Lawrence Stout of Lemon Bay mobile home park in Englewood, Fla. never fired a rifle in World War II. Because he could type he was made a clerk typist after completing boot camp at Camp Buckner, N.C. in February 1943.
“I handled the German POWs they had at Buckner,” the 89-year-old former sergeant said. “We had two groups of POWs in two different compounds: One group was strong Hitler followers who we had nothing to do with and the other group was ordinary soldiers who were drafted into the German army.
“We’d take the POWs out to farms in North Carolina where they picked the crops. I became a POW guard who oversaw the prisoners when they reach the farms. I was probably way too trustworthy with them. I would sit at one end of the field and the POW pickers would go down to the other end of the field and start picking their way toward me.
“I treated the German POWs like ordinary people,” Stout said. ” When I’d get ready to jump off the back of an Army truck filled with prisoners I’d hand my rifle to one of the POWs. I’d jump down and he’d hand the gun back to me.
“I guess I did a lot of foolish things, but it just seemed like the right thing to do,” the old soldier observed.
After a year as a clerk typist and POW guard Stout was reassigned to the Pacific Theatre of Operations. He went to a grave registration unit and was sent to Manila in the Philippines.
“I arrived just after the Japanese surrendered. I got to attend the war crime trial of Gen.Tomoyuki Yamashita. Catholic nuns testified at his trial that he ordered Japanese soldiers to throw Philipino babies up in the air and catch them on their bayonets.”
Yamashita was hanged for war crimes shortly after his trial.
For more than a year, Stout had the unenviable job of digging up American war dead killed in the Philippines as Gen. MacArthur’s forces pushed the Japanese out of the country.
“My job was to fine those unmarked graves, dig them up after 11 months, put them in body bags and transport them for reburial to U.S. Military Cemeteries in the Philippines,” he explained.
It was a smelly and disheartening job that had to be done. Stout said he dug up dozens of soldiers and marines buried in shallow graves and left behind by the advancing American forces.
Three months after Japanese forces signed the formal surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, Stout was headed home. After arriving in San Francisco he boarded a slow moving train to Fort Sheridan, outside Chicago, where he was discharged on Feb. 3, 1946.
“I took the G.I. Bill and became a cosmetologist after the war. I set up my first hair dressing shop in Muskegon. In 1963 I won first place in hair styling in all of Michigan,” Stout said proudly.
A couple of years later he and his wife, Carmella, were vacationing in the Venice, Fla. area when they learned a hair dressing shop was looking for a male hair dresser. Stout got the job.
Later he opened his own shop in the El Patio Hotel on West Venice Ave. that he ran for years. He called it,Tthe El Patio Beauty Salon.
Stout and his wife have two children: Judith Marie Johnson and Lawrence J. Stout, six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren.
Currently: Englewood, Fla.
Entered Service: 5 Feb. 1943
Discharged: 5 January 1945
Rank: Tech Sgt.
Unit: 4586th QM Grave Regst
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Monday, July 16, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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