The Experiences of War through the Eyes of a Rockville Veteran

The Experiences of War through the Eyes of a Rockville Veteran

By Jerome Norris

Jerome "Jerry" Norris, 91, is a resident of Ring House on the campus of Charles E. Smith Life Communities. During World War II, he served in the 126th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion Mobile and was stationed in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and Czechoslovakia, logging 221 days of combat. Mr. Norris participates in a memory-writing group at Ring House. Here are three pieces he has written based on his WWII experiences.

The Idiocy of War or From Brother to Beast

It is written in the Book of Psalms, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten,” seventy years.

The year 2011 is 70 years since Japan bombed the United States Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, plunging the United States into World War II.

The year 2011 is 70 years since I was called to arms. I was sent to Europe. I took part in the Invasion of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge, two of the four battles I was to fight. I had 221 combat days.

Wars have been fought from the beginnings of civilizations. The why of war is not ascertainable, always changing. Anyone who has been to battle returns changed, different from what they were.

The glory of war is artificial, a deception. It is a wraith that disappears at war’s end. In the face of all theologies and natural instincts, you are taught to hate. A popular World War II song was, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition.”

You are “programmed” to react to commands without question. You are “conditioned” to kill the enemy. Seventy-two unarmed American soldiers were massacred by German troops at Malmedy, Belgium. You are transformed into a beast. When no longer needed, you are perfunctorily returned home, still the beast.

My remarkable wife was instrumental in my readjustment to civilian life. In that biblical lifetime, I have observed the effects of World War II.

World War II was an all-consuming war, the greatest the world had ever seen. It impacted every continent. Every sea saw naval action. It was fought at the ice caps at the ends of our earth and in the jungles at its girth. Germany and Japan were defeated. Germany was left in shambles, its treasury exhausted. Two Japanese cities were almost obliterated and genetic disease still exists today, effects of the American atom bomb.

Over 60 million people died. Generations of young men were killed. To what avail? The loss to future generations is unknowing.

The demise of the Napoleonic Empire intensified rivalry between European powers for economic and territorial dominance. Germany sought gain through militarism and alliances. World War II was the third war since 1870 that was started by German aggression.

Japan also chose militarism to establish and increase markets for their industrial production. Japan revered the samurai and their code, Bushido. During World War II, Japan had sent emissaries to the United States to negotiate the opening of U.S. markets to Japanese goods. While negotiating, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. It was “the day that will live in infamy.”

The Allies did not make the same mistakes that were made at the end of World War I. Forbearance was shown. Relieved of maintaining a large military force, Germany has become economically dominant in Europe and perhaps worldwide. Japanese automobiles are seen as much as domestic automobiles on American streets and roads. Japanese construction equipment and Japanese goods rival American equipment and goods in our domestic market. Was there any winner of World War II? Who was the victor?

Every war ever fought has had the same aim — peace.

So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts into wisdom. Psalms 90:12.

From Worst to Wurst

Following the close of World War II the years, one by one, have formed a long and ongoing queue, but their passage has not altered the remembrance of the war I fought in, or the intensive times that cloaked those war years. One such remembrance occurred just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Upon completion of basic training, I was assigned to an anti-aircraft artillery battery at Camp Davis, North Carolina. Because of excellence, the battery was singled out of its regiment and ordered to participate in the army maneuvers conducted in southcentral North Carolina by the First Army.

The day before the battery was to depart Camp Davis, the cooks were issued new model gasoline-fueled field stoves. However, instructions were missing and there was not time for their issuance prior to leaving for the maneuvers.

The newly taught cooks had no training in the complexity of the new field stoves. That, along with ill advised changes to Army recipes so that they could be accommodated on the new stoves, resulted in some of the worst meals that possibly could have been served. They were very, very bad.

An oasis were two nearby golfing resort towns, Pinehurst and Southern Pines. The restaurants there were delighted to have the unexpected off-season business, and the GIs whenever they could sought their refuge.

The maneuvers were slated to continue into the first week in December. Command thought it would be a boost of morale if each individual army unit were allowed to choose their own Thanksgiving Day dinner menu, and obtain their individual food needs through local wholesale food markets.

The battery held a meeting to choose a menu. After a spirited discussion of spoil-proof meals, an almost unanimous choice was agreed upon. Because the only thing needed was boiling water, the battery chose for their Thanksgiving Day dinner hot dogs and canned beans.

Mars, The Mischief-Maker or The Penetrating Pen Prank

Even the Gods of War need a diversion from the apocalypse of war. To alleviate the grimness they ply, they become waggish with a mischievous bent and play their sardonic pranks.

Shortly after the cessation of World War II an article was published in The Saturday Evening Post that out of the over 12 million Americans that were in uniform, there were 1,500 men that fought the war of the future. They fought the “V-1” and “V-2,” the first operational ballistic missiles, Germany’s secret “Vergeltungswaffe,” vengeance weapons. I was one of those 1,500 men.

I was a key member of a specially trained and equipped separate anti-aircraft battalion. Our original mission in the invasion of Normandy was to provide defense against German air attack to the port of Cherbourg, France. But the port was completely destroyed and made unusable by the Germans. It was no longer a military target.

As part of the German retaliation to the Allied invasion of Normandy, a heavy air attack against London was mounted using “V-1” flying bombs, buzz bombs as the British called them. The British air defense proved to be inadequate against the “V-1,” allowing more than 80 percent to reach London. Our unit with our special equipment was reassigned to help stem the devastating onslaught. We became almost 100 percent successful.

Our introduction to the war of the future happened on the cliffs that overlooked the English Channel between Folkestone and Dover, England. Battalion Headquarters was set up in St. Hildas, a small hotel located in Folkestone. I was part of the contingent of officers and enlisted men that maintained Battalion Headquarters 24 hours a day. As such we were billeted there.

One warm sunny day, a fellow sergeant completed a trying tour of duty. He laid on his bed to rest still wearing his uniform. A “V-1” damaged by our guns crash landed in an open field adjacent to St. Hildas. The blast from the explosion came through the open windows, overturned his bed and threw him onto the floor. A “Parker 51” fountain pen carried in his shirt pocket, which featured a metal cap, was jammed into his chest.

The battalion medics determined that the pen had to be removed under hospital conditions. The sergeant was transported to the base hospital in London, where the pen was successfully extracted from his chest. The base hospital noted that the injury, wound, was caused by enemy action, and recommended that he be awarded a Purple Heart Medal.

The sergeant was very chagrined at the turn of events. He lamented, “How can I tell anyone that I qualified for a Purple Heart Medal while sleeping in bed!?”

The Gods of War were grinning from ear to ear.

 

Jerome Norris photo

Norris Family Photo:  World War II veteran Jerome Norris (second from left) and his wife, Lillian, (third from left), on their wedding day in Washington, D.C., surrounded by their parents, (left to right) Esther Pittle, Joseph and Bertha Norris, and Morris Pittle. He had a weekend pass from duty.

 

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