Heroes still here: Middle Georgia’s WWII veterans

November 9, 2013 

Here are some World War II veterans still living in Middle Georgia:

Robert Asbell, 92, of Dublin, served in the Army in the Pacific. He was involved in many battles and has a sword taken from a Japanese soldier. His first major combat action was in retaking the Bataan Peninsula.

“It scared the hell out of me,” he said. “The bullets go by your head and you know what it is. It’s going faster than the speed of sound so you get a sonic boom, but if you hear it, you know it’s done missed you.”

John Bell, 87, of Macon, was an Army infantryman in Europe. He fought in many major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge. “I saw so many friends get killed, but I just came out without a scratch,” he said. “Most people, in my opinion, don’t really know what war is. Until you are a part of it, you just don’t know.”

Rufus Bellflower, 94, of Macon, served in the Army as an infantryman in Europe. He was awarded a Purple Heart.

Landon H. Brent Sr., 91, of Macon, served in the Army Air Corps as a flight engineer and ball turret gunner on a B-24 bomber. He was awarded the Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross. He flew 31 missions over Europe, including two on D-Day. He was later shot down and wounded. He spent a month in a hospital before returning to duty.

Wilbur Bush, 93, of Vienna, served in Europe as a flight engineer on a B-17 bomber. He flew 26 combat missions. On one occasion an activated bomb did not drop. The pilot informed the navigator to look for a place to “ditch” the plane and dropped to a lower altitude. Concerned they would be shot at, Bush climbed down and pushed the bomb to loosen it from the hatch.

Frank Cross, 92, of Fort Valley, was a B-25 bomber pilot in North Africa during World War II. He later flew fighter planes during the Korean War. He is the oldest active volunteer at the Museum of Aviation and holds the record for most volunteer hours served at the museum.

George Culpepper, 92, of Fort Valley, served in the Navy in the Pacific on a small ship. After the war he served as a Superior Court judge in the Macon Circuit from 1967 to 1982.

Michael A. Deep, 89, of Macon, served in the Army’s 5th Infantry Division. He was injured in Normandy and spent three months in a hospital. He was discharged from the Army once he left the hospital. After the war, he attended Mercer University on the GI Bill. He graduated from the law school and practiced law in Macon and at Robins Air Force Base.

“One thing I remember was just before we moved up in Normandy, at one time they said the chaplain was going to be available. Being Catholic, I wanted to go. I got to a little hillside ... as far as you could see were guys like me ... guys old enough to be my daddy and granddaddy who had heavy machine guns. As far as I could see, these people are kneeling and praying. At 19, I was so impressed. ... Here in the midst of that, these people are looking for guidance from the Lord.”

He also had fond memories of dancing with the girls in Northern Ireland. He was overwhelmed to learn in the late 1980s that guys from his squadron had been looking for him and wondering why he wasn’t coming to the reunions. He said he lost touch with them after he was discharged but was grateful to reconnect. They had regular reunions until there were only three or four of them left.

John Dominey, 89, of McRae, served in the Army Air Corps as a ball turret gunner on a B-24 bomber.

He flew 18 combat missions out of a base in Italy. His plane was shot down in Austria near the Danube River. He bailed out, but was captured.

“He wasn’t really in a prison camp, but in camp in a town where they captured him,” said his wife, Annis. “They kept him in a 8-by-10-foot room. He was interrogated after they shot down the plane. They also gave him cabbage soup that smelt terrible and mostly consisted of water. He thought they were going to shoot him, but they never did. He was extremely flirtatious and the guards made him face the wall so he couldn’t interact with the females at the camp.”

She said he appreciates it when people thank him for his service.

Edmund Driggars, 88, of Macon, served in the Navy, hunting German submarines in the Atlantic. He was a gunner on a PBY-5A Catalina sea plane.

Elliott Fuller, 91, of Macon, served as an infantryman in the Marines in the Pacific. He was in many battles, including the Battle of Okinawa. When he went to sign up for the military, he planned to go into the Navy, but the line was long and he noticed the Marine line was shorter, so he got into the Marine line.

Jack Grimsley, 87, of Macon, was a Navy gunner on a sea patrol plane. He was one of five brothers to serve, and one of his brothers, Cecil Earl Grimsley, died in 1942 when his ship sank. Jack Grimsley then had the option of coming home, which he did, but two years later he re-entered the war because he said times were hard and he couldn’t make a living.

