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A few fond memories from the war

Old-timers know the feeling. As the years roll by, the old bones start squeaking, the limbs are harder to move and the back and hips give out. One retired banker recently told me he used to walk from his house to the drug store every day. Someone now has to drive him and pick him up later. His walking these days is to the mailbox, with great difficulty. He also indicated his memory isn't as sharp as it was at one time.

Veterans are carrying around some great history and, as the years roll by and they pass on, much is unreported and lost for all time. World War II, in which many participated, touched their lives and the lives of millions of others around the world.

Those who can still remember can tell you about Germany's Adolf Hitler and his bullying tactics. His armies attacked Poland, France, Great Britain and the low countries. Who can forget the panzer forces, the Stuka, the Heinkel, the Messerschmitt and efforts to bomb enemies into submission?

Those who lived through it will never forget Britain's battle for survival. British Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft rose to meet incoming German aircraft, particularly the Dormers bombing major cities. News pictures of the day showed great destruction as the Home Guard tried to clean up places like London.

The Luftwaffe pilots and crews did great damage, but not before RAF pilots fought off many enemy aircraft. At one point, the score was reported to be Luftwaffe aircraft lost 300, RAF 150. Hitler's efforts to obliterate Britain failed.

World War II veterans can tell you such stories and more from a war that left over 55 million people dead and millions more displaced or homeless. It was a global struggle and became so because Hitler tried to extend his empire from the Atlantic to Egypt, Leningrad and Greece, and even to the Arctic.

Personally, I have many memories - some happy and some sad. After fighting our way out of Anzio and into Rome, my division, the 45th Infantry Division, participated in the invasion of Southern France. If my memory serves me, this attack coincided with the Normandy invasion and what we hoped would happen was to catch enemy troops between the two attacks.

As we advanced up the Rhone Valley, I remember the many happy French people who greeted us along the way. They lavished their liberators with hugs, kisses, bottles of wine, flowers and fresh loaves of bread. Those of us battle weary from our Italian combat were overjoyed to bring such happiness to the French people and to successfully achieve our goals.

Actually, our landing near St. Tropez met little resistance because German forces were retreating northward. We did meet heavy fire at many places in the Rhone Valley, and we suffered a great many casualties.

For many local residents, our advance into France brought liberation from four years of German occupation. The cheering, happy people just wanting to touch an American soldier and shake his hand is probably one of the fondest of memories carried away from World War II.

Jack Simpson is a former educator, veteran, author, and law enforcement officer. His column appears each Sunday.