Monday, November 7, 2011

WWII, Korean, Vietnam War Stories

May 22, 1944-April 6, 1946

On February 14, 1926, Carl P. Beverage was born in Marlinton, West Virginia, Pocahontas County. He was raised on a farm located in an area of Pocahontas County known as Stoney Creek and attended West Union Grade School located approximately four miles from the farm. He, along with his five brothers and two sisters, walked the distance to and from school each day. The school was a one-room schoolhouse and served the community of Stoney Creek. After completing eight years at West Union Grade School, Carl entered Marlinton High located in Marlinton, West Virginia. He attended high school until shortly after his 18th birthday. Patriotism was high in the small community and all young men were encouraged to fight for their country.

On May 22, 1944, Carl enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and was sent to boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina. After completing basic training and other military training Carl was stationed at Camp Pendleton, California, prior to being assigned to the 6th Division, 4th Marines for overseas deployment.

Private Beverage, upon deployment, participated in the Battle of Okinawa. The Island of Okinawa had been "The Japanese Door Step." If the Americans could successfully invade Okinawa then they would only be 362 miles from Kyusha, one of the Japanese home islands. Okinawa Island was made for combat because there were many caves, ridges and cliffs to provide cover. The Japanese had had time to prepare for an invasion and had dug tunnels, built blockhouses, pillboxes and camouflaged caves. There were 70,000 Japanese troops to defend the island. The Japanese troops had made a commitment to stand, win or lose the war, and were going to fight to the death. Surrounding the Island were 1,300 American war ships with approximately 100,000 American soldiers on them. The ships, prior to the invasion, were subjected to Japanese Kamikazes attacks (suicide planes).

On April 1, 1945, Private Beverage, along with the 6th Division, 4th Marines and Allied forces stormed the beaches. The U.S. Forces originally expected vicious beach attacks but the Japanese offered little or no resistance on the beach landing. The Marines, along with other American Forces, pushed up hills and mountains and captured Nakagusuka Bay, in addition to two airfields. By the end of the first week, the Americans controlled half of the island. Still, they had suffered few casualties and met little resistance.

Finally, the troops met the Japanese resistance. The Japanese massed all of the available troops and had them in blockhouses, pillboxes and caves guarded by machine guns. The Americans met the resistance with force. Reenforcements were sent to the island for an all-out assault. On April 19, 1945, three American divisions had pushed into the enemy territory. Planes aided the Americans by bombing key targets. Demolition teams and flamethrowers were also assigned to destroy the fortified Japanese hideouts. The Japanese continued to fight on with everything they had. Most of the fighting was centered on Sugar Loaf Hill and Konica Hill. The occupation of these hills was a seesaw battle because they kept changing hands. The Americans finally captured the hills on May 21, 1945. Private Beverage was not with his comrades during the final battle of Sugar Loaf Hill or Konica Hill.

On May 19, 1945, Private Beverage's platoon was starting to dig in, after battling for the hills all through the day. The fighting had been severe and the men were exhausted. It was Private Beverage's duty on that particular day to establish a forward listening post to keep the Japanese off of the main group during the night. While he was climbing to his position, just before dusk, he was hit by sniper fire, receiving a wound to his left arm. He was evacuated to a hospital in Saipan.

On June 11, 1945, General Buckner requested the Japanese to surrender. The Japanese refused and on June 22, 1945, Lt. General Mitsui Ushijima, the leader of the Japanese Okinawa forces and Lt. General Isama Cho dressed in their official military uniforms committed suicide. The Japanese were committed to die rather than surrender and the suicide average was about one a minute as Japanese leaped off cliffs, slit their own throats or blew themselves up with grenades. From the Battle of Okinawa the Japanese lost 62,129 soldiers killed. Only 7,871 soldiers were taken prisoners. The losses for the Americans were somewhat less, 12,520 soldiers killed with 36,631 wounded.

On September 2, 1946, the Japanese Government surrendered on the U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. Private Beverage's comrades of Okinawa were assigned the honor guard on the Missouri. He was not able to be present because he was still recuperating from his wound. After being released from the hospital, he was sent to China where he participated in the occupation of China from October 15, 1946 until May 2, 1946.

While in the Marine Corps, Private Beverage received the following awards: Purple Heart, World War II, China Service Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Good Conduct Medal and Sharp Shooters Medal.

Carl was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on April 6, 1946 and returned to Marlinton, West Virginia.

Comments: Carl Beverage received his high school diploma on February 26, 2001


"The Bridge at Remagen"

Narrative by Ken Hechler, WWII Historian, War Correspondent and

Author of The Bridge at Remagen

July 14, 2001 2:30 p.m.

Summersville, West Virginia

Author's note: My initial intent for contacting former Secretary of State Ken Hechler was seeking information on coal mining issues in Appalachia; however, when we began talking I discovered he had served as a WW II War correspondent in the vicinity of the Remagen Bridge at the time the US Military crossed the bridge resulting in an earlier closure to the war. Hechler is the author of the best selling novel, The Bridge at Remagen. My desire to meet Ken Hechler became twofold-obtaining an oral history on coal mine issues in Appalachia and obtaining an important WWII oral history.

In the spring of 1945 the American and British armies had flattened out the bulge with which the German attackers had penetrated the American lines in their counter attack through the Ardennes.

Starting in December 16, 1944, as the Allied Forces approached the Rhine River, Adolph Hitler ordered all the bridges blown up to prevent a crossing of this wide river.

The 9th Armored Division, which had been ordered not to cross the Rhine River but to turn south along the west bank in order to join up with General Patton's Third Army, found a bridge still standing at the little town of Remagen halfway between Cologne and Koblenz. The defending Germans had left this bridge open in order to retreat some of their tanks and big guns to save them from being captured by the Americans.

On the afternoon of March 7, 1945 a small group of the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion of the 9th Armored Division emerged from the woods, and from the top of a high hill overlooking the Rhine River they observed the bridge still standing, with the Germans retreating across the bridge. The bridge was known as the Ludendorff Bridge after Germany's WWI general. It had been built during WWI. When the French occupied this section of Germany after WWI, they filled the demolition chambers underneath the bridge with cement, making it very difficult to destroy the bridge. The German defenders set up a demolition plan which involved a circuit which could be activated from a tunnel on the east side of the bridge. The bridge was originally designed as a railroad bridge, but it was planked over to allow for vehicular traffic.

When the head of Combat Command B, General William Hoge, observed that the bridge was still standing, he ordered the 27th Armored Infantry Battalion to go down the hill and attack the town of Remagen prior to possibly crossing the bridge before it was blown up. At the same time, the 14th Tank Battalion of the 9th Armored Division was ordered to proceed to the west side of the bridge after helping to clean out the defenders in the town of Remagen. General Hoge was actually violating his orders, which were to turn south to join up with General Patton's third Army.

Lt. Karl Timmermann led the first troops across the bridge. Just before they set foot on the bridge, the Germans blew a 30' crater in the approach to prevent tanks from crossing. A young soldier from Rupert, West Virginia, Clemon Knapp, had a tank with a blade in front of it which he called "tank dozer." Under fire, he brought the "tank dozer" forward to fill in the 30' crater.

Meanwhile, Lt. Hugh Mott and his two sergeants, Eugene Dorland and John Reynolds, climbed underneath the bridge to cut the wires to the German demolitions.

The Germans had excellent observations of the bridge from the top of a 600' cliff known as the Erpeler Ley. In the German Army, anti-aircraft personnel were under the command of the Air Force, while the major defense of the bridge was under the Infantry Commander, named, Captain Willi Bratge.

The Air Force decided to replace the unit on top of the Erpeler Ley on March 6, the day before the Americans attack. Captain Bratge ordered the anti-aircraft unit to hurry to the top of the cliff, but the replacement unit refused to take orders from the German Infantry Commander and thus deprived the German defenders of an excellent observation post on top of the Erpeler Ley.

Just as Lt. Timmermann and his infantry men started to cross the bridge, there was a tremendous explosion as the Germans attempted to destroy the bridge. Both the Americans and Germans later testified that the bridge seemed to lift up from its foundations and then settle back shakily. While it was still shaking, Lt. Timmermann and his men made their precarious way across. Lt. Timmermann of West Point, Nebraska, was the first officer to reach the east coast of the Rhine River and Alex Drabik of Toldeo, Ohio, was the first enlisted man to set foot on the east side of the Rhine.

Adolph Hitler was infuriated by the successful capture of the Ludendorff Bridge. He was certain it had fallen into American hands because of German treason. He sent an execution squad to single out five German officers for immediate execution. Four of the five were immediately shot to death and the fifth man, Captain Bratge, escaped execution only because the Americans had captured him.

I returned to Germany after the war and located Captain Bratge, who was teaching mathematics in a small school near the Russian border. He agreed to come back to Remagen, and we spent a full week together as he reviewed, step-by-step, both the German defenses and the sequence of events of May 7, 1945, without which I would not have been able to get a complete story.

Hitler ordered an all-out attack on the Americans who had crossed the bridge. He sent in jet planes for the first time in the war, and they tried in vain to bomb and destroy the bridge. A group of underwater swimmers armed with explosives tried to destroy the bridge, but they were picked up by very powerful searchlights before they reached their objective. Werner Von Braun, who later became the architect of the American moonlanding, at that time was working for the Nazis and had developed a very powerful guided missile called the V2 which was fired from Holland in an attempt to destroy the bridge. Eleven V-2z landed near the bridge, shaking it like an earthquake.

The 51st and 291st Engineer Battalions immediately began to build pontoon and treadway bridges on both sides of the weakened railroad bridge.

This was very fortunate, because on March 17, 1945, the seriously damaged Ludendorff Bridge collapsed into the Rhine River, killing twenty-eight engineers who had been trying to strengthen the bridge.

The surprise crossing of the Ludendorff Bridge probably saved 5000 American lives that otherwise would have been lost by an assault crossing of the river. In addition, the capture of the bridge helped shorten the war by enabling the Americans to encircle and trap 300,000 Germans east of the Rhine, thereby, causing the war to end earlier on May 8, 1945.

The capture of the bridge was also a landmark in American initiative and courage in taking advantage of a sudden opportunity which had not been planned.

I was about ten miles away from the bridge when these electrifying events occurred. Since I was an Army Combat Historian charged with capturing and recording the most important front line events in the war, I immediately went to Remagen to interview all those who were involved. The first troops crossing the bridge were brought back in reserve just about the time we captured a wine cellar, which gave a wonderful opportunity to fill a number of notebooks with on-the-scene comments. I later returned to Germany to interview all the German participants in the action.

When I first completed the story of "The Bridge at Remagen," it was rejected by five publishers as unsaleable. But in 1957 paperback publisher Ballantine Books decided to publish the book, and it sold 600,000 copies. Hollywood became interested and made a full-length motion picture from the book, starring Robert Vaughan, George Segal, Ben Gazzara and E. G. Marshall. I was the technical advisor for the movie, which was released in 1969.

Because of the heavy river traffic of coal barges, tourist boats and other ships, the Germans did not allow us to make the movie at Remagen.

