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The Clay County Advocate - Press-Flora, IL
  • Veteran recalls Normandy

  • Clay County resident recalls World War II experiences at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge
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  • World War II veteran James McKinney who grew up near Sailor Springs recalls receiving his letter from Uncle Sam to report for duty in the US Army during World War II.
    "I caught a train at Flora," he recalled. "We traveled through Louisville, Iola, Edgewood to Camp Grant."
    Camp Grant was an induction center located on the outskirts of Rockford, IL near Chicago.
    He soon found himself shipped to Fort Knox. KY with his clothes in a duffle bag.
    "There we were trained for the infantry," he related. "We learned to crawl on our belly and crawl over hills to check for the enemy."
    He indicated he spent four years in the US Army but can't recall the actual date of his induction and training.
    The group received engineers training and maneuver training in Kentucky and Alabama.
    McKinney then recalls traveling to New York by train.
    "I remember seeing the Statue of Liberty," he stated.
    From there they took a ship across the Atlantic.
    "I was so sea sick, I was hopin' the ship would sink," he recalled. "There were big guns on that ship."
    After more than two weeks on that ship, they finally landed in England. There he received more training.
    He was on a barge during the invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944.
    "There was a lot of shootin' going on," he stated. "I talked to one soldier from Wyoming who jumped off the ship he was on when it was shot at. Some men were flopping around on boards."
    He was on a truck on that barge during most of the battle.
    "My truck was drowned out about half way across," he recalled.
    Someone later came along with a bulldozer and pushed him out. He also recalls Germans setting along the banks.
    Following the Battle of Normandy, he was assigned to General George Patton and ended up fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, so named by the press because of the way the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps.
    When speaking of General Patton McKinney said he guessed they wanted someone who wouldn't give up.
    He recalled near misses where a jeep in front of his hitting a mine. He also recalls being knocked head over heels a few times and noted seeing dead soldiers.
    "There were times I wanted to turn around and go home," he tearfully stated. "I remember seeing a big pit full of dead American soldiers."
    A member of the 996 Treadway Engineers Treadway Bridge Company, McKinney said he spent most of his time during the war building bridges. He indicated one of those bridges was built over the Rhine River. Most of the bridges were pontoon bridges made out of plywood and made wide enough and strong enough for tanks to go across.
    Page 2 of 2 - He recalls always having his pistol ready in case they ran into Germans.
    "You never knew where the Germans were," he pointed out. "I always had my pistol ready to shoot."
    He recalled one night going down the basement of a house they were searching and had his pistol ready as they went down the steps. He and his buddy were going up the steps when they heard a bomb go off.
    "We went head over heels," McKinney recalled.
    On another occasion, while building a bridge they were trying to get it finished before dark.
    "If we don't get out of here before dark we won't make it," he recalls someone saying.
    A bomb landed in one of the trucks in their convoy and blew up the soldiers in that truck.
    Another time he remembers a German soldier holding a pistol aimed right at him.
    "I pulled my 45 out and cocked it. And I said, 'Give me your gun,'" he recalled. "I reached out and took his gun and took the shells out of it."
    On another occasion they were going down to build a bridge and a jeep was "hit real hard at 10:00 at night".
    "It spit that metal and tore that jeep up bad," he described.
    Another memory he has of his time during the war is of the French burying their automobiles so the Germans wouldn't take them away from them.
    "It's hard to get rid of," he concluded, choking back tears. "It's all in your mind. It was a scary job. You never knew if the German soldiers could come and shoot you--dangerous."
    The 70th anniversary of the Battle of Normandy was recently acknowledged. McKinney said has has never been able to return.

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