World War II paratrooper reflects on war, independence

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 2010

It doesn’t matter if the discussion is about World War I, World War II, Operation Iraqi Freedom or any battle before or after, the consensus is clear – “War is hell,” said WWII veteran and paratrooper Bob Dupree.

Dupree, formerly of Andalusia and now a resident at the Florala Health and Rehab, can give firsthand testimony on the trials of war.

Born in July 14, 1920, in Houston County, Dupree may be remembered as a fixture as a shoe salesman at Andalusia’s Baxter Shoes and Bell Shoes. But before he ever showed off a wingtip, Dupree was a soldier.

When WWII came along, he left high school to join the U.S. Army, where he eventually became a member of the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team. At the end of the war with Japan, in August 1945, about 7,500 of the surviving Japanese troops surrendered to the 503d Parachute Regimental Combat Team.

And Dupree was there. When asked how he made his way to jumping out of airplanes, his reply was quick.

“Apple pies.”

“I was at Camp Hood (Texas) when I went to visit a friend in the mess hall,” he said. “He was a cook, and I asked him, ‘What you making?’ He said, ‘Apple pies.’ I said, ‘No, you’re not. You’re making a mess.’”

Dupree quickly took over the operation, after having learned the art of cooking at his mother’s side.

“That night (after supper), the commanding officer came and asked who made those pies,” he said. “He told me those were the best pies he’d ever eaten and promoted me from a private first class to mess sergeant in one split second.”

It wasn’t long before he became frustrated in the kitchen and asked to transfer to the paratroopers’ branch.

He made 87 jumps – five of which were in combat situations – while serving in the Southwest Pacific theater before ending his military career on Christmas Day 1940.

“I felt like being a soldier was part of my duty as a American – like those boys do now, I’m sure,” he said. “I just jumped when they told me to jump. At first, I was scared to death, but after that it became routine.

“But, make no mistake – war is hell,” he said. “No matter what is said, that’s the truth. When we hit the ground, we were fighting. You had to be ready or you were going to get killed. I had a lot of friends, but I lost a lot, too.”

For those in the military, Independence Day is “every day,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re in the Army, the Navy, the Marines or the Air Force – whatever – it’s part of the life in the military,” he said. “Every day is Independence Day. It’s what they’re fighting for. It means we’re free – free Americans because of it.”

At one point, Dupree launched into a story about driving a company truck before running over a landmine, killing a fellow soldier.

“I never drove after that. My wife drove everywhere,” he said before gesturing to a framed collection of photographs on the wall and striking up a new topic of conversation – his family.

Described as his “greatest accomplishment,” the faces of his loved ones sit side-by-side photos of his prized amaryllises.

“I guess you could say I grow ‘em good,” he said, gesturing to the photo arrangement on the wall. “I did do that right.”

Dupree was married to the late Dorothy “Dot” Bass, and the couple raised two daughters.

During World War II, Andalusia native, Bob Dupree served as a paratrooper. | Courtesy photo