The producer, David Wolper found a similar bridge near Prague, Czechoslovakia at the small town of Davle on the Vltava River. At the cost of $250,000, the movie company, United Artists, blasted a tunnel on the east side of the river. Filming started on June 6, 1968, and the East German press accused us of being CIA agents with our tanks who were supporting the Dubcek regime in Prague, which was more liberal than Moscow wanted it to be.

On August 21, 1968, the filming was rudely halted by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Produces Wolfer recruited a fleet of taxicabs and the film crew escaped to Vienna, Austria. Filming was then resumed near Hamburg, Germany and near the Pope's summer house, Castelgondolfo, Italy.

"I was the Gunner in 'Tank Dozer' at Remagen Bridge"

Oral History Interview with Clemon Knapp, WWII

Sam Black Church, WV

July 17, 2002 6:00 pm

Author's note: My oral history interview with Ken Hechler led me to Clemon Knapp, West Virginia soldier and gunner in the "tank dozer" which crossed the Remagen Bridge ending WWII early.

I phoned Hechler a few days after my WWII oral history with him was finalized. I wanted to get more information on Knapp. Hechler told me he was from the Rupert/Lewisburg area in Greenbrier County. I called information and asked for a phone number for Clemon Knapp. Dialed the number given to me and Clemon Knapp answered the phone-the gunner in "tank dozer-more than fifty years after the war.

We decided to record the oral history interview at his home near Sam Black Church. His house has many mementos of WWII and his SUV displays a vanity tag, "Remagen."

Do you think about the War often?

I went down to Bedford, Virginia for the dedication of the War Memorial. There are a lot of things about WWII that I haven't thought about for a while. This year has brought a lot of things back.

Where are you from?

I was born at Dawson, West Virginia. We moved from here to there to yonder until we landed in Rupert about 1930 and that is where I spent the most of my life until we moved here.

When did you go in? How did you feel about going into the service?

I didn't think too much about going to war when we heard about Pearl Harbor. I didn't think much about it but three months later down the road I was drafted. I was 20 years old at the time they drafted me. I went to the Army when they drafted me. I really wanted to go because that was the big thing to do back them.

You didn't want to back out. We were more patriotic back then. We thought it was something great going off to war. In 1942 I went in and took basic in Kansas and then to Needles, California in the desert.

Some thought the war was over when Tunisia took over France. That was about the time of D- Day and they told us we were getting ready to ship out. We missed D-Day; and after I read about it, I was glad we did because that was not a picnic.

So, we landed shortly after D-Day in July. That was when it started. We went through France and Luxemburg and backed the Germans back to their border. Then we didn't know whether or not we were going to make an offensive attack. They were trying to build up for winter. No one thought we would need an offensive attack. Everybody thought the war would be over by Christmas, but it didn't happen that way. The Germans had something else planned for us. They broke through the lines, and they put on a big offensive battle. They came from Belgium, and they ran over us. If the first group got blocked, Hitler had another group come right up behind them. That went on for about two weeks. It was really tough because it started snowing. It was real cold, and they couldn't get supplies to us. We didn't know whether we were going to get out alive or not.

Then the 82nd Battalion opened up a road behind us, and we escaped. We lost one or two tanks, but we got out and went back and rebuilt again. That is where we lost our first men in battle-in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium-that is where we lost our "dozer tank." That is when they put a blade on my tank. It was like a big bull dozer. It had a big blade on it. The reason for the blade on the tank was a lot of times the Germans would put rocks or explosives or logs for a road block. The American would Strife (German vehicles) and the roads would be blocked. That is what the "dozer tanks" were used for to clear the roads. It was a real hindrance for cross-country fighting because you couldn't go across ditches and it became a great hindrance. That was what we thought when we came to the Rhine River.

We went into the Rhine land and at the Rhine River; that is where the blade came in handy again because the Germans had blown a 30' crater in the approach to the bridge on the ramp of the Bridge at Remagen. It was a railroad bridge and they had a ramp to go up and over, and that is where they blew a big hole up. So we had to start operating on that.

In the meantime, we crossed mine fields in the road going up to the approach of the bridge, but we didn't explode any of them. The engineers came up behind us and started digging up landmines.

We went to work filling up the big hole on the bridge at Remagen using the "tank dozer." The rest of the afternoon we spent covering the foot troops going across the bridge because we couldn't take the tanks across until the bridge was repaired. I sat in that tank with planes flying over us dropping bombs. They even had a barge up the river with a machine gun and gunner on it.

When we took the bridge for the first few hours it was the A Co. 27th Armored Inf. Battalion, 9th Armored Division and one company of tanks, A Co. 14th Tank Battalion 9th Armored Division. We had four big tanks and nine medium tanks left there and that was all we had. When we crossed the bridge, nine medium tanks crossed and the big tanks had to wait for a pontoon ferry to cross the bridge a couple of days later.

We didn't lose too many men there. I don't think we lost any on that particular day, but we lost some going to the bridge the day we moved up through Remagen. We crossed at midnight with the tanks and not many men were on the other side. I guess the Germans did not have enough to counter attack and push us back. Once we got the tanks across and by the next morning, we were helping the infantry and by daylight Americans started pushing across by hundreds (foot troops) and other vehicles.

Only nine tanks were left and when we crossed, five turned to the left and four turned to the right and we tried to hold until morning and then when the reinforcements came, lots of them, we went to a little town Erpel-little town across the river from Remagen. We held there from March 7 through March 18, 1945. After we got a lot of reinforcements, we held back and waited because the terrain was not too good for tanks. In ten days the bridge fell and we moved out to the east.

I was that gunner in the "tank dozer." I was in an iron box. I saw Germany through a periscope or through my gun sights; a telescopic sight. Five of us in the tank, driver, assistant driver; down front, tank commander on top, gunner (me) and radio man who also loaded the gun.

We were in there all day long, every day, all night long, every night. We lived there. A lot of heavy firing going on around us. We had one boy-he always got real nervous in battle when he had to fire the gun. He eventually had a nervous breakdown, battle shock. I guess when you are young, you don't think about getting killed, but when you see one of your buddies' tanks blown to bits, you only hope it doesn't happen to you. That is where I think my wife and my mother's prayers came in-had the man up above looking out for me.

We wanted to get a hold of Hitler but on the other hand a lot of German people wanted to get a hold of him. We couldn't trust them but they tried to help us sometimes, the average German. I felt sorry for them. The tough guys were the SS Troops the "Storm Troopers". They were the tough guys, the "Storm Troopers."

We continued fighting after we turned east. We met the Russians before we got to the Elbe River so we thought we didn't have to fight any more. We thought our part was over because the Russians had already gone through Berlin but it didn't happen that way.

We pulled back one night, went south and Patton was in the 3rd Army Corp. He was headed toward Czechoslovakia south. We were in the 9th Armored Division. We started spearheading for Patton and we ended up in Czechoslovakia. Then, we came back to Birkenhead, Germany. We thought they would send the whole division back.

I was one of the first ones of the first group that left out in my outfit to come back to the states. They sent me to Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri, the 8th Infantry outfit-only to find out they were going to send us to Japan. Truman dropped the big bomb (two of them) and the war was over. They sent the gunners out first.

We didn't really know that crossing the bridge was going to end the war early. We thought the bridge was going to be blown up. The engineers put a big pontoon above and below the bridge and the troops were rolling across from everywhere. After the Americans took the bridge we heard some rumors that Hitler had some of his officers shot. A lot of stuff came up in the Nuremberg trials. We didn't know we were making history by crossing that bridge because we had done other things we felt at the time was more important.

I went back to Remagen in 1995, 50 years later. It was wonderful. It was so interesting. We all met there, the people that were there before.

When I went back to the States after being discharged from service, we had tried to locate my Platoon Sgt. but couldn't find him. When I was in Remagen in a motel, the tour guide came and told me someone was looking for me. My son was the only person I could think of that would be looking for me. It was Sgt. Weaver, my Platoon Sgt., his wife and family. We had looked for him everywhere and he turns up here. I found out he had stayed in the Army for twenty-three more years. We thought he was in Ohio but he was in the western end of North Carolina. We had looked and searched for him for years.

We didn't know the effect of crossing the Bridge at Remagen at the time. The Battle of the Bulge was the hardest fighting I was ever in.

I have gone to a reunion every year since 1991. I went to one Battalion reunion but mostly a company reunion is what I attend.

I was the gunner in the "tank dozer" and after they put the blade on and we had a road block, they would say, "Go up front and that was for two years." There may be land mines or anything.

We got up to eighteen or twenty meeting for the reunion, Weaver passed away.

The aftermath of the war-I think I put it behind me when I came home. I am still jumpy but I put it in my past and forgot. I came home in 1945 and got a job on a strip mine.

In the late 1980's we started contacting each other and by 1990-91 we started getting together. I had three or four guys I was in the service with who lived right around here and I worked with some of them but they are gone now. I don't think patriotism is as high as it used to be.

Young people are just not interested in things like that. I guess I was the same way when I was young.

Ken Hechler invited me to Huntington for the premier of the movie, "The Bridge at Remagen." It is pretty good. Some of the things were not actual, but the movie made you realize what it was all about.

I didn't know Ken at the bridge. I didn't know anything about him. He was a war correspondent. He would go out and get the information and write stories. I met him in the sixties when he invited me to Huntington to the premier of the movie. I got his little book and his big book. Ken is a pretty good guy, even if he is in politics.

Most of my buddies were from Kentucky and West Virginia. (Clemon brought out for me to see a Nazi flag and around the swastika, all the men in the company had signed their names). I caught them in chow line. We didn't all eat the same time. When the kitchen truck came by, we ate. The flag was on a house. Nazi flags were everywhere. The infantry boys had a better chance of picking up things to bring back home. We couldn't jump out of our tanks; we had to wait for them to stop. If you got wounded, you didn't bring anything home. Just like Shorty Rider-he lost his leg, he didn't get to bring anything home.

I don't know why the U.S. got into the war. I guess we had to. Before I went to the service, I didn't think too much about it why we were fighting. Probably if we hadn't, Hitler would have taken over and Japan. After we helped Russia, they turned on us. They turned around and blocked everything off. We had a fifty-year war with them. There is a lot of things I don't understand about war and our leaders.

Most of the units that was in the war got a Presidential citation. I got a Silver Star. Roosevelt was President when we first went to war, but he died in May and Truman took over. I thought Truman was too aggressive sometimes, like dropping two bombs (atomic bombs); it wiped out two cities in Japan and killed all of those people and the ones it didn't kill-they are still suffering from diseases.

I think I was with the best group of boys anybody could have been with. We were together for three years. We got some replacements, lost some in the Battle of the Bulge, but the same company, the same men. I trusted them. We watched out for each other. I think we had the best tank commander, Sgt. Lawrence Swain. He was from Pennsylvania. On the last day of the war, a 14 year old boy, a sniper, shot him. Killed him on the last day of the war.

They had given us orders not to fire, unless fired upon. So we saw a bunch of boys, just thought they were boys standing around a house but one was upstairs with a riffle and he shot Swain. So Swain didn't get to come back home; some things hurt.

War is terrible I don't care how you go. I felt so sorry for the women and the children and the animals.

