Appalachia Holidays in Appalachia

July 4th – By Charles Fletcher

July 4th
Today’s guest post was written by Charles Fletcher.

—————–

Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

We had a welcoming committee:  a couple of tough looking sergeants and two corporals. After a cool welcome, we were lined up and marched to the Post barbershop. The barbers would ask how you would like your hair to be cut. But regardless of what you told them, they gave everyone the same style – clipped down to the skin. You weren’t in the chair more than two minutes.

Next, we marched to the Supply Room. We got underwear, sheets, blankets, socks, handkerchiefs, a razor, shaving soap, a shaving brush, a toothbrush, toothpaste, hand soap, washcloths, towels, a helmet, a rifle, a web belt, a first aid kit, a gas mask, boots (that were too large), and a duffel bag. We were issued two of almost everything. I had never had this many worldly goods in my whole life. I felt sort of proud to have all of them. But I could barely carry such a load.

The next three months were hectic. We went through KP, guard duty, forced marches, the obstacle course, the rifle range, aircraft shooting, bayonet drill, hand-to-hand combat, and lots of other things to make sure we stayed busy. Then it was time to move out and make room for the next group of soon-to-be soldiers.

They shipped us in different directions. I ended up at Fort Dix in New Jersey. I was assigned as a Supply Clerk with the 90th General Hospital. I was at Fort Dix for about six months before leaving for an overseas assignment. We packed up and boarded a train for New York City and the boat docks. In time we boarded the Queen Elisabeth, the English tourist ship. Back then it was the largest such ship in the world. Over 15,000 troops were on on board. We crossed the Atlantic by way of Iceland where German submarines couldn’t travel because of the ice.

We stayed at Malvern Hills, England for about two months, and then we went again to a town in Wales. We were in Wales for only three weeks. Toward the end of our stay, we began to downsize, getting rid of everything we could do without.

A few days after D-Day we were awakened at midnight, loaded into trucks, and taken straight to the docks where ships were waiting for us. We were loaded onto ships until there was standing room only. We were finally on our way. The English Channel was very rough that morning. The ship was a small one and was rising and falling with every wave. An announcement came over the ship intercom telling us that we were on our way to France. The Germans had been pushed back, and we would land at Omaha Beach.

It was near daylight and you could see the outline of land in the far-off distance. We went in as far as the ship could go. Then we had to climb down rope webs to the landing craft that were waiting below. They were small:  each would carry about fifty soldiers with their equipment. They were bobbing up and down more than the ship.

The landing craft rammed into the sand quite a ways from land. We had gone in at low tide. The front end of the boat was a big gate. It was let down until the end of the landing craft was wide open, and we hit the water. The surf was deep enough to be above our waist. There was nothing to do but keep moving toward dry land. We were lucky: The Germans had been pushed back to St. Lo, and we didn’t have to dodge bullets. We only had the cold water and the debris floating around everywhere to put up with. On the beach, the ground was covered with abandoned and damaged equipment, both German and American.

We finally got together as a group and started inland. We stopped in a field at Carentan about five miles from St. Lowe where General Patton’s Third Army was trying to take the town. We were not assigned to any outfit at this time. We budded up with someone, and between the two of us we pitched a pup tent. We were given “K rations” for our meals. Some of the meals were OK. You never knew what was in the package until you opened it. The cheese, eggs, potted ham, and beans were all right. I never liked the stew — it was too greasy to eat cold. Sometimes this was better than going hungry.

The next morning when I was looking around, I saw a very large field that was turned into a graveyard. It was estimated that there were twenty thousand solders buried there. There were white crosses as far as you could see. Also, there were huge piles of shoes and clothing nearby. I’m sure these belonged to those who were buried there. I found a pair of trooper boots my size, took off my old stiff boots, threw them into the pile, and put on the softer boots. I wore these for the next year or so.

My unassigned status didn’t last long.  On the third day I was assigned to a twenty-five-man crew who were to drive in the “Red Ball Express.” These were vehicles carrying supplies to the front lines. We didn’t know what we were hauling. There was only room for one person, a driver, in each vehicle. I was on this assignment until we reached Metz France. I then was assigned to a Military Police unit. Our duty was to take prisoners back to stockades in France. One cold winter day I had about fifteen prisoners holding them for a pick up crew to come and get them and take them to a stockade farther south. The day went by, and no one came to get the prisoners until nearly dark that evening. I became so cold I was numb, and my feet were frostbitten. I came down with pneumonia and was put in the hospital at Verdun. I was given penicillin shots every four hours for two days and then sent back to my unit.

