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Memories of WWII

When retired educator Foyl Hudgens of Opp was asked to share a little about his participation in last year’s Covington Regional Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where the veteran saw the monument to his war, World War II, he mentioned several things.

The portions of the WWII monument dedicated to events in which he participated were the Battle of the Bulge, the European Theater, and raising money for the war effort through bonds, he said.

When retired educator Foyl Hudgens of Opp was asked to share a little about his participation in last year’s Covington Regional Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where the veteran saw the monument to his war, World War II, he mentioned several things.

The portions of the WWII monument dedicated to events in which he participated were the Battle of the Bulge, the European Theater, and raising money for the war effort through bonds, he said.

“I served five years, 21 days, 23 hours and two or three minutes,” he said, before turning to his life after the war.

There was just one small thing he failed to mention.

“Oh, yes. I was a POW late in the war, in Germany, and I escaped,” he said.

“They moved us at night,” Hudgens recalled. “One of the places we’d get to bed down was in cow barns.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he explained how he escaped.

“The boards were loose,” he said. “I kicked out. I told my buddy next to me to tell the next one.

“There were six of us,” he recalled. “Three got out and one took a bullet through the arm.”

It wasn’t long, he said, before the trio found horses and began traveling through the German lines. By that time, they spoke enough German to say hello as they passed. Later, they took a car and drove it until they ran out of gas, then began hitchhiking.

“We made it back to our unit, and it wasn’t long until it was all over with,” he said.

W.B. “Snooks” Tillman was drafted in 1940, just after he graduated from Straughn High School.

“But I was farming, and I was deferred until I finished the crop,” he said.

When he reported for duty, he said, he and all of the other draftees were told the military was filling Navy positions that day.

“I told them I’d rather not,” he said. “But you had no choice if you were qualified.”

Those making the military choices that day really should have listened to the young farmer from Alabama who liked to keep his feet on the ground. He first shipped out of the San Francisco.

“I was sick before we got out from under the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said. And the same thing happened to him again and again.

“It didn’t matter if we docked for a few minutes or three days,” he said. Getting used to being on the water – including a period of seasickness – “was all to do over again.”

Seeing the World War II memorial last year “was wonderful,” Tillman said, adding that his first trip in a large plane was far better than any of his WWII trips on boats.

Army Air Corp veteran Randall Palmer said seeing the WWII Memorial was a dream come true.

“I wanted to go so bad,” he said. “I used to drive the DAV van back and forth to Montgomery and Tuskegee. We’d talk about that everybody had one but us, and nobody had won one since we came home.

“I’ll never forget seeing it as long as I live,” Palmer said. “I never would have gotten there without you.”

Palmer was so excited about the trip, organizers of last year’s event said, that he was the first one in the parking lot.

“I didn’t want to miss it,” he said. “You never know what might happen. I didn’t want to oversleep or have my car break down.”

Hubert Sullivan, a Castleberry native who also was drafted served with an Army engineering group. He recalled that his unit was shipped to Europe on a British ship that had been used to haul cattle in World War I.

“It was very uncomfortable,” he said, adding that the men were required to stay on board a week before they shipped out, learning to use guns and protect the ship.

They traveled in a convoy, he said.

“There were ships as far as you could see.”

After stops in Europe, they went ashore in Normandy a month after D-Day, setting up pup tents in a cow pasture while they unloaded their equipment and eventually moving across France with the troops. He tells stories of helping build roads and bridges for the troops.

“It was hell,” he said. He saw a friend killed by friendly fire, one of the things most worried about.

But the Honor Flight trip last year was good – good enough that he’s convinced a lifelong friend, Ralph Garrett, also a Castleberry native, to take the trip this year.

The two men said they had no idea how big the world was when they left Castleberry. Ironically, Garrett ended up in a remote area of north China that made his hometown seem like a large place.

Garrett went to radio school before leaving the United States. His unit crossed India into North China, where some members flew from a “grassy, gravel runway” using Flying Tiger P40s to collect information.

“The reconnaissance pilot would leave our base and be gone for 18 hours. The only weapon he had was the .45 under his arm,” Garrett recalled. When the pilot returned, members of the unit would process film, then use one of the three methods they had for encoding messages to radio headquarters of Japanese positions.