I don't understand some of our leaders, like Eisenhower during the Battle of the Bulge, he was in Paris getting ready for a wedding. When someone told him the Germans were breaking through, overrunning us, he just said, "It was a little counterattack from Hitler," but Hitler had put everything in it. But the big brass was getting ready for a wedding.

Bradley was a big commander. In his memos when writing about the Battle of the Bulge, the 4th Infantry was on the front line, the tank division and the 9th Armored Division was all we had on the front line; everyone else had been pulled back for a rest. Hitler had some plans of his own. In Bradley's memos, he didn't even mention the 9th Armored Division and he was over it. He wrote his memos. I read some of them; he didn't even remember the 9th Armored Division, like we didn't even exist. They called us the "Phantom" Division. They had us split up three different ways. We kept popping up everywhere. That is what I am saying about the big commanders and they push young people into service. It is not right.

I think Roosevelt had a good idea about what was going on, and Eisenhower was supposed to be a good General; some think he was. In the movie on D-Day, Eisenhower meets with all the troops in England, but he didn't go; he went on a big ship later. The big brass was on a big ship watching everyone. The poor troops didn't have anyplace to go. They were just jumping into the water. A lot of them drowned with eighty pound pack backs strapped to them. They were just trying not to get shot. West Virginia had the most men serve, per capita in WWII. Bradley should a have known the men under him.

When we first came upon the Bridge at Remagen, my tank went underneath the bridge to the right and that is where all the German anti-craft were meeting; five were there; three were manned tanks; my tank commander, gave me the range and I started picking them off; the anti-craft. I picked off five on the first round and the rest of them scattered. That is where I got my Silver Star. That was when I was with Corp. Fred Lovely; he was my loader, my gun loader. His tank had been knocked out the day before, so he was with me. Shortly after that was when we went upon the ramp of the Bridge at Remagen and started filling in the crater with dirt from the ramp, and the foot troops went across and later that night the tanks went across.

When we went back to Remagen in 1995, the civilians were nice to us. Actually the German people were glad we stopped the war. A lot of the people had turned against Hitler, but they were afraid of the big SS Troops; the "Storm Troopers" would just pick them off.

Some of the Germans wanted to help us while we were fighting. They didn't try to hide from us; they would open their door if the gunners were not there. We couldn't talk to them very much because we couldn't speak German, but we made a lot of sign language. We couldn't trust them though because we were in their territory.

When I was drafted, I didn't think I would pass because I had lost my voice when I was thirteen. I couldn't talk above a whisper, but I passed with flying colors. I was worried the doctor would think I was trying to keep out of the Army, so I was glad when they passed me.

After my basic training they sent me for treatments with a Dr. Koon and then a Dr. Wolf in Topeka, Kansas for three months. After my treatments, I started talking. In the meantime my company had moved to California. When my treatments were finished, they sent me to California to reunite with my company.

We had desert training in tanks. We would go out and see how many miles we could cover. We made a 500 mile trip in tanks in the desert out in the middle of nowhere, just sand and it would get cold at night, real cold; you needed a blanket but it was very hot in the day.

I only got hit once with big guns; they clipped two spare Bogie wheels off.

I left "tank dozer" in Burgkunstadt, Germany in July, 1945.

"Blood Ran in the Streets"

The Invasion of France

Oral History Interview with Harlan Fraker

77 year old WWII Veteran, WV Coal miner

July 1, 2001 12:20 pm

Harlan Fraker on Cabin Creek

I was invited to Cabin Creek, West Virginia by former Secretary of the State of West Virginia, Dr. Ken Heckler. When I arrived at the gathering which was being recorded by National Geographic and another documentary crew filming mountaintop removal, I was warmly greeted by Harlan Fraker, "Honey, what is someone like you doing on Cabin Creek?"

I told him I was looking for oral histories from West Virginia coal miners and Veterans for my website: He told me, "honey," I have done it all; coal miner and veteran.

Harlan Fraker: I was in the Invasion of France. I was just a young boy. I had never seen no ocean. I didn’t know what no ocean was. I was in WW II. I got three bronze stars from the Invasion of North African, the Invasion of Sicily in Italy and the Invasion of France. I was just a young boy and then I came back here and worked in the mines twenty four years. So, Honey I have done it all.

This is a great story, can I record it?

"Record it? I ain’t never done anything like this before. I guess so."

When I was six years old, I had to get up every morning and milk the cows, feed the hogs and walk a mile to school, that was when I was six years old. Well, a man came along when I got to be fifteen years old and he said, “Son, you are a good worker and everything, I want you to go work in timber for me.” And that was pulling a crosscut saw from daylight to dark. We didn’t have a chainsaw back then. That was pulling a crosscut from daylight to dark for a dollar and half a day. I swear to God.

Well, my aunt said, “Come out here to Ohio, (I was seventeen then), and we will get you a job." I wasn’t eighteen years old and I couldn’t get a job in the plant, so I had to get a job in the laundry and that was twenty five cents a hour. That was what I made in laundry.

So, I got a letter from Uncle Sam that said, “WE NEED YOU BOY," "UNCLE SAM WANTS YOU."

I said, “Lord, have mercy." I ain’t been out of West Virginia just up to Akron, Ohio. I said, “I don’t know nothing about the Service."

They said, “What do you want Marines, Army or Navy?”

I said, “Well, I will take the Navy.” I took my boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois,

“Have you ever been there?” I took my boot camp there. They sent me to gunnery school. I was in the gunnery and I went to Gulf Port, Miss. to learn all about guns and 5/8 and 38s and all that stuff and from there they said, "You are going to catch a ship out of Savannah, Georgia." I caught a ship out of Savannah, Georgia and we went to Casablanca. When we got there-before we got there-we got sunk. A German torpedo hit us and I got sunk. I had to stay there-I don’t know-six months, I think, I stayed in Morocco, Casablanca.

I come back, I thought well my invasion days are over because I had done went through the Invasion of North Africa and Casablanca and I had a ship sunk out from under me. I thought they are going to put me, you know, back here to tell all these other boys what happened and what to do and everything.

No, I had to catch another shock, SSM Sheridan out of Savannah. Yep, caught it and I went to (made three or four trips over there) I went to Murmansk, Russia. That was the coldest place I have ever seen. We had one of these big mallie engines strapped on top of the ship, big mallie engine, took it over there and they dumped it in the water. The crane broke. They dumped it in the water and the damn crane broke.

Well, it took them two weeks to get more cranes in there to put this mallie engine in there and their track was ten inches wider than ours and it wouldn’t work. We had done hauled that thing.... and then for this to happen.

The durn sixth day of June, Oh, Oh, Oh, I will never forget that day as long as I live. The sixth day of June, I was nineteen years old and we went in the Invasion of France. We lost about 5,020 men in about twenty minutes.

I said, “Oh Lord," I got down on my knees and I said, “God, if there is a God, just help me!” I had never prayed before.

I didn’t know God or nothing but let me tell you something, I looked at my buddy and he didn’t have no head. I went to comb my hair and brains was in my hair. (I am telling you this, I don’t tell this to nobody) but it is like a big dream to me anymore.

He was an ole boy by the name of Grimes, he was from Tennessee, he said, “Harlan, when I get back home, he lived on a farm or something. He said, “When I get back home, I am going to find the biggest cow pile there and I am going to take my shoes off and step in that until it squirts between my toes," but he didn’t make it. He didn't make it. You had a friend one day. You didn’t have a friend the next day.

I had to bury men.... I had to bury men, buried over 5,000 in about three days. They got their markers out there now, I didn't know how they did this, but we was diggin’ ditches and pourin’ em there. Take the dog tags off of them and pour in this ditch and now they got markers all over France, grave markers and everything.

They tell them, the families, they are sending their boys back home. They didn’t send them boys back home. They sent a coffin back home. We buried them in a big ditch. We had a big ditch and bulldozed over. We just had a big ditch. We throwed the Germans, the Italians, everybody in there, in the same ditch and covered them over with a big bulldozer. You couldn’t pick out one-now, the people here-they think, when they say, “Oh, we are going to send the body back," all they do is send the coffin back. You know, to make the family feel good. They are still over there.

I get over there in England, I didn’t know their money or nothing. You see they count their money by twenty cents and we count by twenty five. Well, a Shilling is twenty cents, just like our quarter is twenty five. A pound note is like our five dollars but it is only worth four dollars. A pound note, they count in fours instead of fives.

North African, la mercy, I seen women, you know how the cobble bricks streets are? "You ain’t never seen them, have you, darling?" These cobble bricks, our horses went by and done their business in the streets, and these women was out there in their aprons picking up corn to eat out of that horse dung. They was hungry, honey, they was hungry. You would not believe it. These women was out picking that corn up and hiding in their aprons for something to eat. You don’t know what hungry is.

Then I come back home. I couldn’t settle down, I still had the war on my mind. I couldn’t settle down. I went around four or five years. I couldn’t hold a job. My mind was tore up. I just couldn’t focus. Then finally I did, I got to where I could hold down a job, I worked for twenty four years in the mine.

I had a lot of little ole girlfriends in New Castle, England, Liverpool. Well, I was just nineteen. Them girls was just fourteen. Fourteen years old, back then, was a grown woman. I had a lot of girlfriends

I want to go back. I would love to go over there to Casablanca and North African. I would love to go back. I know everything has changed now but I would love to go back and put my foot on the ground that I walked on when I was nineteen. And Sicily, I would love to put my feet on the ground there in Sicily where I went for the Invasion of France.

I would love to put me feet in Normandy Invasion. That morning I will never forget, Lord, the only thing I ever knew was get out here and shoot squirrels or something, I didn’t know they was going to shoot back at me. I didn't know men was going to shoot back at me. You talk to one boy one minute and the next he was gone. I was feeding a twenty millimeter and my buddy was running the twenty millimeter. I looked around and he wouldn’t shootin' anymore. He stopped shootin'. He didn’t have no, he didn’t have no head and I when I saw that, I said, “Lord, Lord, have mercy. Mommy, Mommy, where are you?"

I wished I was back there eatin some cornbread and beans and some taters. I was just a young boy. Hell, I didn’t know. I didn't know what life was all about. Well, I had trained there in Gulfport, Mississippi, Biloxi. "Have you ever been there?" I trained there. I didn’t know. (I am telling you this sweetheart and I don’t ever tell nobody, nothing). We got sunk there in the English Channel. We struck a mine there in the English Channel going in there in the Invasion of France. Sunk that ship. It all seems like a dream anymore. We had men stacked up high as a two story building, blood running down the street. Blood ran in the streets just like water in a creek. Shooo... Taking dog tags off each one of them, you got so you didn’t care, you knowed good and well you are next. I pulled through it. I don’t know how but I said, “God," I said, “If there is a God up there?" I said, I want to know who He is.” I said, “I don’t want no twixt and tweens, I want to talk to the Main Man."

I was desperate. I said, "I want to talk to the Main Man." I believe he brought me through. I do. The Main Man brought me through.

Come back home, I couldn’t hold a job, my nerves was all broke, tore up. I couldn’t hold a job. My Daddy would say, “Go out and get you a job.”

I would get a job but I couldn’t hold it. My mind was so tore up and finally I did settle down and I worked twenty four years in the coal mines here in Cabin Creek, West Virginia, right at the foot of this hill where we are today. Where you came to today. I went in the mines there. I worked underground. I run the shuttlecar, I could run anything they had. I ran the continuous miner.

