Veteran Ray Supple walked across France and Germany during his 18 months of combat in World War II. He served in at least five Army divisions and was wounded twice. Supple is shown here in his jacket that he wore in the service and holding his two Purple Heart medals. He and his wife Madeline live in Conyers. -- Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
During high school in Bridgeport, Ct., Ray Supple worked as an usher in the local movie house. "I still remember that Sunday when the lights suddenly came on. My boss walked onto the stage and announced that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. We knew our lives had changed forever."
After high school Supple attended trade school to learn the machinist trade. "For a short time I worked in a tool room making Thompson submachine guns," he said. "All of us were in the war effort."
In April of '43, Uncle Sam thought it was time for 18-year-old Supple to learn a new trade in the U.S. Army: heavy weapons.
Sent to Camp Blanding, Fla., Supple mastered the 30-cal. water-cooled machine gun and 81mm mortar. He said, "I ended up at Camp Robinson, Ark., with Company M of the 66th Black Panther Division. In May of '44 we got our orders, but as individuals, not as a unit."
Shipped to England via President Ship Line, Supple eventually crossed the English Channel and arrived on a "secured" Omaha Beach in late June.
"I don't know if 'secured' is the correct word," he said. "We got shelled the first night and men were hit. They got no further than Omaha Beach."
Supple saw wave after wave of B-17 heavy bombers winging their way to Germany. "The sky was filled with the B-17s, but I had to walk."
Now a member of the 4th Division, Supple and his two-man crew started their trek across France. He recalled, "On the 25th of August an Army truck stopped next to us and the driver told us to hop aboard. By that quirk of fate, I ended up with the first American division to arrive in liberated Paris."
Supple and his two-man crew set up their machine gun next to Notre Dame Cathedral. "That was only for one night," he stated. "The next morning we started walking again."
Walking and fighting, setting up a perimeter, walking more miles, past the French Maginot Line toward Germany. "That's when I got hit the first time," he said. "A burst from an 88mm sent shrapnel into my foot. I was sent back to the aid station, got patched up, drank a cup of hot chocolate then went back to my unit."
Moving, moving, always moving. When the chance did come for a brief stint in a rest area, their orders were canceled for the hell of the Hurtgen Forest. Supple said, "The 109th got chewed up bad. We were assigned to the 12th Infantry and moved back into the forest to reoccupy the positions lost by the 109th. We were 30 or 40 feet inside the forest with a big field between us and a small town. The 'tree bursts' were just as dangerous as the shrapnel."
The bursts split tree limbs, sending javelins of wood plus hot shrapnel into the men below. "The German 88s fired constantly," he said. "Plus the Panzer tanks took pop shots at us while their infantry threw potato mashers (German hand grenades) in our direction. I threw a grenade back at them, but the darn thing hit a tree and bounced back, almost killing us. I sort of stopped that for a while."
Something was happening. "Our support riflemen were pulled out. We were in the hole alone, no communication, nothing. The Panzers hit a machine gun crew fairly close to us, but we never found out how bad it was."
In freezing cold and deadly battle, Supple and his crew survived the night.
"In the morning we heard a burp gun firing, then a guy came up to our hole and yelled, 'Move out, the Germans are behind us!' When we crawled out I saw a sergeant I knew lying close by, dead. We moved out, following the footsteps of the man ahead of us to avoid land mines."
In Dec, Supple and his crew received a special treat. "An Army truck drove up to our position with a makeshift crude shower. We took a shower; the first time in months. Not that it really mattered; we all smelled the same."
Positioned further back, but not out of harm's way, Supple said, "As soon as we dug in we heard incoming. The first shell landed outside our hole and blew the machine gun back on top of us. We threw off the debris then scrambled out. My buddies jumped into a hole with two other guys and I jumped into another hole. My arm was killing me."
The next morning a lieutenant ordered Supple back to an aid station. "It was cold, real cold," he said. "The first aid station was moving out, so I walked to a second, but it was moving out too, so I walked to the third. The guys had a big fire going to stay warm so I joined them. That was a big mistake."
By the fire, Supple's frozen feet began to thaw. "They swelled like balloons," he said. "And my arm was still killing me."
Inside the aid station, Supple was told to wait while the doctor finished breakfast. Supple recalled, "When I was finally examined they discovered shrapnel had gone through my right arm and didn't know if they could save my feet or not."
Supple spent the next three months on crutches hospitalized in England. "My mother was worried about me, so my brother Bill came to see me. He was with the 8th Air Force. Bill sent Mom a letter telling her that I was OK and still had all my body parts."
Supple recovered from his injuries then spent time as an MP in Germany. After 18 months of combat and two wounds, his war was over. Sent home, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill, learned a trade, worked for the Underwood Typewriter Company, the post office, and finished his working career with Bell South after 32 years.
"I went in a pfc. and came out a pfc.," he said. "I was transferred around so much nobody knew me. I served with the 4th Division, the 66th, the 28th, and the 191st MPs, and a couple others I don't remember."
Supple carried a Catholic prayer book throughout the war. "I don't think I could have made it without God's help," he said. Supple and his wife, Madeline, call Conyers home and attend Saint Pius Catholic Church. "We married 65 years ago," he stated with a smile. "And we've been partying ever since."
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.