickly.

A few days later they returned to the village. Earl and two others were left just outside the town guarding the machine guns while the rest were quartered inside.

Across the road from where they were stationed was a deserted house within which was a little stove. They got up a system where two would stay by the guns while the third would warm up by the stove.

At last Earl’s turn came. He leaned his rifle against the wall, and walked four feet away to the stove. As he kneeled before it warming himself he heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs behind him. He froze, his hair standing on end. He was four feet away from his rifle and if he moved it would mean certain death. About the time he had decided to get his rifle regardless of the cost something touched his foot and at the same moment cried, “meow.”

One day they marched by a place where GI’s had been shelled. Lying in the snow or standing upright in it were nine feet laced up in combat boots. The bodies had been dragged off.

“It was an eerie feeling,” he told me, “to see those feet and know that we were in German sights.”

They were transferred to a place near Wiltz, Luxembourg. One night was spent in an old house. There were 19 of them inside and as they sat down in the six-inch deep straw one man said, “It feels like a grenade in here.”

The sergeant commanded that no one move. The man continued, “It feels like two grenades in here and it feels like the pins are out.”

And the sergeant ordered them to be carefully removed. The private placed them by a post out side and there left them.

“They meant for all 19 of us to die,” Earl said solemnly. “In war, you kill any way you can. It’s either kill or be killed, so if you want to live you’ve got to kill.”

Once Earl’s troop was stationed in an open field and was ordered to shoot anything that moved in front of them. That night a blizzard obscured their view. But the flares in front kept being tripped. Earl thought the Germans were upon him but later he learned that Snowshoe Rabbits were traveling across the field setting off the flares.

The next day he saw two soldiers walking in the no man’s land in front of them. Faithful to his orders, he prepared to shoot them but couldn’t do it.

“Battle is one thing,” he thought, “but murder’s another.” Nudging a comrade, he whispered, “I can’t do it, do you want to shoot ‘em?”

“Sure,” his comrade replied, “I’ll shoot ‘em.”

He carefully got the two men in his sights and sat for a moment. Then he shook his head. “I hate to do it.”

He crawled over ten yards to his sergeant and asked him to do it but even the sergeant didn’t have the heart to kill them.

Earl suggested they watch them, and if they turned back and headed for the German lines, they would shoot. But instead of that, they turned to the side and headed into the American lines. They were two GI’s who had gotten lost during the blizzard and were wandering in no man’s land.

By this time Earl had become first gunner. Due to his skill he was loaned out to the 318th infantry for two days and nights. He was placed with a machine gun on second defense with a hill between him and the front lines. He could not see the enemy, but they could see him. Both nights mortar rounds were dropped on him every five minutes. But on the last night it came every five seconds for two harrowing hours.

“They fell like raindrops in a thirty foot circle around me,” he said, “but not one ever touched me. It was here that I found Jesus, and I became a Christian.”

It was here also that he witnessed a man completely overcome by fear. German spies were known to come up through the lines dressed as American soldiers. They spoke perfect English, and had even gone to school in America. But they had not grown up there, and did not know the nursery rhymes. So that was the only way one could tell a true GI from a spy. One man came up to where Earl was stationed and when Earl asked him where he was born he could not remember. Mr. Clark then asked him his name, and the man replied, “Hold on, don’t shoot, I’ll remember in just a minute, it’s on the tip of my tongue.”

He successfully answered the nursery rhymes, and so proved himself a true GI but so frightened that he had forgotten his very name.

Earl returned to the 317th after two days and nights, and was stationed in an open field with one other GI. They were given ten pounds of ammunition, enough to last ten minutes in a full fight, and told to make it last a week. It was a discouraging moment for them to be left with so little ammo. But then they saw a burned out tank and together searched it for more. Their search was rewarded when they found 15 boxes of ammunition together with 12 grenades.

It was bitter cold, 45 degrees below, and the snowfall was heavy, but Earl and his friend did not leave their gun. When the storm was over and the sergeant had reached them, they had lost control of their hands. They were placed in a hole and covered with blankets until slowly they began to recover from the cold.

On his next to last day on the front lines the 317th infantry marched into a village. No sign of the enemy had been seen and they started around the second bend of an S-curve. But here the Germans began shelling the road with tremendous force—it looked as though someone had taken an ice pick to it. Shrapnel was flying everywhere; a piece shot between Earl’s legs, between his arm and body, and cut a nick out of his boot. Yet he remained unhurt.

He sought refuge in an 18-inch ditch by the side of the road until at last the fire became too heavy and he ran back 300 yards to the shelter of a hill. An officer saw him and told him to go back, lest he make a target.

So back through the flying shrapnel he ran. Here he was told to pull back because they couldn’t hold the road at that place. When he arrived back at the hill, a lieutenant saw him and once more ordered him forward.

“I’ve been up and down that road, 300 yards through flying shrapnel, four times now,” he replied, “and we either need to stay here or there.”

The lieutenant allowed him to remain.

The next day he was stationed in an open field. The ground was so frozen that, though he worked long and hard with pick and shovel, he was unable to dig deeper than six inches. He covered himself with spruce boughs and tried to stay warm. At last the sergeant made them go down into a hollow and walk back and forth from three a.m. on trying to keep from freezing.

With morning came a truck with coffee a welcomed sight. But as Earl limped to his hole he heard  the sound of a six barrel rocket coming over the hill. Someone had taken his hole but Earl made him scoot over and laid low. The “screamin’ demon,” as they called it landed directly where he had been standing.

During that long, cold, night his feet had frozen. The sergeant ordered him to return to the main camp but he didn’t want to go. He knew he was the best gunner they had and didn’t want to leave his friends vulnerable.

“Just let the medic check my feet,” he pleaded.

But the medic took one look and ordered him back immediately.

That was the end of Earl’s time with the army. It had lasted only 25 days though Earl was not discharged for some months. He spent at least three months in hospitals during which time he celebrated his 19th birthday. He was sent to Colorado Springs, Colorado, and finally discharged.

Earl returned to high school when he got home and later met a widow with two little girls, and she became his wife. She too had suffered in the war, losing two brothers.

Earl’s eyes filled with tears as he spoke of the war and his voice trembled.

“Old men cry, like I am, because they are reliving it,” he said. “I don’t want my grandsons to have to go through what I did.”

He was silent a moment, then looked up. “You know,” he said, with hope and joy in his voice, “ these are the end times. Jesus will return soon. It won’t be long now!”

—Heather Daniels

For more VZC WWII veterans stories see their videos at the Van Zandt County Library of Genealogy and Local History.

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