Harlan, what are all of your medals?

I shot down two German planes. I shot down two German planes. They was Straffins. They called them Straffins. I don’t know if you know what I am talking about. I got two Bronze Stars for that. Then, I got a Bronze Star for going in the Invasion of North African. Everything is on my record out there in Washington D.C. I have been through Hell. I am seventy seven years old, honey and I see these young boys, I can remember the time when I pulled a crosscut for $1.50 a day and all I got was cornbread and beans and taters.

"Even the Sinners Pray Up There"

Don Summers, WWII

"Even the Sinners Pray Up There"

Oral History Interview with Don Summers, WWII Veteran

Memorial Day May 27, 2002

Summersville, West Virginia

Don Summers letter to his mother written May 18, 1945, from the front lines

Author's note: Before we got started on Don's oral history, he brought out his helmet shell (the steel helmet had been lost during battle) showing me where the bullet went in the helmet while on his head, right above the left ear, splitting the leather strap in half; the bullet came out in the back of the helmet. The bullet singed his hair and that was the extent of the damage. Don says, "God spared me for a reason." He also showed me the Japanese Flag, his medals and Japanese bayonet.

Don Summers and his wife, Loretta, are life-long residents of Appalachia. Retired, now they devote their lives to the church and civic activities.

Did you like the Veterans' ceremony today?

"Yes, the Veterans ceremony was nice, didn't you think so?" Don asked me. Now we hold it at the Memorial Park. It is sponsored by the VFW. The reason for the ceremony is to remember the fallen comrades of all wars who have died to preserve our freedom.

What about the President going to Normandy for today's events?

That was nice-and if we could all talk like him-but he has writers. So, really all he has to do is read what someone else has written for him.

What does a Memorial Day Ceremony mean to you?

It makes me feel proud to be an American and live in a free country and be able to take part to honor those heroes that gave their lives in all wars.

What about the young people of today, their feelings toward patriotism?

I believe young people, if called, would answer the call to serve their country. The war now is so technical that with the modern planes and rockets and weapons different clothing, ships, etc., you need people who are trained to do those things. It is more mechanized.

The Greatest Generation, what does that term mean to you?

Tom Brokaw wrote a book on that and I read it. It was good. It means patriotism and serving and men giving their lives for freedom. I believe the earlier men were more patriotic than the present day youth. One reason, drugs are so prevalent, alcohol and tobacco-drugs more than anything and the pornography on television perverts their minds, takes away their patriotism.

What about your service to our Country and isn't this Memorial Day, the perfect day to get your story?

I was raised at Drennen, West Virginia on a farm. Graduated from Nicholas County High School and graduated from Charleston School of Commerce. My mother was a Samples and I had eight brothers and sisters. My dad was a farmer and stock man, raised and sold cattle and sheep and farmed. Earlier in life he worked for the department of highways. None of my family worked in the coal mines. They worked at Alloy Plant, Kraft Food, Monsanto, commercial jobs.

I was drafted in the US Army in 1944 after graduation from high school. I graduated in the spring of 1944 and worked in a defense plant, US Rubber Plant at Institute, WV and then I was called up in September of 1944 when I was eighteen years old. I had not been out of the state. I was wild and wooly. All three of my brothers were already in when I went. Being the youngest, I was the last to go.

My brother told me, "You have hunted a lot, so, remember how to shoot and where to shoot (squirrel hunted) and try to bring that skill with you when you engage the enemy." I wanted to go. I felt I had health enough to go. I was anxious for the adventure.

What were your parents' feelings about sending the fourth son into battle?

My parents had a flag in the window of our home with four blue stars in it. One star for each son serving. That was traditional, to hang a flag in the window of your home when you had sons in the war. Hanging in the window, a flag. Blue stars for living service men; silver stars if you had a son wounded and gold if you had a fatality. So, my parents had a flag in the window with four blue stars.

My parents accepted I would go, but they had a heavy heart. I went by bus to Huntington, WV and when I started to board the train I was so enthusiastic or excited I ran into a huge column and bounced back getting on the train. I looked around to see if anyone saw me, then I got on the train and went to Camp Atterbury, Indiana and for further processing for two weeks.

Then I was shipped to my basic training center at Little Rock, Ark., Camp Robinson. There I had basic training for six weeks. I didn't like basic training because we had twenty mile hikes and cold barracks and about twenty soldiers to a barrack.

Were there many different races serving with you?

In WWII we were segregated. The blacks were not with the whites. The blacks had their own companies. The blacks were the truck drivers and supply people more than whites. They had their own barracks, camps and platoons. This was under FD Roosevelt.

What was basic training like, was it very difficult?

We had good food, good hygiene and good instructors in basic training. We had regular hours and we were in tip-top shape. I made friends there but they were only temporary friends during basic training. After basic I was granted a furlough to come home. My three brothers serving were Arthur in Germany, Joe Bill in the South Pacific in the Navy and Junior in Ft. Hood Texas at a German POW. He was guarding German prisoners of war they brought over here. They brought the Germans over here to the United States. England had some POWs and Russia killed some of their POWs, France had some. The Allied countries were fighting the Axis. They were fighting the Axis, Japan and Germany. Junior had nerve problems to a certain extent related to his duty guarding the German POWs.

I was home for two weeks and then I was shipped overseas as an infantry replacement. We debarked from Monterey, Calif. under the Golden Gate Bridge and it took us thirty days to land in Leyte Island, Philippine Island. I was on the SS Steamship Butner. We had to zigzag crossing the Pacific to escape Japanese torpedoes.

You always think when you go in a danger zone or war zone, I am the one who is going to come back. I am going and I am going to come back. We didn't see any action on Leyte but plenty of mosquitoes and banana trees. We slept in canvas tents with nets all around our cots. No covers. It was extremely hot in the Philippines. We had to have those nets or we would get eaten up with the mosquitoes. We were there for six weeks, then, we went to Luzon, Philippine Islands. (He showed me a picture of the men in Basic Training in Little Rock, 250 men in our battalion. He pointed to himself in the center of the photo.)

We were allowed to write V-mail (Victory Mail). It was free, no postage. Some of the things in the letters were censored. It was blacked out if we put in a letter any secrets like where we were, etc. It was censored.

I was single, foot-loose and fancy free (I asked Don if he had any letters from the war), his wife, sitting nearby said, "I didn't know him then, I grew up in a coal camp in Raleigh County." Our schools were segregated. We had one black girl and they bused her all the way to Beckley to go to school."

We were in Luzon. We were in Baung LUnion (that was like a county in the US) in San Fernando Valley (they had a San Fernando Valley like the US). The entire battalion was there, the 33rd Infantry Division (250 men).

Then we got our orders to go into action against the Japanese Imperial Army in Northern Luzon. These were remnants of Japanese General Yamashita. Remnants of his Army that were holed up in the mountains in and around Baguio. The weather was warm in the winter and hot in the summer. It is more towards the equator. We were taken in Army trucks at night up the Kennon Road to Baguio. That is where I first saw action against the Japanese. I was eighteen years old. Our job was routing them out of their foxholes, caves and picking them off the top of the mountains.

Our first job was to advance up the hill and DESTROY the enemy, the Japs. Now, (he showed me his helmet which was only a hard plastic liner) I was going up a hill (my first time out) I lost my steel helmet, the one that can protect your head from bullets. I can't remember exactly what happened that I lost the steel part of my helmet, but I think it was knocked off my head and rolled down a steep hill. It was dark and I was afraid to leave the company and go down and get it. So, all I had to wear was the plastic liner.

When we climbed to the top of the hill occupied by the Japs, they opened fire on our company, shooting rapidly at all of us. We took cover behind trees and rocks and began returning the fire. My gun was a M1 30 caliber automatic rifle. I could shoot eight times straight. The clip held eight shots.

We were shooting at each other, open fire-the Japs and the Americans. The Japs were shooting down hill. They were entrenched. We were pelting them with grenades and returning their fire. Our field artillery had their big guns lobbing mortar fire on the enemy's position.

I stuck my head up at the wrong time and a Jap sniper took a shot at me and hit my helmet. (He picked up the helmet from the table and had me feel where the leather strap was split in half from the bullet). The liner deflected the bullet. It went in (if you have the helmet on) it went in on the left side and came out in the back, right up over the left ear splitting the leather liner. It didn't touch me only singeing and parting my hair.

I know that God spared my life for some reason at this time and as a result, I was baptized, by immersion, by our army chaplain in one of the ponds of Luzon.

We were squatted down behind rocks and trees and down in low places during the battle. My buddies thought I was lucky not to be wounded or killed. We were lucky during that battle not to be wounded or killed. We kept up the attack until reinforcement came in. We fought until we overcame their position.

When we were sure we the battle was over, we went up the hill. We found all the Japanese soldiers dead. They would not surrender.

We had to kill them all for victory. It was the Japanese Orders not to be taken prisoner but fight to their death to honor their emperor Hiro Hito. The Japanese believed to die in action you were assured of going to Japanese Paradise.

The Japs were on every hill. In this one place where I was shot they must have been at least a dozen in one place we found in a mopping up exercise of one of the hills. Then we had to go over and do the same thing on another hill. This engagement lasted three or four weeks until we were satisfied that there was no enemy left.

We were trucked back to our base camp near Manila, the Capitol of the Philippines. By this time, when we returned, the war was close to the end.

I witnessed General Tomiyuki. Yamashita's surrender. I saw him being brought down out of the hills in an American jeep as an American Prisoner of War. He cooperated after we got the upper hand. He cooperated after the Japanese were subdued-beaten back. Did you know he was a graduate of Harvard University and spoke fluent English? Yes, we educated him here in our country. When he was finally surrounded by American troops, he walked forward and surrendered the remaining forces that he was with on the mountain. Just his top aids, about 100 of his advisors. Following his surrender he was very meek and very cooperative and agreed to an unconditional surrender.

Now, General Tomiyki Yamashita was a very poplar Japanese General. The Army had tribunals and he was tried for war crimes and he was hung by the American Army.

Our 33rd Division was told that we were to invade Japanese in November of 1945. We were to be the lead division to invade Fortress, Japan. Our division to was ordered lead the attack.

It was a fortress, the Japanese civilians were all told we were cannibals and rapists and heathens. Every woman, child and available man would resist our invasion and fight to their deaths to save their country. Luckily the atomic bomb saved that invasion.

Harry Truman called for the surrender of Japan. They refused to surrender. That was when Pres. Truman authorized the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

They still would not surrender and they sent negotiators to Russia to formulate a conditional surrender with the United States. But the United States would not go along with anything except unconditional surrender.

The conditional surrender, the way I understand it, was that we would pull out our Forces from the Philippines, Okinawa and allow the Axis forces to continue their invasion of the Far East countries east in their quest for oil.

That is the reason the war started. It started over oil. They wanted to continue their quest in the far East to gain oil and raw materials for their countries. Just Japan, they were the ones that wanted to further their quest for fishing rights and oil and food, and they wanted us to hold them harmless of any war crimes.

