George Wilson, US Army, 1944-1946
Watch George’s story or read it below.
I’m George Grant Willson. I was born in 1926 during the Great Depression years. I was one of six siblings. All but one was born in my grandparents’ home. My grandfather built this home on his farm in the suburbs of Topeka, Kansas. My dad was a railroad clerk. We moved and lived in several different little towns in Kansas. I finished my schooling in Wichita, Kansas.
I was 15 years old when I saw the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life. I told my friend that was with me, “I’m going to marry her someday,” and he just smiled real big. Later, we got married, two years later. The war separated us for the most part of our first two years of marriage.
I enlisted in the Navy and was turned down because I had fallen metatarsals, and so I wound up in the Army in the infantry, where you don’t use your feet much. I joined the 75th Infantry Division as a replacement. Our division lost 50% of the soldiers during the Belgian Bulge. There was only one soldier left in the squad that I joined. He was a BAR man, carried a Browning Automatic Rifle, and it carried a clip of 20 bullets, which you could fire one at a time or just hold the trigger and fire all 20. He was in his 20s, six-foot tall, weighed about 200 pounds. He was totally exhausted when he came in, and he kept falling off to sleep, so I went over and picked up his BAR, and he gave me a dirty look, and I cleaned it all up. And when I finished cleaning it up, he said, “You’re my assistant.”
I later carried my own BAR, and I had two good friends that were my assistants. We were fired at many times by German airplanes. We were strafed, and we saw other men killed, but none of the three of us were ever hurt from that. Some of us signed up to go behind the enemy lines. And I remember one night, there was four of us in Berk et Les so that when the 88s came in, that was a Germans’ artillery shells, they’d bounce off the building instead of hitting us. And we were told that we was to shoot and kill anything that went in front of us, whether it was human or animal.
At about 2:00 in the morning, two guys showed up in front of a little building there, and I was supposed to shoot them, but I couldn’t make myself do it. As an 18-year-old boy, I had never shot anything but rabbits and squirrels. The artillery shells of the enemy would bounce off of our building quite a few times, so we didn’t notice how close we were. We were right on the front lines. But these two guys turned out to be American soldiers that had just gotten lost, so I took quite a ribbing from the rest of the guys on my team.
I’ll just mention a few things that happened. We were going through a real dense woods, and there was a real nice building, a framed building in the middle of it. And there was no soldiers around it of any kind, ours or theirs. And so we opened the front door and went in, and there was a woman that appeared to be like a Catholic sister. I’m not sure what she was. She was gracious, but she said for us not to come in. Well, that was just a sign for us that the enemy was in there and we needed to get in. So we went on in, and there was some big double doors, and I headed for those double doors, and she kept saying, “Nein, nein, nein.” So I knew more than ever I’d better open those doors, and when I did, it was the sorriest mistake I ever made in my life. There was about 50 German soldiers in there that all had gangrene, and they were all close to death, and they all thought I was going to shoot them. But God spared them, and God spared me.
Later that same day, or the next day I guess it was, we were marching along in quite a bit of enemy fire. And a tank crew came by, and they asked me if I wanted to ride. Naturally, I said, “Yes.” So I got on the tank, and they went about a block, and finally they stopped and said, “We’re taking too much small arms fire,” and said, “We haven’t had any of that all day long.” They said, “They’re trying to kill you. You better get off.” So I got off.
And a couple days after that, our scouts found a place that they thought was safe for us to stay maybe for a few hours and rest up, and it turned out it was a bomb shelter for the German civilians. And we went in, and that’s when they zeroed in on us with their 88s, and they fired artillery shells for many, many hours at us. Finally, the lieutenant walked up to me, and he said, “Wilson, there’s some other soldiers that belong in this here area.” He said, “You go over there and tell them that we’re going to try to slip out the back before they come in and catch us down in here trapped.” And I said, “Sir, look at what you’re telling me to do. You know it’s sure death.” And all he did was pat his carbine rifle and point it out.
So I went out, and I thought, “Well, there’s no sense in running to my death. I might as well just walk and take it easy.” So I just started walking along, and I got maybe half a block into the woods, and all the trees had all their limbs knocked off them from their 88 shells. And something inside of me told me to start running, so I start running just as fast as I could. And a fella saw me coming, and they opened the front door of the house, and just as they opened the front door, I dove through it, and I wound up in the basement because there was a door opposite going to the basement. And they dropped a shell in the front yard killing one soldier.
The Lord was good to me through the whole service. And one of the things that I really remember standing out was that a boy came up to me when we were getting ready to push off out of Holland and into Germany. And he said, “I see that you read your Bible every day.” He said, “Would you go to church with me?” I said, “This is Tuesday. There’s no churches open at 6:00 in the morning on Tuesday.” He said, “Yeah, I’ve been watching.” He said, “We’ve been here three days, and they have church every morning.” So I went with him. I didn’t know what kind of a church it was. Didn’t make any difference.
We went in, and he watched what the other people were doing. And there was a little bowl of water, and he saw them doing what … so he did the same thing. He dipped into it three times and blessed himself, I guess, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And then he walked down the aisles and did whatever they did. And I thought to myself, “I wonder what he really got out of this.” And I kept wondering that until two weeks later, one of the guys that was in his outfit came through our outfit and said that he had, this guy that we called Red, who was a machine gunner, had both of his legs blown off. And then I knew why he had found that peace with God.
I have three children that we adopted. We have eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren. And we’re just the happiest couple could be. We’ve been married 74 years this summer. Thank you.