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Surviving WWII

‘Crawled our way through France fighting’

In the Oct./Nov. 2019 issue of The Cooperator, we introduced “Stories of Service,” reader-submitted profiles of veterans who bravely served our country. We’re pleased to feature another story in this issue as a continuation of the series.

Igrew up in Henryville, close to Summertown. My dad, John Wesley Holder, was a farmer, and he and my mother, Emma, had six children. We grew corn and cotton.

One day, I was plowing with this old mule and decided, ‘I think I’ll just join the Army.’ That was around 1940, and I was 21 years old and never had been away from home. I joined before they started drafting folks.

After I got in there, I wished I had kept plowing with that old mule! The Army was rough back then. I went to basic training in North Carolina, and the drill sergeant wanted to see how tough he could make it on recruits. He did a good job at it, too. I just toughed it out and tried to be as rough as they were.

I was part of the 30th Infantry Division, and they shipped us from North Carolina over to Normandy to be part of the D-day invasion (on June 6, 1944). I remember like it was yesterday crawling up on Omaha Beach with my M-1 (Garand) rifle in my arm. It was so heavy to drag around that I got a carbine off of the first dead American soldier I found and swapped it because I knew that person wasn’t going to be using it. The carbine was lighter and had a whole lot more firepower to it.

There were between 200 and 300 soldiers in my infantry, and we crawled our way through France fighting. If you stood up, you got shot. I got shot at a lot of times, but I made it through. A lot of my friends didn’t. For every 100 soldiers who got off the boats, 45 were killed. Bullets would fly over your head by the hundreds; those German machine guns would fire 600 rounds a minute.

I was at the Battle of the Bulge (which took place Dec. 16, 1944 through Jan. 25, 1945 in the Ardennes region in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg). It was one of the roughest winters they’d ever had. There were a lot of days when it was below 20 degrees, but we had warm enough clothing to survive it.

Those machine guns were firing out of the pillboxes Hitler had built. Some of them had walls three feet thick. We didn’t have any ammunition that could penetrate them. All we had were those boys who were brave enough to throw a grenade in the pillbox to get them out of there.

When the Germans surrendered, word spread like wildfire. Of course, a lot of soldiers didn’t know that it was over until it had been quiet for a good while. When we got back, we had a big party that lasted about three days and three nights.

I don’t know how anyone ever survived the war. Hitler had no intentions of people surviving. It was rough. I don’t know if I could go through all that again or not. About 30 years ago, I went with a group back to France, Belgium, and Holland and returned to some of the places where we were during the war. It brought back a lot of memories.

After the war, I came back home and married Marie Green (now deceased)

and started doing carpentry and sheetrock work until I decided to retire at 94 years old. I turned 100 on Nov. 15 and still

feel as good as ever. I don’t have a single pain. I laugh a lot, and that keeps me going!

– Submitted by Knox Holder, Lawrenceburg

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