In 1942 Gen. Jimmy Doolittle took off from the USS Hornet with 16-B-25 bombers. His purpose was to bomb Toyko and land in China and Burma. The bombers were flying 1500 feet high. All planes were destroyed and the Americans were killed or taken prisoners by the Japanese, except one which diverted to Vladivostok, Russia.

The US said, "No, we demand unconditional surrender." And after they rejected our second offer President Truman authorized the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Japan. The second bombing dropped on August 9, 1945. They thought we were bluffing with the Atomic bombs. One of the big sayings back them was, "Give'em Hell, Harry."

I remember the war correspondent in the South Pacific during that time. It was Ernie Pyle. He was killed by the Japanese Army in the front lines covering a story near the end of the war. The magazines were filled with war stories, like Life, Saturday Evening Post, Time. And Don's wife told me, "Ernie Pyles' death was covered by those magazines." Those stories were plastered all over those magazines and lots of pictures. The service men had the newspaper called, "The Stars and Stripes."

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945, just three days between bombings. Of the thousands that were killed by the atomic bomb would not have been a comparison of the 100s of thousands that would have been killed had we invaded Japan.

If we had not dropped the atomic bomb, we were going to invade Japan and that would have been the lost of thousands of life of American and Japanese, if we had not dropped the atomic bomb. That was a life saving event. A lot of people now are saying, "Oh, we should not have dropped the Atomic bomb," but they aren't thinking about the consequences if we had not dropped the bomb.

Then the surrender. It came in Tokyo Bay. The signing of the surrender took place on September 2, 1945 on board the USS Missouri. Gen. Douglas McArthur and Japanese Gen. Tomiyki Yamshita. Of course they didn't want to sign but they were forced to or we would have dropped another bomb.

On August 6, 1945, Col. Paul Tibbets took off from Tinian Island flying a B-29 bomber nicknamed, "The Enola-Gay", loaded with the first atomic bomb, bound for Hiroshima, Japan. President Truman gave his approval to use the weapon against Japan. One minute after explosion it killed 66,000 Japanese. On August 9, 1945 Major Charles Sweeney dropped the 2nd automatic bomb on Nagasaki killing 39,000.

After the signing of the unconditional surrender by the Japanese, then the American Forces went in to occupy Japan to form a democracy and rebuild their infrastructure and the cities that had been bombed. This was all under Gen. Douglas McArthur.

I first landed in Japan on the beach at Yokahama with no resistance. They were very apprehensive at first. But after the Japanese learned we were civilized, we enjoyed their cooperation. The government of Japan and people of Japan were very co-operative with the American soldier-and showed no resistance. At this time, Japan was a very poor country because they had lost so many soldiers and had lost so many ships and planes during the war and their industries were completely bombed out. They had to start from ground zero. They had to start rebuilding with the help of the American soldier.

I was assigned to the Quartermaster section of 8th Army in Yokahama, Japan to account for all of the inventory remaining in Japan, their houses, guns, ammunition, ships, planes and even number of people there.

I stayed in Japan until I was sent back to the States in November 1946. I was in occupational forces in Japan about one year.

I was given my release in November, 1946 to return stateside. While in Japan we would visit large cities like Tokyo and Osaka and for recreation we would go to Japanese Cabarets and the Japanese Cabarets would have taxi dancers for the American GIs. (Don opened the box containing souvenirs and showed me a picture taken of him and a taxi dancer).

The GIs would give the taxi dancer a ticket for each dance; then the girls would cash these tickets in at the close of the dance for cash. I was overseas for eighteen months and came back and received an honorable discharge and went to college under the GI Bill of Rights. I was discharged at Ft. Sam Houston at Antonio, Texas as a Technician 5th grade rank T5.
"War is Hell"

Narrative by Hearold Taylor, Korean War Veteran

February, 2001

Canvas, West Virginia

Statement by Hearold Taylor: Here is a short statement of my tour in the United States Marine Corps.

I went to Canvas Grade School and I started to high school at (Old Main) at Summersville, West Virginia. I quit at the start of my second year and volunteered in the Marine Corps. I took my basic training at Paris Island, S.C.; then on to training at Camp Lejune, North Carolina, then on to Camp Pendleton, California. I was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division to a fourteen month tour in the Far East. I was in the Far East at the age of seventeen.

I was also stationed at Okinawa during the latter part of 1952-53. This was following WWII and I witnessed some of the aftermath of that war.

This is where the Japanese were during WWII. There were holes dug out in the mountains and skeletons of Japanese soldiers were still in the holes. The soldiers had been killed with flame-throwers and the remains were still there and so were the machine guns. The skeletons were black where they had been burned.

There was a memorial on a cliff for the Japanese and bones were piled up around the Memorial.

"War is Hell."

Comments: Hearold participated in Nicholas County's first veterans' high school graduation ceremony, receiving his high school diploma on February 26, 2001


"Good Morning Vietnam"

Oral History Interview with Flavie Hugh Ellison II, Vietnam War Veteran

March 13, 2002 10:30 a.m.

Summersville, West Virginia

What are some of the lasting effects of fighting a war, in your opinion?

I used to be a big hunter but I don't even own a gun now, I have got deer and rabbits running all over my property and I can't even shoot one, because I was in a war. I was in the Vietnam War. I don't own a gun. I saw so much killing. I got a five gallon bucket of rocks I throw at rabbits and deer because I can't shoot anything. I can't do it. No war movies. I can't watch any war movies or any movies where people get killed. I just can't do it. When I was young, I watched all those vampire movies and everything but after the war, I can't do it.

Now about half the guys over there, you know, I remember all their faces, but not their names. All the guys had nicknames and mine was "Crazy L" (L was for Ellison).

A good friend of mine that was over there-I haven't got a hold of since then. His grandmother was still on the reservation I think, Okalahoma. She was full-bloodied Cherokee, and his nickname was "Fast Eddie." Damn, all those memories.

What was it like growing up for you?

See, my parents died when I was young and I walked to grade school. It was back in those days when there were no buses for grade schools kids. I walked three miles one way to school. It was a two room school and the last half of my eighth grade year, I was the only one in the eighth grade. "Talkin' small." Yeah, I was the only eighth grade student. The other family moved away. There was two of us at the beginning of the year and they moved down south, so that left me the only one in the eighth grade.

How did you parents die?

My Dad-a car ran over my Dad. Three years later, my Mom died of cancer. I may have been ten at that time. I lived with my one grandmother on and off for awhile. There were seven of us kids. My one aunt, mom's sister up in Ohio, took the three youngest, my oldest sister and my oldest brother were on their own. The other aunt took my other brother just out on Cranberry Road in Craigsville. My grandmother took me. I had to cut the grass, work in the garden. They didn't like for me to go anywhere, and she was raising another child who had living parents.

Grandma Bessie was getting some kind of check for me, but I never did see any of it. I worked in the hay field for Wade Bailey and Paul Cooper for fifty cents per hour. Then finally, things just kept getting worse where I was staying with my grandmother. I just took off. My senior year in high school-do you know where Curtin Bridge is, between Craigsville and Richwood? I lived down there. I gathered up an old blanket and a pillow from somewhere and I slept out in the middle of a river on a flat rock. I ate a lot of fish. I fished every evening and every night. I was a senior in high school. See, that is why I didn't graduate, things just got to the point where I couldn't buy my cap and gown and stuff, the last two or three weeks I didn't go. Half the kids didn't go. We weren't doing anything and I already had my report card but they wouldn't let me graduate. They said I dropped out which was a crock. I just didn't go the last two or three weeks, and when I went up there for graduation they wouldn't let me in.

Shortly after that, I was, I think about nineteen, see I already had two older brothers in the Service and I was tired of not having anything, Hell, I thought I will just join the Army. I couldn't pass the physical because of the rheumatic fever I had when I was five and six years old. I was in the first grade that is why I had to pull two years of the first grade. I didn't go to school enough.

Anyway, I went up to Ohio, I had aunts and uncles and relatives, I figured Hell, I will just go up there and get a job and I did. That would have been in '62 or '63. I worked up there a couple of years, then I figured well, Hell, I will just go and join the Army. I failed again. The same thing. So then I went to Southern California, Pasadena; my oldest sister was out there. I went to work out there and I lived with them awhile until I got me enough money gathered up to rent my own place.

Well, it was out in the Sierra Madre Canyon, a beautiful area, at that time after I lived there awhile. I had five or six vehicles. I had license on every one of them and the last day of December in '65 I bought a brand new motorcycles; I always loved motorcycles. It was an English Bike, 750 Norton and I just had a good time. I got in a little bit of trouble with the law, something they call "hit and run," but the guy hit me. He was on a 125 Honda.

I still remember his name and where he was from. His name was Abraham A.... and he was from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and he was 41 and weighed 220 lbs. He looked like a monkey on a football. A big guy on a little cycle like that. He went clear over my car. He hit my front fender. I had a '51 Ford convertible and he went over my car slid down the street. I jumped out and ran down there. The traffic was swerving trying to miss him. He knocked one of his shoes off. I am trying to get him up and out of the road and he took off up the street running, screaming that he couldn't walk, he couldn't walk. I could get a hold of him but he wouldn't stop I couldn't hold him back. I chased him about five blocks and I walked back down the street. The law was there and the ambulance. They wanted to know where the guy was. They didn't arrest me but they put me in the car and we drove down the street. So we went door to door looking for this guy; somebody got him stopped had him stretched out on the bed in there. He was screaming, crying; he was in bad shape.

The cops said if I would sign papers covering his motorcycle, ambulance bill and hospital bill and give him a $100.00 per week, they would not press charges. I paid for the motorcycle and the ambulance. They told me he would only be off work a week. So, at the end of the week I went down to where he was staying. He was still on the bed. He said he would have to be off another week. That went on five weeks.

I went down there to pay him at the end of the fifth week and the neighbors came out and said, "Man, don't you know what is going on?"

I said, "What are you talking about?"

They said that guy is a con artist. He had a '66 Cadillac convertible. His wife had a 66 Buick convertible and the three weeks I had been paying, he was off on vacation from the post office. He delivered mail on foot. So, I quit paying him. I just quit paying him. Two or three weeks went by and the law came up to where I worked about the middle of the week. They told me they would give me till Friday to come up with the rest of the guy's money.

Friday was payday and I realized I had been taken all that time for my money, so I said, "You know I am not going to pay that."

I sold my '51 Ford convertible to my oldest brother who lived out there and I sold my '33 Ford pickup truck and my other vehicles I just left the key in the switch, the registration up over the sun visor and left them in the parking lot and I jumped on a motorcycle and headed for West Virginia. That was July 22, 1966.

That was a fun trip. So I came to Craigsville where I was born and raised. I fooled around there for awhile. I remember I got there on Sunday. I left California on Friday evening and I was in Craigsville on Sunday-2650 miles. Wednesday I figured I will just go to Florida. I had an older first cousin that lived down there so I went down. I got there about 10 a.m.; she was starting to fix dinner so I stayed and had dinner and I drank some coffee with Junior and jumped on my bike and headed for New York.

I had been up there before. I had worked up there. I spent the night up there and I started back to California and I got to some little one horse- town in Texas and changed my mind and came back to West Virginia.

I was in West Virginia for awhile then I wound up in Ohio. Beautiful country, a wide stop in the road. That was where I was working when I got drafted.

