At 91 Charles Carter of Englewood, Fla. was old enough to enlist in the Army and serve with the 69th Infantry Division that fought its way across Europe during the closing months of World War II.
He took a 4 1/2 day trip from New York to Scotland aboard the Queen Elizabeth. Carter joined the 69th Division in France as it forced the faltering German army back into the fatherland at the close of the war.
Carter’s primary recollection of fighting with his unit was at the Siegfried Line protecting the German border along its western edge.
“The Germans were in a pillbox we had to take. A number of our people died taking that pillbox,” he said. He didn’t elaborate.
After that it was a blur for this soldiers of the 69th. They advanced from town to town: Hellenthal, Blumenthal, Wildenberg, Schleiden, and Zingscheid. Then the division moved on and crossed the Rhine River.
Leipzig, the fifth largest city in Germany, was the 69th’s last big firefight with diehard German resistance. They fought it out with a small contingent of Nazi SS troops at a monument in downtown Leipzig to the German people during the Napoleonic Wars Hitler’s Third Reich revered.
When the fighting ceased the soldiers of the 69th Division discovered the mayor of Leipzig, his family and other municipal officials committed suicide rather than surrender to the Americans.
Shortly after capturing Leipzig, the 69th Division soldiers were the first Americans to link up with the advancing Russian Army that had fought its way eastward toward their western Allies. They met at the Elbe River.
Carter remembers the hook-up with the Russian troops at the Elbe in more personal terms.
“I sold my $50 watch to a Russian soldier for $250,” he said with a smile 75 years later.
The other thing that came to mind about the Russians Carter recalled, “The Russians were cruel. They were mean to the Germans.”
On May 8, 1945, when Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, his reflection is that it was a day of celebration.
“We found a big punch bowl in a German house we occupied. We made a bowl of punch and all of us got stinking drunk.
“My division was supposed to leave Europe for the invasion of Japan the following week. We were told that one million Allied soldiers might get killed in this invasion. We didn’t want any part of that,” Carter said.
“Then the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the Japanese surrendered,” he said. “But I didn’t get to go home because I didn’t have enough points. I think you needed 75 points and I had half that amount.”
“With the war over I got transferred from the 69th Division to an engine maintenance company where we repaired Army trucks,” he said.
Carter spent until the middle of 1946 as a truck mechanic. He was discharged from the Army on July 6, 1946 and returned to his home town of Tewksbury, Mass.
The former Army sergeant joined his family-owned plant nursery business. In November 1947 he married Sarah, she passed away last month. They have four children: Charles, Donald, James and Barry.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 4, 2017 and is republished with permission.
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