Manning Haskins, 97, of Macon, served in the Army in Europe as an artilleryman.

He said he would like people to know that war is a horrible thing.

“To have life on (the) line and don’t know how long you’ll be living. Shell could hit you at any time.”

Crawford Hicks, 96, of Warner Robins, was a B-17 bomber pilot in Europe. He was shot down on his 10th mission and remained in a prisoner of war camp until he was liberated by Gen. George Patton’s troops.

Charles Johnson, 88, of Macon, served in the Army in Europe as an infantryman.

William Timothy Jones, 92, of Macon, served in the Army Air Corps as a bomber pilot in Europe.

He recalled a mission to bomb German submarine pens, which are bunkers to protect subs in port from aerial bombing. The pens were heavily guarded with anti-aircraft fire, and the mission was so dangerous that the commanding officer gave crew members the option of not going.

Jones chose to go, but it was a cloudy day, and when they reached the target the mission was aborted. Even though there were other missions in which his plane was fired at, Jones said the mission to bomb the pens was the one that scared him the most.

“Maybe the Lord had a hand in it.” Jones said of the mission being aborted.

Peter Krops, 93, of Macon, served as an infantryman in the Army. He is completely deaf, said his wife, Ingaborg. She said he was on the first wave landing at Omaha Beach in the D-Day invasion. He was later seriously wounded by shrapnel during a battle in France. She said he was “left for dead,” but a French doctor saved his life. He later served in Korea, and spent 30 years in the Army.

Keith Lancaster, 88, of Hawkinsville, was a gunner on a B-24 bomber in Europe. On one mission an engine went out and he and his crew had to bail out. None of them had ever done that, even in training, but Lancaster said they all made it out successfully.

“They guaranteed our parachutes,” he said. “They said if it didn’t open, we could bring it back and get a new one.”

On many of their missions, they were protected by the Tuskegee Airmen Red Tails, the military’s first black fighter pilots.

“They were well respected,” he said.

He was one of the first U.S. military members to see an enemy jet in action. A German jet flew by his formation late in the war.

“He didn’t shoot at anybody, he just went through the group,” Lancaster said. “We didn’t shoot at him because he went by so fast. We didn’t know what it was.”

There were nine men in his crew, and he kept up with all of them after the war. Lancaster says he is the only surviving member.

Javors Lucas, 90, of Macon, served in the Army Corps of Engineers in the Pacific. He ran a water plant on an island in the Pacific and was also a photographer. He photographed the Enola Gay when it landed after dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He serves today on the Macon Water Authority Board.

Newell NeSmith, 92, of Cochran, served in the Army in North Africa and Italy. After the war he became an attorney and practiced for 50 years.

George Orluck, 94, of Macon, flew on a B-29 bomber in the Pacific during World War II, except that his unit didn’t drop bombs. They took photographs over enemy territory before and after bomb runs.

Jack Peck, 90, of Warner Robins, served in the Navy on a patrol bomber that searched for enemy submarines. He served in Europe and the Pacific.

Ricky Potenziani, 87, of Kathleen, was a Navy gunner on a Merchant Marine ship that delivered supplies to troops in Europe and the Pacific.

Jesse Ryder Sr., 89, of Macon, served in the Navy as a boatswain mate officer. He was in charge of the transportation of ammunition near Pearl Harbor.

James Stephens, 88, of Warner Robins, served in the Navy in the South Pacific. He did maintenance on machine guns and artillery.

Oliver Walton, 89, of Macon, served in the Army loading and unloading ships in Europe and the Pacific.

On Easter Sunday, 1945, he was helping load bombs from a freighter onto a barge. He said he suddenly had the urge to leave the ship and go ashore, and when he did, the barge exploded. The bombs were supposed to be deactivated, but one of them went off while it was being moved. The barge was destroyed and one man was killed.

Tom Winchester, 92, of Macon, served in the Army in Europe as an engineer.

Charles Winings, 91, of Chauncey, served in the Army in the Pacific.

Penrose Wolf, 88, of Perry, served in the Army infantry in Europe.

James Young, 90, of Reynolds, served in the Army as an assistant squad leader. He was involved in the D-Day invasion at Normandy and he was in the Battle of the Bulge. He fought across Europe all the way until the U.S. troops met Soviet troops. He was wounded in battle and was sent to a hospital in England. He was awarded the Purple Heart and still has a piece of shrapnel in his arm from the injury.


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