You were drafted after failing the physical two times?

I stopped at a little post office every evening to get my mail. I got a long white envelope (about the last part of June, 1968) that said "Greetings, Uncle Sam Wants You!"

I had two weeks or so. I had to go to Cleveland about 100 miles to take the examination and in those days that took all day. At the end of the day, I realized I had done passed that physical and I just asked him, "Man, you know what is going on?"

He said, "You call me sir" and I said, "I am not in the Army yet," and he said, "You will be."

So, I asked him how could that be; I took two of these examinations before and failed both of them so he looked in my records and found my name and he said, "I see you tried to enlist."

"You have passed this one, we are making exceptions. You have been drafted."

Where did you go for Basic Training?

Ft. Knox, Kentucky, that is where I went for Basic Training. That was eight weeks. Graduation was on Friday and on Monday morning I was to report for AIT (Advanced Individual Training) at Ft. Polk. Louisiana. That was nine weeks. I have a picture of me standing in front of a sign which reads: Ft. Polk. Louisiana, Birthplace of Combat Infantrymen for Vietnam. I guess I lost the picture in the fire. It took everything I had, all my clothes, my woodworking shop, nearly everything I owned that is how I lost one half of my ear. (He asked me, "Did you notice one half of my right ear is gone?") He showed me his ear.

I had two weeks time from graduation at Ft. Polk to be at the Seattle, Tacoma Airport in Washington State. I was going to Vietnam.

What type of special training did you receive to prepare you for military action in Vietnam?

I went over there. We touched down at Cameron Bay, South Vietnam. I was there three days they had what they called three day training on the ways and customs of the people. Then they decide where everybody is going to go. I got orders to go up north-about 300 miles.

Did they fly you to Vietnam?

The plane came down to pick us up. It was a C130, a cargo plane; about 150 of us got on there. He had lost an engine coming down , the pilot did. (Flavie asked me, "Do you know anything about a C130?") It had four engines. He lost one coming down but all the Army had was junk. The pilot told us, "I think we can take off," and we did.

We got up there about half way and I could notice a change in the sound of the airplane. The co-pilot came back and said "Boys,that is what you are, if you get out of this you might be men."

We lost another engine on the same wing. It won't stay up with two engines. We are ten or twelve miles inland, and we were going to try to make it to the South China Beach. I will never forget what he said, now mind you, we are heading north, he said, "We are going south and that means down."

Viet Cong all around. We didn't have any weapons. My God, the pilot was good. We just barely cleared that mountain range. He dipped it real hard to the left and put it down on the South China Beach. We hit the beach and it kinda skipped. We hit the beach again, hard, and it skipped and we hit it again and it tore the right wing off and water was coming in. That was the third day in the country. That was the day my oldest son, Scott was born, December 12, 1968. (Do you know my boy?)

What is the truth about the War in Vietnam, "were we prepared?"

Eight or ten years ago I started to write a book and I finally just gave up on it because I figured no one will believe it anyway. Four or five years ago, I sorted through everything from the fire, I wrote a song, when we crashed on that C130 on the third day; the song says, "The next nine days on the run, my year in Nam had just begun."

The pilot had got hold of back-up forces by radio and they sent some helicopter to pick up some of us. They brought weapons and sea rations.

I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time; I got volunteered. Someone was going to have to stay there and guard that C130, so they picked five of us and then we hid out up in the woods, in the jungle on the side of the mountain. We hid out for nine days. They finally come down and carried that crashed C130 off with those big monsters they call a flying crane; two of them hovered down over and picked it up. Then I wound up going up country about another 150 miles where I had started in the first place.

The Army didn't make any sense in those days because I was infantry and got assigned to an aviation battalion, 14th Aviation Battalion. Now this was all 14th Aviation Battalion and I was across the swamp with the 14th Security Platoon but I was assigned to 170th Aviation. Hell, I am infantry what did; I know about airplanes? Well, I found out not too long after that.

What are some of the details of being in Vietnam, like living conditions? Were things as bad as we heard?

Mercy, mercy, in the beginning we just had the regular bunkers in the ground. My old 1st sergeant, good old guy, he reminded me of my dad; he took care of me; he took care of me, that old boy did. He saw it somewhere-got some papers on it or something-prefabs, prefab bunkers about twenty feet off the ground and the walls and the floor and the roof were a foot and one half thick filled up with sand. The idea-being up above the ground you can see better up there looking down. So, I worked with him, me and some of the other guys and we built twelve and by that time I am already making some rank; I think I am Spec 4 by then.

I was the oldest guy there twenty five except for the Sergeant and the lifers and I am from West Virginia. Everybody knew I was from West Virginia. He put me in charge of the bunkers. All the city boys knew I was from West Virginia. That is what got me in a lot of jams I got in over there. They just assumed if you lived in West Virginia, you lived under a rock cliff. I lived on a rock, but Hell, not everybody did. A lot of times they would send me to places they would not send a city boy because they just figured I could do it. They knew I was coming back.

They came to me one day and said that they were going to make me Acting E5, meaning I had temporary stripes and all the responsibilities and duties of an E5, but not getting paid for it. After about a month I told them, "If I am going in to these damn hell holes and you are expecting me to come out, I am going to start having to get paid for E5."

They said, "You can't quit."

Orders came down from the battalion and I made Permanent Party, E5 Sgt. E5 gets you about $25.00 or $30.00 extra a month ( went over as E1 and within 24 hours if you are in combat zone, you go automatic E Deuce).

That was about after nine months. You see if I am not on them bunkers, I had another job there too. I done eight hours a day RTO (Radio, Telephone Operator). It was in the Command Bunker underground. I pulled twelve hours a night on the Bunker Line, then eight hrs a day in that Command Bunker, RTO. That is twenty hours a day. That only leaves four hours. Plus all the same time, I am having to fly with these yo-yos across the swamp to 176th.

What are some of the events you consider major that occurred while you were in Vietnam?

My God, if I told you everything it would take all day. I am going to tell you about this.

We went way up the country somewhere, me and those guys from 176th and, Hell, rather than the co-pilot on a helicopter, they called him a Peter Pilot. I am the oldest guy rather than the pilot and Peter pilot and I was given the responsibility of being Crew Chief and Door Gunner. That was with a M60 machine gun and a 50 caliber machine gun and we went up with a full rocket load, (we were carrying all the rockets we could carry) I think seventy eight and aired off all those rockets on a village, a known Cong village. We are on our way back-everybody drank beer- and we never did drink going in. Coming out is we when would drag our beer out, pilot and peter pilot are in the cockpit; me and the other guys are in the back. Hell, we are jut drinking our beer and proud of ourselves for getting out of there and swapping stories about our girlfriend or wife back in the world (that is what we called back home, "the World").

Here comes the hard part; sometimes I can get through this, sometimes I can't.

Anyway, we thought we was in the clear, but we weren't. We took a rocket in the nose, right in the front belly, and it killed the pilot; drove him right out of his seat. A mess, blew him to pieces. The peter pilot was sitting to the pilot's right. It blew his left arm off (he showed me on his arm and it was even with the shoulder) and he jump up with no arm and came to the back yelling; everybody else was crying.

I was the oldest, these guys are crying, it is starting to fill up with smoke and mind you I am infantry; but these other guys are crying and squalling. I knew they couldn't do it, so I went to the cockpit and moved what I could of the dead pilot; he was blown all to pieces and the Peter pilot. His name was Jeff; I don't remember his last name. Anyway, he started telling me which lever does what, which petal does what, what gauges to keep an eye on, what switch to flick if this happened or that happened, first time I had every been in a cockpit in my life in a helicopter. In a situation like that you had to fly at treetop level.

Now, he said enough to me, he taught me how to go up or down, left or right, then he passed out, I thought he died. I am trying to fly this damn thing and trying to take care of him; he passed out. I thought he died. We are running just about 120 miles per hour. I don't know how many miles per hour by air. It was 100 miles from back to where we were headed south, back down to the 176th and these guys in the back are still crying. I think the peter pilot is dead, (he wasn't but I didn't know that). I think it was about 120miles per hour we were flying which is something less than one hour to get down there so I start getting closer and I am starting to recognize the country. Then, I realize I don't know how to slow the thing down, hydraulic oil spraying everywhere, smoke everywhere, I am getting closer and closer and I know where I have to put down. I started working levers, pulling switches and kicking petals. I got it slowed down to 70 or 80 miles per hour.

I knew where I was going to have to put it down because if I missed we would wind up in that swamp and there was alligators in the swamp. So, I hit the ground at 70 or 80 miles per hour and it just went to flopping; it finally stopped and I realized I wasn't dead and the guys in the back, they ain't dead; they went off squalling, cussing and running off in the woods.

I got the peter pilot out and what body parts I could find of the pilot-got them and we may have been as far as that garage over there (showing me how far by pointing to a garage across the street) and it blew up.

About a week later I was in military court because I was not supposed to be flying that Huey. I was infantry.

It is just like a civilian court except it is all military. The guy was the Judge. He was Sergeant Major, something like that. They was going to court martial me because I crashed that thing and it burned up. They was going to charge me $250,000. That is about less than half of what it cost new, but it was junk in the first place. They was going to make me sign papers to the effect they was going to take all my check except of twenty percent. They was

going to take eighty percent of my check and make me sign papers to the effect that I would stay in the Army until that thing was paid for or I died, whichever one came first.

I told him, "Hey man, your Honor, I haven't had time to get Counsel yet, you know a lawyer?"

He said, "I will give you two weeks."

In two weeks I hadn't found anybody. I didn't have time to go too far so I went back down there by myself and they were going to make me do all that stuff, like they said; so about that minute this peter pilot, his name was Jeff; he found out about it someway; he showed up, the one who lost his arm.

He told them, he said, "No, you are not going to do anything like that."

He was talking to a superior officer and he didn't know my name, he just knew "Crazy L." My nickname, that is all.

He told them, " I just want this whole thing thrown out, forgotten about. If it had not been for "Crazy L," we would all be dead. It was junk anyway. They turned me loose; I was tickled to death.

I went back up and right on the Bunker Line and right back in the Command Bunker doing all the other too. This part here is kinda funny and I want to tell you about it. I didn't think it was funny then.

We had been out somewhere with this 176th again, only this time we are on what is called a fixed wing, 123: we get hit with a rocket a mortar or something and the co pilot flew the door open out of the cockpit and started throwing parachutes at everybody-only five of us in there. I had never seen a parachute, you know.

I said, "Man, how does this thing work?" Mind you, this airplane is coming down and that pilot grabbed his and he said, "Watch me; you have one chance."

He said, "We are leaving this."

I was the last one out because I just couldn't get that thing on. I was the last one out.

While I was still in high school, I had jumped off the top of Curtin Bridge (a very high structure) nineteen times one summer and hit wrong seventeen times in the river and it is way high too. You know where I am talking about, don't you? So when I jumped out of that airplane in the parachute and I pulled that ripcord, I was ticked to death when it opened. Then I got to thinking about jumping off Curtin Bridge and hitting wrong all those times and I was thinking, I hope I don't hit wrong this time. Well, I hit wrong because I saw I was going to come down in the trees and I came down right in the top of a big tree and skinned myself all up. It is funny now, but it wasn't funny then.