I was assigned as a guard to a stockade near a little town named Bar le Duc. Things were going pretty well until the Germans made their last counter-attack, known as the “Battle of the Bulge”. Everyone who could be spared was sent to the “Bulge”. I was put on duty at the stockade twenty-four hours a day. The weather was miserable, with snow, fog, and cold, so air support couldn’t help. These conditions lasted for over a week, and then the sun came out. There were clear skies, and the Allied air attack began. The sky was black with airplanes – bombers, fighters, and everything. They flew continuously all day long. The Germans were pushed back, killed, or captured.

The war was near an end in Europe, and it wasn’t long afterwards that the Germans gave up and called it quits. We began to let the prisoners go back home. I was ready to go home too.

Those going back to the United States were prioritized based on how many dependents we had, how long we had been in service, how long we had been overseas, and other factors. My priority points put me in about the middle of the list. My group was loaded on a train and sent to a port in Belgium. We stayed there another six to eight weeks, and then we boarded a “Liberty Ship”. It had been over twenty-eight months since I had any milk. I volunteered for KP duty on the ship so I could have all the milk I wanted. I think I drank ten pint cartons on my first day at KP.

We docked in New York, and from there we were sent to a camp in Virginia then back to Fort Bragg, the same place I had started from about four years ago. There I was to be processed for separation from the Army. Finally, I was a civilian again and was on my way home.

My service in WW 2 was an experience that I will never forget. There were all types of people in this war. Many were praised as heroes and were awarded medals. I received medals and ribbons. Many others were never mentioned or received any medal. But my way of thinking, all that served in this war were heroes. True, some captured many enemies, some none. But without everyone the war would have been lost. We all had a job and we did our part.

Today we celebrate the 4th of July as a day for picnics, swimming and dozens of other events. Stop for a moment and think of the real reason that July 4th is a holiday.

—————–

Hope you enjoyed the guest post-leave Charles a comment and I’ll make sure he reads it.

Tipper

 

 

 

 

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    kenneth o. hoffman
    July 6, 2011 at 2:43 am

    Tipper: a great big thanks to charles and so many others,i lost my uncle thomas james ,near kunming china sept. 11th 1944. they were all hero’s to me. thanks agin charles. k.o.h.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    July 4, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Wow! Thank you, Mr. Fletcher. A couple of weeks ago, we attended a family get together in memory of my dad, a proud WWII vet. We talked about “The Greatest Generation” & the sacrifices all Americans made in those days. We are fortunate-because we cannot grasp the enormity of what you went through. Your generation made this possible & we are in awe of all you. (And very grateful.)

  • Reply
    Charlotte
    July 4, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    Yes, I enjoyed reading Mr. Fletcher’s post, and thanking him for his service. I was just a little girl at that time and didn’t know anything was going on.
    I think it is such a pity that these special days, honoring our vets, have been turned into days of commerical gain.

  • Reply
    Vicki Lane
    July 4, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience — and thank you for serving your country.

  • Reply
    Ken
    July 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Tipper,
    I just love reading about Charles
    Fletcher’s life and I’d like to
    say “Thank You” and others for the
    sacrifice you endured for me and
    my family. Freedom…its nice!
    I grew up with a young guy whose
    dad fought in the “Battle of the
    Bulge”. He told of the hardships
    in that war. And one day he took
    us squirrel hunting and just as
    we crossed a river, jumping from
    rock to rock, a real loud jet
    flew over, just above our heads.
    I looked around and this dad had
    dove into a pile of leaves trying
    to cover his head with his cap
    bill. What a terrible thing, having flashbacks from an awful
    war. Happy Fourth Charles, it was
    worth it! …Ken

  • Reply
    Gerald
    July 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Mr. Fletcher,
    Thank you for your service to this great country.
    God Bless.

  • Reply
    Sue Crane
    July 4, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Amen. God Bless…

  • Reply
    Charline
    July 4, 2011 at 11:02 am

    Thank you, Charles – and God bless you on Independence Day!

