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Remembering the war

When Benson Tomlin, along with a group of friends, posed for this photo in a roadside bar in Belgium, the war was nearly over, and Tomlin - his duty to country nearly complete - was ready for home. Today is Tomlin’s 90th birthday. | Stephanie Nelson/Star-News

Benson Tomlin was 21 when he got his draft notice.

It was 1941 – two years after the start of World War II, when the young man from Pigeon Creek was thrown into war.

Assigned to the Battery “D” 385th AAA Auto Weapons Brigade, Tomlin said it was his job to distribute artillery to shoot down German planes and to help guard supply bases from raids.

To become a U.S. veteran, Tomlin stood on the shores of Scotland, England, Belgium and France. He faced enemy fire, lost good friends and came home safe and sound, and in one piece, to family and friends.

Today, on Veteran’s Day, Tomlin turns 90.

“There were many times over there, I didn’t think I’d live to see the next day, let alone 90,” he said. “I was drafted into the service, because I can promise you I didn’t volunteer to go.”

Tomlin began his military stint doing maneuvers in Tennessee and at Eglin Air Force Base, where he learned, “all the different planes so I wouldn’t shoot down the wrong one.”

It wasn’t long before he was sent over seas, landing in Scotland and quickly crossing into England.

“We were there a long time before we crossed the Channel into enemy territory,” he said. “I’d always wanted to go to England, but that sure wasn’t the way I wanted to get there.”

On June 6, 1944, or D-Day as it’s better known, Tomlin had a brush with the famous 101st Airborne Division’s “Screaming Eagles.”

“You’ve heard of them, right?” Tomlin said. “Well, they were surrounded. We weren’t far from them. It was bad. A German officer had sent our officer a note asking him to surrender.

“Our guy sent a note back with one word on it – Nuts,’” he said laughingly. “Ain’t that something? Those Germans knew English, but they didn’t know slang. He didn’t know what to do with that.

“We made it out of that one, thank God,” he said. “I was lucky I wasn’t injured when we landed in France. The Germans were dug in. I’m just lucky.

“I had a lot of close calls in the war, but I tell you I wasn’t scared of facing the (German) troops. No sir. We were loading ships in Liverpool. There was no light. I’m carrying a duffel bag filled with everything I’ve got, walking that narrow board to get off.

“And you know, the only thing that separated me from drowning to death is that little bitty board,” he said. “You could see little flicker of lights in the distance. Boy, I tell you, give you the creeps. That scared me.

“There were a lot of times that I said to myself, ‘Self, if you get back home, you need to learn to straighten up and fly right,’” he said.

On Dec. 24, 1945, he made good on that promise, returning home to Covington County.

“I wasn’t a Christian when I went overseas,” Tomlin said. “I changed that. Been a deacon now some 50 years at West Highland Baptist Church.”

He met and married his wife of 64 years, Ruby. The couple has four children – “all girls too” – JoAnn Knox and Sandra Maddox of Andalusia, Wanda Morris of Birmingham and Robbin Glaser of Mobile.

Tomlin said the reason why people should celebrate Veterans Day is simple.

“I look back, and I’m thankful I’m alive,” he said. “I’m also thankful for the men and women who still serve. To this day, they’re in the thick of it, and we’re fortunate to have those people who are willing to serve.

“We owe the military a lot – our freedom,” he said.