If I had known what I was doing, you can steer those parachutes, I didn't know it then. Luck is what I am talking about. Another time over we got into some trouble and had to jump out of a helicopter and there are no parachutes on a helicopter but were lucky we were over a rice paddy. We was probably up a 100 feet and jumped, cause it was on fire, and I am thinking the same thing. I hit just right, straight up and down, just right.

There was one guy, who didn't hit right; he was tipped forward and he was out of commission for about three weeks because of his eyes. All that stuff hit him in his eyes.

What was it like returning to the United States? Did you know about the controversy over the War in Vietnam?

When I came home, back to the USA, I had a little old cheap camera. I took pictures out the airplane window-the clouds and all-and happy to be alive and I met three guys on the plane that I didn't know when I was over there but this was leaving there and coming back here back to what we referred to as back to "The World," "The Freedom Flight."

I met these three guys on the plane and we was going to land at the Seattle Tacoma Airport, (same place I took off from) and me and these other guys had our mind made up that when got off the plane, off the black top in the dirt, we were going kneel down and kiss "Mother Earth," bend over and throw dirt in our face and scream and holler and have a big time, a celebration.

Well, when we started doing that a whole mob of people men and women together, started throwing rocks at us and called us baby killers and hit one guy in the head and hurt him.

Boy that made me mad I had a notion just to fly into them. That was our homecoming. Back to our homeland.

What did you do after returning from Vietnam?

Then I was going to have six months left in the Army yet, at Ft. Ord in northern California and while I was in Vietnam they offered me a chance after I got to Ft. Ord, I was Sgt. E5 they offered to waive my time and grade as E5 if I would extend my tour of duty thirty days.

If I had of done that I would have qualified early out, five month drop, if you had five months or less left. After I got to Ft. Ord, I wish I had because they put me in to training men to go to Vietnam. I taught three two hour classes every day on how kill and how to survive in the jungles of Nam.

When I got out of Vietnam, hell, I was happy, when I got out of the Army I celebrated. Then I moved back to Ohio and then I came back to West Virginia in 1975.

What about the Vietnam War?

I don't know, you really didn't know what to think. It has had a lasting effect on me, on my life. I still have flashbacks and nerve problems. I learned to speak their language. My second wife said that the reason she left me, I was beating her up at night and speaking in Vietnamese and calling her Nam names. I didn't know I was doing that. I have three appointments at the VA Center in the next couple of months all related to the war.

Who were the victims?

Supposedly, it was just like our Civil War in one respect the North was Communist; the South was not. Down where I was some of those villages (supposedly friendly villages) because they were North Vietnam Army (NVA), Viet Cong (VC) didn't uniforms but they were worse that the NVA.

I have two doctors' appointments this month at the Veterans hospital because of nerve problems. I have had to have counseling because of the war. He has got me on some nerve pills.

I was up there at the Recruitment Center and talked to Newt McCutcheon, "Do you know Newt?" He wrote down some stuff about what happened. I brought it for you to look over and read.

I asked Flavie if this information could it be included in his oral history? He said, "Yes."

Description of a life-threatening episode that caused nervous condition - details as to the nature and severity of the episode and when it occurred

(Post Traumatic Stress)

"While stationed with the 14th Security Platoon, Cho, Lai, Republic of South Vietnam while on duty in the guard tower over watching the parameters of our compound I was scanning my section which was my responsibility while using my "Starlight Scope" (ANPUS-4) I suddenly noticed that there was a clump of something moving outside the parameter.

I quickly called the Tower to my immediate left and right to see if they could confirm the same thing. They saw movement as well.

I then called back to the CP and reached the ISG. I explained to him what I had seen and told him that towers confirmed the same thing.

ISG said, "You know that you are in a "No-Fire" zone."

Suddenly the Company Commander walked in the CP and asked the ISG what was going on, the ISG turned the phone over to him and I explained what was going and that the "clump" was getting closer and closer. The Company Commander also told me that we were in a "No-Fire" zone as well.

I asked him what to do, and he replied, "I know what I would do if it were me."

I acknowledged and said, "Roger Out!"

I then phoned and told them to get ready, "We are going to give whatever is out there all we got!"

I was the squad leader at the time and I was in Tower #9 (Lucky #9). I always took #9 because I felt that it was the most crucial due to the fact that we could be hit by sea or land. The guys in Towers 8 and 10 asked me who authorized me to engage the "Clump," and I said, "Nobody move," I am taking responsibility of this my own damn self. I then said that we are going to open up at the count of "3" and we did. I initiated fire with my M-60 machine gun, Tower #8 cut loose with the M79 grenade launcher and Tower#10 with a M-14 crap began to blow up everywhere. The engagement lasted approximately ten-twenty seconds and then silence.

I then looked through my "Starlight Scope" and saw nothing.

I was on end the rest of the night. When daylight finally arrived we checked the perimeter and found pieces of bodies everywhere. The best I could tell there was about five of them and the body parts were painted the same color as the sand. There was a lot of blood too. I was relieved from my watch. I went directly to the CP and worked there for eight hours and then caught some sleep.

I was scared and nervous and really couldn't sleep because of what had taken place. This is how I earned my Combat Infantryman's Badge!

Flavie said, "I brought you a letter from a close friend of mine, I want you to read it and tell me what you think, when you have a minute here. It is pretty personal. " He handed me the letter. I read the letter and I asked if he would like to have it made a part of his oral history and he said, "Most definitely"

3/Jan 2002

Craigsville, WV

To Whom It May Concern;

I was asked to write down what I thought were changes in Flavie Ellison's personality after the Vietnam War.

He went into Service a nice young man and came out a person without purpose. He attended church practically every Sunday. Now he drinks - lives to drink, has a mouth full of 'swamp' talk that can embarrass and hurt and he doesn't understand why. He brought back something in his mind that won't let him leave that place.

Over the last two years he has been through two marriages, several jobs, lots of alcohol and living alone in a very isolated place. His isolation is self-inflicted. He doesn't want company. He has become anti-social, can't hold a job, can't hang on to relationships and says that just gets in the way of the past.

He was in a motorcycle accident several years ago and when he woke up after being unconscious, he had reverted back to Vietnam - didn't know his wife at that time. But he knew his ex wife's name and spoke Vietnamese as his training had taught him to do. His doctor, who was a Veteran, recognized the language and could communicate with him. Yet, today I'll bet he couldn't consciously speak any other language but American English.

This, this horror of that war has touched every aspect of his life and it still does to this day. I personally feel that it will keep affecting him the rest of his life.

He was a "country" boy who was given a rifle, trained, and told to KILL! And being a patriotic young man, did just that. It went against his passive nature, but he had been trained, so he now lives with what he saw and did. Somewhere in all the blood and death and warm beer, he put himself away to be brought back at a later time. But he could never do it. So Sad.

His Friend,

Shirley Farley


"What in the Hell is so Special About Eddie Caudill"

August 3, 1972

Written by Jim Branscome, Investigative Reporter and published in The Mountain Eagle Newspaper, Whitesburg, KY

Reprinted with permission of Tom Gish, proprietor of the Mountain Eagle Newspaper

Vietnam War story - Wounded mountain boy faces desertion charges

Fort Gay, West Virginia : Six years ago this May Eddie Caudill left his home here on the banks of the Big Sandy River to board a bus for Fort Knox, Kentucky. Nineteen years old and married only three weeks, Eddie was not particularly interested in joining the army, but his Lawrence County, Kentucky, draft board had said go, and he went. In words that one hears often in the mountains, he says, "When I got orders, I sure didn't want to go because of Vietnam. But I went because I knew there was a lot of other guys going, and I wasn't one bit better than them."

On Thursday morning of this week Sergeant Eddie Caudill will again board the bus for Fort Knox, Kentucky. He will be asked to step forward just like he did when he was a green recruit. But this time, he will not be asked to take an oath, but to answer to charges of deserting the U.S. Army.


When he makes that step forward, his left leg will be dragging behind the right one, its muscles and nerves wrangled by a Viet Cong rifle bullet. His body will lean slightly forward to avoid pain from a large, deep hole in his left side, the entrance of the bullet that has yet to completely heal after five years. After that step, Eddie will get the verdict on whether he will get a court martial or a dismissal. The court martial is the more probable.

Eddie Caudill was a good soldier. His eighth-grade education got him into the Army to begin with it; it also got him into the jungles instead of behind a desk when he arrived in Vietnam. His superior performance as a foot soldier won him fast promotions. In a year and a half he rose from a Private carrying a M-60 machine gun to a Sergeant commanding his own ten-man unit weapons squad.

A Veterans Administration spokesman in Huntington says the statistics show that, "mountain boys make superior soldiers but I can't recall one doing as well as Eddie Caudill." The army statistics also show that mountain boys die at rates twice the average of other state groups. Eddie Caudill almost became one of these statistics.

On October 28, 1967, Caudill was ordered to take his squad on a patrol into enemy territory. "They don't usually do this," he says, "because I had only nineteen days to go before I was to leave for home. But they were short of E-5's and sent me on patrol even though I tried to get them not to." As Caudill was preparing to report to headquarters on a successful patrol, he was struck in the shoulder and stomach by rifle bullets fired by a Viet Cong soldier with a captured American weapon. "I covered the knot sticking out of my stomach with my bandage and passed out," he says.

Thanks to a successful medical evacuation mission, Caudill awoke alive in the Long Bin hospital. After twenty days, he was transferred to the army hospital in Yokahama, Japan. He thought he was progressing well. Nurses changed his bandages three times a day and gave him a total of sixteen pills a day to prevent infection. After two weeks, he was transferred to Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. It was here that problems developed. Caudill tells it this way: "A doctor came in and looked at my wound. He told the nurse that I could care for my own wound and gave me a thing I could use to stick back into the wound to pull the pus out of my side. They didn't change the solution that I put into my side, so each time I used it, I was just reinfecting myself. They gave me no pills and no packing. The wound healed from the outside, closing the pus in, and they just had to bust it open. It was just as big as ever. All that work for nothing."

The only treatment Caudill got at Walter Reed Hospital was in April of 1968 re-connecting his severed intestines and restoring his bowel movements to normal, instead into a sack on his side.


After a short period of recovery, he was reassigned to a barracks outside of Walter Reed with no medical supervision. On his initiative Caudill bought bandages, Q-tips, and hydrogen peroxide to clean his wound. Despite his continued infection, he was assigned on regular detail at the barracks and had to care for his wound "whenever I could fine time."

Several times during this period, he asked to be sent to a Veterans Administration hospital. "Each time they said they was going to do something, but they never did," he says. Finally, in May of 1968 he asked a Walter Reed doctor for a leave of absence and received it. After being home for two weeks, he asked his sister to call the doctor and request another week of leave. According to Caudill, "The doctor gave it to me and specified no time that I was to return. So I stayed home until the first of September. They knew where I was. If they'd have said 'come back' I'd have gone back."

When he returned to Walter Reed in September, he was arrested by military police for desertion. "They put me in a little cage with a six- or eight-inch bench to sleep on. I had to treat my wound laying on that bench. I had to stick the Q-tip all the way in to its tip, just like always," he says.