  • Reply
    Shirley Owens
    July 4, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Dear Charles, I so enjoyed your story of a young man in the war. My dad used to tell us about his experiences and I wish I had listened more closely. It was one of the most memorable times of his life. Thanks for sharing yours with us. Shirley

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    July 4, 2011 at 10:42 am

    In 1982, I was sent to the Netherlands on business for a couple of weeks and found Margraten US Cemetery during my weekend wanderings. This cemetery was presented to the US by the Dutch Government. It is the final resting place for several thousand US war dead.
    I served in the Army fo four years right at the end of Vietnam, so I was never in combat. Unfortunately, war is sometimes necessary, but I can’t go to a beautiful, hallowed place like Margraten without coming with a pure hatred for war. So many young lives lost.
    Thank you, Charles, for the article. I especially appreciate that you point out that every GI has a role to play that is important, and many died doing “mundane” tasks. All are heroes.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    July 4, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Thank you Mr. Fletcher and thanks to my Dad who was WWII veteran. There is a picture in my Mom’s collection of a handsome blond-haired young man from Kentucky with last name Pettrey. Also, there was once a letter to my Dad from Pettrey’s Mom. My Dad’s friend died very young before he married or had a chance to live. I wish I could personally thank Mr. Pettrey, but I cannot. I can, however, remember him and all the sacrifices our servicemen made on this 4th of July.
    Our family remembers our Dad who died in 2001, and sometimes we decorate the grave of another WWII veteran friend buried nearby.

  • Reply
    Lise
    July 4, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Thank you for sharing this story Tipper, and THANK YOU Mr. Fletcher for your service to keep our country free. Thank you to all who have or are serving our country. And Happy Independence Day!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    July 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

    Mr. Fletcher’s recollections give us one man’s perspective and a poignant, powerful reminder of why this man, and countless others who served their country in World War II, are rightly recognized as the greatest generation.
    They knew the things which counted–love of country, love of family, a willingness to work, pride in self, faith, and the like–intimately and instinctively. Somehow far too many folks in today’s world have lost that tangible grasp with what is real, good, and meaningful in life. They seem to think the world owes them a living, that work is for someone else, that morality doesn’t exist, and that patriotism is almost repugnant.
    I’m sorry for sermonizing a bit, but reading Fletcher’s words just set me off. I’ll close by tendering a hearty and heartfelt “thank you” to him and to all others who have served this country so nobly and well. You have my deep and lasting admiration.
    Jim Casada
    http://www.jimcasadaoutdoors.com

  • Reply
    Sheila Bergeron
    July 4, 2011 at 10:18 am

    God bless you, Sir! I am proud of you and what you have done for us.

  • Reply
    Janet
    July 4, 2011 at 10:12 am

    Wonderful post, Tipper.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    July 4, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Charles, thanks for the reminder to keep the real reason for the 4th of July in our minds. My father was also in WW2 and my uncle was in the Pacific and saw some terrible things that he never forgot. I deeply appreciate every soldier that left home to defend our country. Blessings to all of you!

  • Reply
    Eva M. Wike, Ph.D.
    July 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

    Tipper: Charles’s words brought back many memories for me as he mentioned observing those WHITE CROSSES’as far as you could see!” For the FIFTY YEAR CELEBRATION, June 6, 1994, I ‘just happended’ to be on the beaches of Normandy where so many of our military men went ashore but did not come home. I was so shaken I had to leave the lecture group and go off by myself to weep! June 6, 1982, is also the day our son, Joey, was killed in a Sunday afternoon car accident. As I walked through the sands of Normanday I didn’t know for whom I was crying Joey or the men who died here.
    Soon our guide took us off the beaches and to a special place where the American men who had survived were waiting to greet us! There they were dressed in their uniforms looking just about as sharp as they did by in the l940’s. Again I had trouble with my tear ducts. But those men just smiled and chatted with us like we were their sisters!
    Now I am reading “Franklin and Eleanor” a new version about this extraordianry couple! The author is Hazel Rowley. Much could still be written about those days!
    Regards,
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Mary Jane Plemons
    July 4, 2011 at 9:37 am