“They would use the information to make up bombing runs,” he said.

The men slept in a monastery

“It was an isolated place,” Garrett said. “We never saw a newspaper or a USO show.”

Two of Garrett’s children plan to travel with him as guardians on this year’s Honor Flight, he said.

“I served five years, 21 days, 23 hours and two or three minutes,” he said, before turning to his life after the war.

There was just one small thing he failed to mention.

“Oh, yes. I was a POW late in the war, in German, and I escaped,” he said.

“They moved us at night,” Hudgens recalled. “One of the places we’d get to bed down was in cow barns.”

With a twinkle in his eye, he explained how he escaped.

“The boards were loose,” he said. “I kicked out. I told my buddy next to me to tell the next one.

“There were six of us,” he recalled. “Three got out and one took a bullet through the arm.”

It wasn’t long, he said, before the trio found horses and began traveling through the German lines. By that time, they spoke enough German to say hello as they passed. Later, they took a car and drove it until they ran out of gas, then began hitchhiking.

“We made it back to our unit, and it wasn’t long until it was all over with,” he said.

W.B. “Snooks” Tillman was drafted in 1940, just after he graduated from Straughn High School.

“But I was farming, and I was deferred until I finished the crop,” he said.

When he reported for duty, he said, he and all of the other draftees were told the military was filling Navy positions that day.

“I told them I’d rather not,” he said. “But you had choice if you were qualified.”

Those making the military choices that day really should have listened to the young farmer from Alabama who liked to keep his feet on the ground. He first shipped out of the San Francisco.

“I was sick before we got out from under the Golden Gate Bridge,” he said. And the same thing happened to him again and again.

“It didn’t matter if we docked for a few minutes or three days,” he said. Getting used to being on the water – including a period of seasickness – “was all to do over again.”

Seeing the World War II memorial last year “was wonderful,” Tillman said, adding that his first trip in a large plane was far better than any of his WWII trips on boats.

Army Air Corp veteran Randall Palmer said seeing the WWII Memorial was something.

“I wanted to go so bad,” he said. “I used to drive the DAV van back and forth to Montgomery and Tuskegee. We’d talk about that everybody had one but us, and nobody had won one since we came home.

“I’ll never forget seeing it as long as I live,” Palmer said. “I never would have gotten there without you.”

Palmer was so excited about the trip, organizers of last year’s event said, that he was the first one in the parking lot.

“I didn’t want to miss it,” he said. “You never know what might happen. I didn’t want to oversleep or have my car break down.”

Hubert Sullivan, a Castleberry native who also was drafted served with an Army engineering group. He recalled that his unit was shipped to Europe on a British ship that had been used to haul cattle in World War II.

“It was very uncomfortable,” he said, adding that the men were required to stay on board a week before they shipped out, learning to use guns and protect the ship.

They traveled in a convoy, he said.

“There were ships as far as you could see.”

After stops in Europe, they went ashore in Normandy a month after D-Day, setting up pup tents in a cow pasture while they unloaded their equipment and eventually moving across France with the troops. He tells stories of helping build roads and bridges for the troops.

“It was hell,” he said. He saw a friend killed by friendly fire, one of the things most worried about.

But the Honor Flight trip last year was good – good enough that he’s convinced a lifelong friend, Ralph Garrett, also a Castleberry native, to take the trip this year.

The two men said they had no idea how big the world was when they left Castleberry. Ironically, Garrett ended up in a remote area of north China that made his hometown seem like a large place.

Garrett went to radio school before leaving the United States. His unit crossed India into North China, where some members flew from a “grassy, gravel runway” using Flying Tiger P40s to collect information.

“The reconnaissance pilot would leave our base and be gone for 18 hours. The only weapon he had was the .45 under his arm,” Garrett recalled. When the pilot returned, members of the unit would process film, then use one of the three methods they had for encoding messages to radio headquarters of Japanese positions.

“They would use the information to make up bombing runs,” he said.

The men slept in a monastery

“It was an isolated place,” Garrett said. “We never saw a newspaper or a USO show.”

Two of Garrett’s children plan to travel with him as guardians on this year’s Honor Flight, he said.