‘None have been forgotten.’

Published 10:45 pm Monday, May 25, 2009

American Legion Post 88 Commander David Johnson provided a grim reminder of why the nation pauses in May to remember fallen soldiers.

Citing the numbers of soldiers who died in each war in which Americans have been involved since the War of Independence began in 1775, Johnson said Memorial Day began in 1868 as a day to place flowers on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. The holiday is now celebrated in almost every state on the last Monday in May.

“There are 125,000 American military men and women buried on foreign soil. Thousands more are still missing,” Johnson said. “But none have been forgotten.”

Johnson, a Vietnam veteran who lives halfway between Kinston and Samson, read a letter written by a member of his American Legion Post, disabled World War II veteran Acie Taylor, 89, for Veterans Day.

“…If you are enjoying your freedom as I do, thank a veteran for your freedom. Do you know a veteran that was awarded a purple heart for wounds he received in combat? If you do, given him a thank you for he did spill his blood on a battlefield in a foreign war.

“War was hell on earth when the Americans landed on Normandy in 1944. They used 5,300 ships and landing craft, 1,500 tanks and 12,000 airplanes. But in the end, it all came down to this: 55,000 scared American young men, most not yet 20 years old, who entered a nightmare so they could save the world form Nazi Germany.

“After fighting in the hedgerows in Normandy across France, taking the town of Brest, the largest seaport in France, we were in Gen. George S. Patton’s Army. Our next battle was in the Hurtgen Forest in Germany. It was 1,300 square miles of hell on earth. The forest was so think with large trees, troops could hardly move through them. The artillery from the enemy would hit in tree tops, bursting above ground. This caused more American soldiers to die or be wounded.

“After moving from Belgium, 107 miles in the open in six-by-six trucks in heavy sleet, it was cold. We got to the forest just as it was getting pitch dark. The snow had covered everything. What our orders did not tell us was that five U.S. Army divisions had been fighting in this forest and had heavy casualties and needed help. This forest was covered with icicles, rain, snow, woods, mines, pillboxes, large bunkers, heavy mortars, heavy artillery, trench foot, frozen toes, blown off limbs. Some 30,000 soldiers died in this forest due to cold weather. Some nights the temperatures would drop to 40 below zero. The first time I changed my socks after a few days fighting in this forest, my toenails came off in my socks.

“The 121st Infantry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for taking the town of Hurtgen in the forest in hand-to-hand combat. We had heavy casualties taking it. Most WWII veterans that fought in the infantry ground combat never forgot all the men they saw die such a horrible death. Most veterans of the 121st Infantry Regiment consider the forest the hardest and most deadly battle of the five battles we fought in Normandy, France, to Schwerin, Germany.

“What makes war hell on earth (is) you don’t leave it when you leave the battlefield. It has stayed with me 63 years, day and night. After 63 years, time does not dim nor cause the fading of impressions that a war had made, memories await the moment when you leave your heart unguarded, then a restless ghost appears. After 63 years, I can still feel alone and scared remembering those who were not spared. Wondering how long must elapse before I brood no more, perhaps, never in my lifetime. The 4,842 casualties of my Unit 121st Infantry Regiment, 8 Infantry Division, these men I loved, and they were the best friends I ever had. They fought for me to live free in America.”

Congressman Bobby Bright also attended the ceremony and presented a flag flown above the Capitol to Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson, who served as master of ceremonies. The event was moved inside the Andalusia City Hall auditorium because of rain.