    All I can say is thank you. I was born in 1944, and my Daddy was almost too old to go, but he was considered an essential farmer. My father-in-law worked on military construction and my mother-in-law was a Rosie the Riveter for a while.
    My husband’s family had a reunion a few years ago, and we took pictures of the living military vets with the nephew who is active duty now, on his third tour in the war zone; he has gone to Iraq once and Afghanistan twice now. My husband and five of his brothers served in the Viet Nam years, plus brothers-in-law, a cousin, and the uncles who served in every era from WWII to Korea. Another nephew served in Desert Storm. Three made the military a career. In all, they represented 104 years of service then.
    Americans need to be diligent to preserve our freedoms and not take them or our brave defenders for granted. God bless America.

  • Reply
    Jan
    July 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

    My heartfelt thanks and prayers to you Charles and all those who serve to keep our country free. My father was in WWII also in the Aleutian Islands. I wish I had talked more to him about his experiences. Thank you again.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    July 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Thank you for all you did for us!!!!!
    Thank you for the post!!

  • Reply
    downthelanegirl
    July 4, 2011 at 9:17 am

    I can’t hear anything about WWII that doesn’t make me cry. My father served in that war. It changed his life forever. He was over seas for three years. I remember him telling us kids that he laid in many cold, muddy fox holes in Europe and would travel the roads of our little mountain community in his mind at night… remembering each precious house and the people in them…and every curve in the road. When he left the boat and his feet touched American soil again, he fell to his knees and kissed the ground. My father loved his country and it’s because of his sacrifice and bravery that I enjoy my freedom today. Thank you Daddy!! Thank you Mr. Fletcher!

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    July 4, 2011 at 8:54 am

    Tipper,
    Wonderful post….Thank you Charles Fletcher for your service to our country and to all those now serving…
    When reading this memory of the war, I think this was the first time I could actually feel the teamwork involved, as well as the individual effort evryone contributed to win the war….
    Yes, you are all heros!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    July 4, 2011 at 8:52 am

    How can my words ever express the gratitude we feel in our hearts for these sons of America who gave it all. Our soldiers will always be our heroes.
    Thank you, Charles, for your sacrifice and the story that has not been gone from your thoughts a single day, lo these sixty-seven years away from that beach.

  • Reply
    Becky
    July 4, 2011 at 8:38 am

    What a recount of your days in WWII. I can only imagine what all the troops must have endured.
    Thanks to you and all the others who served our country to ensure our freedom!

  • Reply
    Ed Myers
    July 4, 2011 at 8:22 am

    My Dad was wounded at the Battle of Remagen, shot through the neck and left to die in the snow.
    At the end of two days, a German doctor chanced upon him and saved his life. He never spoke to us about this or other experiences he had during the way. We got what we got from his hospital records and his purple heart ceremony, well before I was born.
    My father was a committed pacifist, both before and after the war, but he did his duty, as did you.
    You’re right. We really should spend more time remembering the fallen; yet, we have Memorial day for this. The 4th, to me, is a celebration of freedom, bravery–both civilian and military–and hope.
    A little watermelon doesn’t hurt. At least, it, along with other, heavier fare, allows us to sit back, rub our stomachs and reflect on what has gone before and that which may be approaching. That the latter is so variable and open is, after all, one definition of freedom.
    Thank you for your post, Mr. Fletcher and God bless you and all our soldiers who have served, are serving and will.

  • Reply
    Edna E. Fields
    July 4, 2011 at 8:18 am

    “Thank you” is not enough to express the gratitude and indebtedness we, as a nation, owe to all you men and women who “saw your job and did it”. Mr. Fletcher is right, you are all heroes.
    My heart swells with pride, and my eyes fill with tears as I say my inadequate, “Thank you, and God, please bless America once again”.

  • Reply
    Dee from Tennessee
    July 4, 2011 at 4:27 am

    We just went to my former coworker’s dad’s military graveside service this Friday. 93 yrs old — WWII vet — and as I had handwritten on the patriotic wreath we sent….” all the WWII vets share a special place in Dan and my and hearts. They saved the United States. They saved the world.” Yes, they are all heroes. If not for the WWII vets, we would be speakig either German or Japan. All those Gold Star mothers….Thank you for your service Mr. Fletcher.

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