“I will tell you what I can remember. I was in the service for two years. August 18, 1944, to July 3, 1946. I went to four months of basic training and I was on the front line on the tip of Luxembourg on January 29, 1945. I was a replacement because they were losing boys and needed more fighters. You have to go into things with an open mind that things can happen. But nothing prepares you for facing death. The second night we went on combat patrol to determine the strength of the Germans. A scout stepped on shoe mines and lost both of his feet. We pushed through the woods. The Germans threw treetop artillery at us to bust out the treetops and sent metal everywhere. I dove under a tank, but the men around me told me to get into a foxhole because they will blow up the tank. They don’t teach you that in training. We got to a river and the Germans were on the other side. We got into eight boats, eight soldiers in a boat. We put five boats in the water and the Germans sank three boats. We lost those men. We went up the river about half a mile and came back across and took the Germans.
I was coming off guard duty one night. A sergeant sent me by myself to take a German back to a command post. I shouldn’t have done this alone. The German walked to the other side of the highway. I told him nicht. Nicht. German for no. He jumped and ran. All I could see was a dark spot, like a body. I shot him in the back 18 times. I couldn’t take my finger off the trigger. I have felt sorry since then. I hate to know I killed someone who couldn’t protect himself. Then again, if I had let him go he could have killed me the next day.
The war ended and I only fought for four months, but I had to stay another year more with the occupation. We guarded the line in Czechoslovakia. Our job was to keep the Russians out and prevent the spread of Communism. We were ordered to shoot them if they crossed the line. It was a tense time, if either of us fired, it would have started another war.
I grew up in North Carolina. I had four brothers and I am the only one still alive. We worked on a farm with my daddy. We farmed tobacco, strawberries, and cucumbers. We rolled our own cigarettes from the drying tobacco leaves and I smoked from ages 13 to 38. We were poor and didn’t realize there was a Depression. I was still working in the fields and chasing girls on D-Day. I told my daddy I would never go into farming. After the war, I got a job as a boilermaker and learned to weld. I worked there until I worked at Alabama Power. I retired in 1988 and have been traveling ever since. I have been back to Europe ten times. I became a pilot after I retired. I want to live to be 100 and have five years to go. My first wife died in 1978 with breast cancer and got a divorce from my second wife. Now I don’t want to live anyplace else by Homestead Village, this is heaven.
They have messed the United States up and I feel sorry for your generations. We don’t know if we are religious or governed. We should stand for something. All people want is money. Look at how people dress now. They don’t take pride in themselves. My mother always told us we don’t have much, but when you go to church you wear the best you have. You get dressed up, you have a different frame of mind.
Can you prepare yourself to face danger? You could die and you don’t want to die. The other side doesn’t want to die either. Everyone wants to go to Heaven, but no one wants to die.”
This is a preview of a series of interviews with World War ll veterans that will begin running at the end of November. My son and I have been interviewing these veterans over the past year to help preserve their stories.