BY SARAH MORRISON STEPHENS, OWNER OF ELMORE/AUTAUGA NEWS
I was a reporter in Louisiana just starting out in my after-college career in 1990. I was assigned to find a Veteran to do a story on, and started asking around. I was given the name of a local farmer and called him to see if he would talk to me. He told me he would get back to me, and I figured he wasn’t interested.
Finally several days later he did call and told me to come to his house at a certain time. I figured it would just be another run of the mill type of story, highlighting his military career and such.
When I arrived I could not find a place to park because there were about 30 cars in the driveway and yard. I parked on the side of the road and walked to the house. I knocked and the door flew open, with anxious faces and it was obvious there was a lot of excitement, but even a little fear.
I was guided by family members into a large kitchen area and found a gray-headed man with brilliant blue eyes seated at the head of the kitchen table, wearing blue overalls and holding several boxes in front of him. He kept his head down and didn’t make eye contact with me for several minutes.
I sat next to him and wasn’t sure how to proceed. It was an extremely uncomfortable few minutes.
Finally he looked up at me and smiled, and took my hand.
“I’ve never done this before,” he said. I looked around the room to see his family crying, and it dawned on me. I was about to hear a story that he had never told his family. Quite frankly, he had never told anyone.
In World War II, this humble farmer signed up to serve his country and left Jeff Davis Parish in Louisiana to serve in the Army. He landed in Germany and was immediately thrown into a battle zone, trying to take a bridge.
With his comrades dying around him, he found himself running from body to body to get their ammunition and guns and fought off the approaching troops as everyone around him died. This went on for several hours.
Eventually he was rescued but had suffered serious injuries and ended up in a field hospital. Meanwhile, there was some confusion, and his family back in Louisiana was notified that he was missing in action, and presumed dead.
His young wife believed she was now a widow. But this is where it gets good. She was at home one day hanging out the laundry when she heard a car. She watched as her “dead” husband slowly walked up the driveway.
He came home, continued to run the family farm, raised several children and grandchildren, but never spoke of the horrors of war. Ever. He had never shown them the numerous medals for valor and bravery, or the purple heart.
I was sitting in the presence of a member of the Greatest Generation and was a part of something so special that it has lingered with me.
In all of my 30-plus years on this job, I have interviewed literally hundreds of veterans and told their stories. Few of them have moved me as much as this one.
He is long gone now, but I am so thankful for him. I am blessed to have been the one to tell his story.
We are losing WWII veterans so rapidly now, as well as Korean War era and Vietnam era men and women. Please, if you know a veteran, no matter when they served, please record their history on tape, paper, a blog, however you can do it. They are true American heroes, and we can never repay them for their service.
Love, a proud daughter of a WWII pilot and flight instructor who taught young boys to fly the bombers that played a huge role in winning the war.
P.S. If you have a Facebook account, please go to our Elmore/Autauga News Page and post a photo of YOUR favorite Veteran in the post requesting photos. Tell their story. We must never forget.