From the cage Caudill was transferred to Fort Meade, Maryland. There he was taken before a Colonel and given a summary court martial, but no demotion and no sentence. Despite his continued requests, Caudill was never given a release date from the army. On December 23 of 1968, "It didn't look like I was any closer to being released, so I asked for a leave to go home for Christmas: "They gave it to me. I never went back." By this time Caudill had already spent more time in the army than was required. He was receiving no medical attention at Fort Meade. He never returned, he said "because I didn't feel I was being taken care of the way I should have been after I went over there and got shot."


After returning home, Caudill tried working. A job with the highway department lasted until his leg started giving him problems. An examination by a local physician revealed that the nerves in the leg were severed by his stomach wound. The examination also revealed-- to Caudill's surprise -- that he still has metal stitches inside his body and must have them removed in an operation. "They never told me they put any stitches in there," he says.

Caudill was forced to go on welfare after giving up his job. He draws a monthly check of $112 to support his wife and three children ages 4, 2, and six months. He pays rent on a two-story frame house that has no plumbing and stands a few feet from the main line of the N & W Railroad and across the river from the Kentucky border. Since he left on December 23, 1968, he had not heard from Uncle Sam, no letters, no checks, nothing.

It was the welfare department that advised him to contact the Veterans Administration. The Veterans Administration in turn advised him to write his Congressmen and try to establish his military standing. He wrote Rep. Carl Perkins because he lived in Kentucky until he was drafted; then Rep. Ken Hechler; then "even President Nixon." After a string of letters from each, Caudill decided the best thing he could do was "to go in and settle up with the army."

Settling up with the army is not an easy matter, though. It took the Veterans Administration several days to even find his records - they were located in Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana, the headquarters for all files on AWOL's and deserters.

A Major at Fort Knox would give no assurance about what the army will do when Caudill arrives Thursday. Caudill isn't certain himself. "If I get a bad discharge, I don't deserve it," he says, adding, "I want to get medical help` and GI Benefits. I need an education. When I was in this trouble, I didn't even know who to write for help; even who my Congressman was."

Caudill has asked the welfare department for assurance that his family will be cared for if he is imprisoned. They have agreed. He has also tried to sell his litter of pigs, the only tangible property he has besides a 1956 Mercury automobile.

Caudill says he is not bitter about the army and would serve in Vietnam again "if they asked me to." But he does not believe he deserves a court martial and a sentence. "I was proud toward the uniform I was wearing. I never had any problems -- not even an Article 15 -- with the army until I got to Walter Reed."

Caudill's recitation of his problems with army bureaucracy left reporters shaking their heads at his home last Saturday. Somehow, you just can not believe that Eddie Caudill could be in trouble with anybody, particularly an army that he served so well. The only decoration on Eddie Caudill's living room wall is that hauntingly familiar blue sign seen all over the mountains: In white letters it says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

One week after Sergeant Eddie Caudill surrendered to authorities at Fort Knox, Kentucky, he has still to receive medical treatment or to get any definite word about desertion charges that will be brought against him by the army. He is lodged in a fenced and guarded confinement center and assigned to "limited duty" on the base.

Army spokesmen are refusing specific information to a reporter about when the wounded soldier will be court martialed. One commanding officer, however, says that it could be in "three or four weeks."

Caudill reported to the Personnel Confinement Facility last Thursday night. On Friday morning he arose at 5:30 a.m. with two hundred others accused of desertion. When a reporter arrived at the facility to inquire about Caudill's status, the commanding officer, Major J. L. Deryck, refused to disclose whether he was there. After several questions, however, he shouted, "What in the Hell is so special about Eddie Caudill?"

Major Deryck insisted that the reporter could not talk to Caudill because "he's at the hospital getting medical treatment." A few hours later, however, the reporter saw Caudill walking around the facility. He had not been anywhere near the hospital. After this fact was called to the major's attention, he did interview Caudill and ordered that he be sent to the hospital for a "complete medical examination."

Despite army information to the contrary, Caudill was never examined by a doctor on Friday. This reporter was ordered out of the hospital after he found that Caudill was to be examined on Monday by a para-professional not qualified to give medical diagnosis. On Monday, an army spokesman at the base confirmed that Caudill had seen a medic. Asked what the examination revealed, the spokesman, a lieutenant colonel, said, "The examination shows that the man needs medical treatment."

No date has been set for Caudill to enter the hospital "pending receipt of his medical records from the Walter Reed hospital in Washington, D.C.). Caudill has an infection in a stomach wound, the result of metal stitches left in his body at Walter Reed.

The chain of command at Ft. Knox is not of one opinion about whether Caudill will be court martialed. A spokesman Friday morning said, "It's prime material for a general court martial. A general court martial is the most serious, meaning a possible five-year sentence at hard labor, loss of all army benefits, and a dishonorable discharge. On Friday afternoon, the same officer had changed his mind, saying, "If his story is true, he will get an honorable discharge."

The base press officers, who control information going to newsmen, say that "nothing" will probably happen so far as a court martial is concerned. But on Monday it was learned that Caudill has been given his rights and had a lawyer assigned from the Judge Advocate General's office to defend him. This is the usual procedure before a court martial; on Friday the army had said Caudill had not been assigned an attorney since "we're not certain we're doing to do anything to him."

Apparently, the commanding officers are not impressed by the congressional inquiries being made about Caudill. Two congressmen, Rep. Ken Hechler and Rep. Carl Perkins, and Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia, have reportedly sent letters to the army asking that Caudill be given medical treatment and expeditious processing. A commanding officer at the base, asked about the army's lack of concern over the congressional inquiries, said, "Oh, everyone writes their congressmen. We get those things all the time and send a form letter back."

Caudill has charged that he received unsatisfactory medical treatment at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington and deserted because he felt he should have been treated better "after I went over there and got shot." Caudill says he had to change his own bandages at the hospital. He describes Ward 32 at Walter Reed where he was kept as a "dirty place" where "nurses mistreated guys by throwing water on them and things like that." Asked whether the army was prepared to deny those charges, a press officer said, "No."

Eddie Caudill is only one of hundreds of mountain men brought into the Fort Knox center for AWOL's and deserters (anyone AWOL for more than 30 days) each month. On the same day that Caudill reported in, 32 other West Virginians arrived at the center in the custody of military police. The army is not certain how many AWOL's and deserters it brings in each month at Fort Knox. One commanding officer said from 700 to 1,100 a month. Army information officers say this figure may be exaggerated because "sometimes we catch the same guy two or three times a month." Regardless, most of Ft. Knox's AWOL's are from the mountains, presumably because such a large number of mountain youth are unable to avoid being drafted by obtaining deferments.

Even though the army is moving toward voluntary enlistment, it still gets a disproportionate share of its soldiers from the "job" poor Appalachian region. The Department of Defense has reported, for example, that West Virginia leads the nation in per capita Vietnam deaths: 25 West Virginians die per 100,000 population compared to 17 per 100,000 population nationally.

The army does not keep figures on portions of Appalachians states like eastern Kentucky.

The army says it has a total of 50,000 AWOL's and deserters in the country at any one time. If the figures quoted by the army are correct, then one-fourth of all those who are brought in come to Fort Knox. About 90 per cent of those who desert have less than a high school education; their average age is 18. Fort Knox has a total of seven army lawyers to defend these 700 to 1,100 soldiers who come in each month.

Part of the explanation of why mountain men find the army less than desirable may rest with the attitude of their commanding officers. One high-ranking officer at Fort Knox, who asked not to be identified by name, said mountain soldiers are "unsophisticated, disadvantaged, can't see the big picture, lack proper values and are more concerned about themselves than they are the army."

They're just different. The same officer resents the "modern approach" under which the army handles those who go AWOL or desert. "What we ought to do is take these guys out behind the barracks and pull their ears," the officer said. Even though he says he commands the AWOL center under the modern approach, the same officer said, "Most of these guys wish they were in the stockade instead of here when I get through with them."

This officer refused to allow a reporter to visit the area where AWOL's and deserters are first brought in. Asked why, he replied, "You'd just get in the way. You write that these guys desert because they have strong family ties. If you can't write something good, don't write anything about us. We can handle affairs here without reporters snooping around."

"The New Army Wants to Serve You" the signs in all the mountain courtrooms say. That sign should perhaps be amended to say exactly how the army treats those who insist on retaining some of their mountain independence.

With all the talk about amnesty for those in Canada, maybe it's time to suggest that we have a similar problem for soldiers in the army who don't like Vietnam and army life either. Especially those like Eddie Caudill who "went over there and got shot up."

Army officials at Fort Knox did an about face this week and announced that "in all likelihood" Sergeant Eddie Caudill will be a free man in less than a month. When Caudill arrived at the base three weeks ago, commanding officers disagreed only on the kind of court martial that he would get, one commanding officer saying that "he's prime material for a general court martial" -- the most serious disciplinary action that can be taken against a deserter. This week, however, the army press information office released a statement saying, "The Army feels there would be no justice in court martialing this man. He filled his time."

The army chose an administrative maneuver that allows it to release Caudill without having to officially consider his absence of four years. Technically, Caudill's case has been transferred to the Medical Review Board at the Pentagon with the recommendation that he be discharged from the army "for medical reasons." The recommendation was made by a medical review board at Fort Knox, thus taking the case from the hands of the Commander of the Personnel Control Facility. The Pentagon normally acts on such cases in about a month, a spokesman said. During this time Caudill will either be confined at the base and assigned to "light duty" or sent home on leave. (After considerable delay, Caudill was assigned to the hospital for test and treatment last week.)

For some unexplained reason, the Fort Knox spokesman still insist that Caudill's medical condition is "normal" despite the recommendation that he be given a medical discharge with all benefits. Spokesmen have consistently played down a visible infection in a side wound the soldier received in Vietnam in 1967.

On Friday a Major Gant with the press information office sidestepped a question about the infection by saying, "A little infection may have come from those metal stitches left in his side. But, you must understand, these stitches always work themselves out. The doctors usually tell a man to take a finger nail clipper and clip them off when they come out so they won't tear his shirt." Major Gant said he would have to get a doctor's opinion before he could say whether four years was an unusually long time for stitches to take in "working themselves out." Army spokesman remained tightlipped about Caudill's charges of mistreatment while at Walter Reed Army Hospital, saying that such questions should be directed to the Surgeon General's Office in Washington.

Caudill's case has been followed closely by Congressman Ken Hechler, who made a personal call to Gen. Wm. R. Desorby, the commanding General at Fort Knox, and by Congressman Carl Perkins and Senator Robert Byrd, who wrote letters to the Commander of the Army. Press attention, particularly that of the Washington Post, appears to have been a major reason the army changed its mind about Caudill's case. The Army teletyped messages about press inquiries and newspaper stories back and forth between Fort Knox and the Pentagon Press information offices. It would not be an overstatement to say that Caudill so far has seen more of the Fort Knox press information officers than he has of the Fort Knox medical officers.

Regardless, the good news for Sergeant Eddie Caudill is that barring some unforseen difficulties he will soon be a "civilian" for the first time since May of 1966 when he first entered the army. The Army answered its own question about "What in the Hell is so special about Eddie Caudill?" In its announcement dropping charges against the wounded veteran, the army said, "The only obligations involved were ours to him."