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A VETERAN'S STORY: Sosebee rises from poverty to WWII vet

Photo by Michael Buckelew

Photo by Michael Buckelew

CONYERS -- World War II veteran Bud Sosebee enjoys a good story, and he has a lot to tell.

Born to poverty, Sosebee has lived what many would consider the American dream. Successful in business, a licensed pilot, a scuba diver, a musician, an accomplished artist, Sosebee has shaken hands with two American presidents, has astronauts as friends and served 12 years as a Rockdale County commissioner.

Today, at 83 years old, Sosebee works as founder and strongest supporter of the Walk of Heroes at Black Shoals Park.

Sosebee was born in Cabbagetown, a poor section of Atlanta where his family moved to from north Georgia. His father worked for the Fulton Bag Company.

Sosebee dreamed about leaving Cabbagetown to move on to better things. By age 15, he was hauling 100-pound blocks of ice on his back for neighborhood iceboxes, but the heavy ice took a toll -- Sosebee's feet were so sore he couldn't walk, but he had to walk -- to school and back to work to haul more ice -- for $3 a week, to buy two pairs of pants and two shirts for school. Soon his feet were flatter than hot cakes.

"The Army didn't want me because my feet were flat," Sosebee stated. "Back then it was a disgrace not to serve, so I talked the Army into it."

At 16, Sosebee was off to war, flat feet and all.

"If the British Spitfires were out of ammo, they'd fly alongside the V-1's and position a wing tip under one of their stubby wings, then suddenly flip it over," Sosebee said. "That would throw the gyro out of whack and cause the V-1 to crash harmlessly in a field."

His aptitude for electronics earned Sosebee training as a radioman. After schooling, Sosebee was transferred to Tennessee in the dead of winter.

"I spent many a miserable night in leaky tents, muddy foxholes, and freezing temperatures. I hated every day of it," Sosebee grumbled.

Promoted to staff sergeant, his next stop was Columbia, S.C., for additional instruction, but Sosebee wanted to fly.

"I asked for a transfer to the Air Corps," he said. "I got the transfer, but I lost my stripes for joining the flyboys."

Sent to Hattiesburg, Miss., for flight school, Sosebee waited and waited until informed that Uncle Sam no longer needed pilots. Uncle Sam needed infantrymen. Soon, Sosebee was back in damp tents, dire weather and mucky foxholes.

Sosebee went to New York City and boarded a converted Norwegian ship for Southampton, England. There, Sosebee stayed in the home of an English couple.

"The couple got extra rations of butter and sugar for their hospitality," he said. From a village near Kent, Sosebee would watch V-1 buzz bombs flying overhead en route to various targets.

"If the British Spitfires were out of ammo, they'd fly alongside the V-1's and position a wing tip under one of their stubby wings, then suddenly flip it over," Sosebee said. "That would throw the gyro out of whack and cause the V-1 to crash harmlessly in a field."

Eventually assigned to the Fighting 69th, Sosebee boarded a troop ship and crossed the English Channel.

Moving forward in freezing weather to Aachen, Germany, the Fighting 69th ran into concrete anti-tank pyramids known as Dragon's Teeth that stretched for miles along the infamous Siegfried Line. Both armies halted and dug in due to the frigid conditions. After machines and humans finally thawed, the Americans basically maneuvered around the Dragon's Teeth and pushed toward the Rhine River.

Sosebee was bivouacked in the home of a professor near the university town of Heidelberg. "During lulls in combat, I studied a correspondence course in electrical engineering," Sosebee said. "One lesson gave me trouble, but the German professor walked by and said, 'Are you stuck?' and I said, 'Yeah, I am.' He sat down, looked at the book, and said, 'Oh, that's Kirchhoff's Law,' so a German professor helped me pass the course."

After Heidelberg, Sosebee and the Fighting 69th became historical participants in the celebrated battle for the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen.

"I've never seen so much firepower in my life!" Sosebee said.

They took the bridge. Three days later it collapsed into the Rhine.

Next stop: Kassel, Germany. "We were standing around and all of a sudden here comes a Red Cross doughnut truck up the road. Right there in a war zone we were chompin' on doughnuts and drinkin' hot Joe, but I glanced up and saw a German Messerschmitt diving to strafe our position. Before we could react, a P-51 Mustang came out of nowhere with guns blazing and chased the Messerschmitt away. Several of our .50 calibers opened up, too, but they were shooting at the Mustang! I shouted, 'That's one of ours!' and the boys stopped firing and moaned, 'Oh.'"

In Leipzig, the Germans were holed up in a particularly thick stone building that American artillery couldn't dent. Sosebee told his colonel, "Tell them we have gasoline and we're going to burn them out." The Germans surrendered.

Sosebee's final skirmish was in Eilenburg. He and his colonel received minor injuries from a Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon, but neither waited around for a Purple Heart.

"The war was winding down, and we wanted to see the end," Sosebee said.

En route the next day to meet the Russians at the Elbe River, Sosebee's unit ran into another thick concrete fortification. Immediately, a German lieutenant walked out and stated in perfect English, "We would like to surrender."

When asked how he learned to speak such good English, the German lieutenant said, "I'm an American. I was over here visiting when the war broke out and the German army immediately recruited me because I was bilingual. Do you have a piece of gum?"

Six years without a piece of American gum, he got a piece of gum, but a German major suddenly walked out and argued that he should have gotten the first piece.

"We were all laughing, American GIs and the German Wehrmacht, laughing together. We knew the war was over," Sosebee said.

After the Elbe River ceremony with the Russians, including a Russian brigade of women tankers, Sosebee's war was over. Soggy tents, freezing weather, and grubby foxholes shifted from reality to memories.

With several citations including two Bronze Stars for heroic action, Sosebee returned home to attend Georgia Tech. He earned two degrees, one in electrical engineering and one in industrial management. His master's degree in international business would be earned at Georgia State. Married in 1949 to Marie, who Sosebee liked to call Leesa, their marriage lasted 55 years until her passing.

Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran and author of A Veteran's Story, a regular feature of the Citizen. If you have a story, email him at petemecca@gmail.com.