BONAIRE -- A World War II veteran’s quest to find his Army buddies on social media is getting a lot of attention.
John Knowles, 91, of Bonaire, has tried unsuccessfully for years to find some of the men who fought beside him in North Africa and Italy.
On Aug. 11 his daughter posted a photo on Knowles’ Facebook page of him holding a hand-written sign that read “Please share: Looking for members of U.S. Army Infantry World War II, North Africa & Italy, 34th Infantry Division, 135 Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I-company.”
At the top of the photo his daughter posted a message on his behalf, “I would love to see any members that I served with in 1942 and 1943! I think most would be from Minnesota and Iowa!”
As of Tuesday afternoon, just a week after it was posted, the message on his page had been shared more than 30,000 times. But it also had been shared from the Disabled American Veteran’s page more than 100,000 times, and likely also shared thousands of other times by other pages. That means millions of people have probably now seen the post.
So far it hasn’t led to him making contact with a confirmed person with whom he served, but he is hopeful.
He said it would mean a lot if he could find one of them still living.
“I would enjoy talking with them, hearing from them,” he said as he sat in his living room Tuesday.
He recalls that shortly after the war he may have spoken to one person he served with, but he has never made contact with anyone else, partly because he left the service unexpectedly.
After marching almost the entire length of Italy, his feet were frozen twice in northern Italy. He was sent home on furlough, expecting to return, but his feet took a turn for the worse. He was hospitalized and in 1945 was medically discharged as the war was ending.
He never got a chance to say goodbye to any of his fellow soldiers or exchange contact information. Also, soldiers traditionally called each other only by their last name, or a nickname, so he can’t actually remember anyone’s full name.
In his searching through the years, he learned many of his closest friends in his unit have died.
Knowles, originally from Telfair County, was awarded the Purple Heart for his frozen feet, which gave him trouble for many years. He also mentioned one other medal he received.
“Believe or not, as bad and as mean as I was, I did earn the Good Conduct Medal,” he said.
Knowles moved to Bonaire not long after the war and went to work as a heavy equipment operator at Robins Air Force Base. He retired from the base after 30 years.
He has survived three heart operations but said he is in fairly good health now. He still gardens and goes fishing with his 18-year-old grandson, Tyler Hamrick.
“Fishing is where he loves to be at now,” Hamrick said.
The Ocmulgee River boat landing on Ga. 96 east of Bonaire is named in Knowles’ honor for his conservation efforts.
His wife, Nadine, said she had no clue what was going to happen when the request was posted on Facebook last week.
“It’s been amazing,” she said.
Knowles said Tuesday morning he had 162 Facebook friend requests pending.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.