Saturday, two classes of LaGrange College students set off to visit historic sites of World War II in Europe, but last week, they got to hear first-hand accounts of four locals who lived history.
Local World War II veterans Artis Brown, Guy Longshore, Will Oubre and Jack Grady spoke Thursday with LaGrange College students about their experiences in the war and what it was like to be in the middle of events that went down in history.
“I was eager to go,” Grady said to the class about his decision to enter the Navy in what would be the last months of the war in 1945.
Grady was 17 when he enlisted and turned 18 aboard a Navy ship.
Brown was drafted after he turned 18 and also joined the Navy. While in the service, he served on a ship that helped escort cargo ships across the Atlantic and had run-ins with enemy ships, u-boats and aircraft.
After Germany surrendered, his ship patrolled the Pacific until Japan’s surrender. Then his crew traveled to different islands to inform isolated Japanese soldiers that the war was over.
“It was a scary outfit for me,” Brown said. “How do you tell the enemy that the war is over?”
Longshore served in the Air Force after he was drafted and flew missions dropping bombs on Japan. Initially, bombs were picked up by the jet stream and many were pushed into the ocean.
Later, after Air Force leaders adjusted the bombers to compensate for the jet stream, Longshore was among pilots who dropped napalm-filled fire bombs. He said the smell of burning caused by the bombs is still vivid to him.
Oubre, a Louisiana native, went into the Navy in February 1943. After growing up on a family plantation, serving in the war was a different experience for him.
“Coming out of the country, all I knew was trucks, tractors and horses — those were the only transportation we had,” Oubre said.
The veterans shared some of the exciting incidents they took part in, but also the mundane stories of military life during the war.
Longshore said amid all of the work, he couldn’t even recall when he bathed during his service. Soldiers would get in a sparse shower when they could.
Brown said he would bathe and wash his clothes in the ocean. Oubre said his unit had a small 5-gallon tank setup for a shower that was shared by seven people, and one night he and another soldier had their shower rudely interrupted.
“We were in the shower when a plane dropped a bomb a half-mile away,” Oubre said. “We ran out, buck naked, and grabbed our helmets and dived in a fox hole — buck naked.”
Dealing with bugs and vermin while sleeping in tents on Pacific islands also was a constant issue. Longshore said someone in his unit once had the end of his finger bitten off by a rat while he slept.
“It was just an everyday thing,” he said of the rat bite, noting the soldier waited until the morning to get the wound properly dressed.
Longshore also has the distinction of his photos from the war being displayed in the Smithsonian. He took them with a $12 camera, including color photos he took with a roll of film his father sent him.
One night while walking and unable to sleep, Longshore saw a plane taking off after midnight. The next day, he found out it was the Enola Gay, which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“We found out the next day. Everybody was talking about it,” Longshore said. “… We just knew that they dropped a bomb. We weren’t sure about the size of it or anything.”
The atomic bombs and the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were secret. It wasn’t until after the bombs were dropped that information about them was released.
“We didn’t know anything about the atomic bomb … till after it dropped,” Oubre said. “After it dropped, (Okinawa and Iwo Jima were) like a tabletop — just wiped out.”
After the war, the veterans said they were happy to be home.
“We just praise the Lord we got back. A lot of crew members and friends didn’t get back,” Oubre said.
The LaGrange College students who listened to the veterans’ stories were one of two classes studying World War II. One class is studying the war from the Allies’ viewpoint and the other from the Axis Powers’ viewpoint. Both classes left Saturday to travel through England and France to see significant areas from the war and learn about the battles that took place.
In London, they will visit the Cabinet War Rooms and Imperial Museum for insight into Allied military strategy. Like soldiers in World War II, students will cross the English Channel to the beaches of Normandy to explore the scene of the invasion that turned the war, and to Paris, spending three days exploring the American GIs’ role in the liberation of the city.