Veterans Day is a day that can cause memories to surface, things which happened more than 60 years ago. They were so different and personal that they truly became etched into the memory. I will not elaborate on the conflict but will share other things which are more apt to be interesting and perhaps entertaining.
Military service requires strict training in many ways. I remember one of my first sergeants, a man who was finishing 30 years of service, who made it pretty plain when he said, "You are not getting paid for thinking. You are getting paid to do what you are told. If you don't do that, I have a number of ways to make you wish you had." He was a great guy, but he did mean what he said.
Following basic training in Camp Wheeler, Ga., during the summer months amid tall trees that did not allow much breeze, in the humid heat of Georgia, was less than enjoyable. But then being transferred to upstate New York in the Finger Lakes region for eight months of specialized training to become engineers was similar to going to heaven.
The eight months of training there was most intense. It included mathematics training consisting of college algebra, college geometry, analytic geometry, differential calculus and integral calculus all in eight months. The same levels of training also included chemistry and physics, along with physical fitness.
Failure to succeed there was to be assigned to overseas infantry.
From the New York assignment, we were transferred to Camp Shelby, Miss., as members of the 69th Infantry Division. There are numerous things that stick in my memory about Camp Shelby. There was a 30-mile overnight march. There was the leaving the camp for 30-day training in the woods where there were no cots, just sleeping on the ground in pup tents.
The interesting points relative to that was that all four of the poisonous snakes in the United States were also out there, particularly, the coral snake, or as the natives called it, the "20-minute snake," because if it bit you, within 20 minutes you were dead.
This problem meant that before you went to bed, you tucked your pant legs into your boots, you put on gloves and pulled your helmet liner over your ears to prevent the chances of being bitten by the coral snake.
Of course, the chiggers loved this opportunity. The medics used a brush to apply the medicine to stop the itching.
There was another problem. Living away from camp, we used the rivers and streams to stay reasonably clean. It was always thrilling to see a water moccasin coming toward you. We staged for our overseas trip at Camp Kilmer, N.J., where the saying was "the mosquitoes are so big that they pitch horseshoes to see who gets you."
The overseas travel consisted of 14 days on the Atlantic in what was described at the time as the largest convoy ever assembled. Of course, the whole convoy could travel no faster than the slowest ship, and we were treated to a German submarine alert and seeing the destroyers drop their depth charges.
Our company spent time in Winchester, England, where Winchester Cathedral was most interesting. It is approximately 1,000 years old and we got to see it completely, even in its foundations, which include huge stone arches.
I did manage to get a three-day pass to go to London. It was very enjoyable except for the fact that the "buzz-bombs" were landing there every day and at all hours. And no one knew where they were going to land the next time.
Crossing the English Channel to LeHavre, France, through northern France, across the lower part of Belgium and into Germany where we had our first experience with actual combat will never be forgotten.
It was during the latter part of the Battle of the Bulge. Crossing the Rhine River on a pontoon bridge was another long-remembered experience. It was in the vicinity of the Remagen bridge, which allowed a new foothold on the east side of the river.
During the crossing of Germany, we moved so rapidly for a while that we ran ahead of supplies. Food supplies were short. But luckily, we located a warehouse of German food supplies, which were most welcome. I remember some of the features, which included Norwegian sardines, cheese and other tasty food.
When we reached Leipzig, we had a very different experience. The town had been under artillery and suffered the usual results. There was a zoo in Leipzig, and one of the lion mothers had a small baby. The mother lion had been killed, leaving the little one alone.
Someone rescued this baby and having no way to care for it, brought it to our place. So, for a while, we took care of a baby lion and watched her grow. We named her Suzy. But overnight, someone poisoned her. We never knew who had done it. She gave us a great deal of fun during her time with us.
On April 24, 1945, we had reached the Elbe River near a little town by the name of Torgau. On the night mission, we met the Russians. It was to signal the end of fighting. You can only begin to imagine the feeling among all of the GIs who had fought their way from France to this significant experience ending the war.
Plans were laid to return home. Our division (69th Infantry) had a number of men from the 29th Division who had landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day transfer to our division to come home. What stories they could tell. Many of these men had dogs with them who had, for many of them, saved their lives because of the dogs' alertness and sense of smell. When chow time came, the dogs would come and lay at their master's feet and then, when the man had saved food for him, would eat from the mess kit.
While in the staging areas from coming home -- all of them named for cigarettes (Camp Lucky Strike, etc.) -- an order came that no dogs would be allowed on the ships. These men, who loved their dogs so much, made arrangements with the sailors to slip the dogs into bags and get them aboard.
On the first day at sea, the colonel in charge of the troops aboard issued an order that the dogs would be put overboard. Within a very short time, the colonel received information that if one dog were put overboard, he would soon follow. The colonel's order was rescinded.
On this Veterans Day, I believe it is significant and necessary to remember and recognize those who served our country.
Tom Brokaw said it well. He called it "The Greatest Generation." Sure, I saw the horrors of war, but veterans do not usually like to speak of those things. Whether actually fighting or not, we still have to live each day. I've tried to share some of those things with you.
Arris Johnson, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.