Polly Lipscomb served as an Army Nurse in WWII

My book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans, contains five stories of female veterans who served during World War II. It’s not easy finding women veterans to interview as they were fewer in number than men. But the stories I’ve heard were all amazing. These gals were plucky to serve in ‘a man’s war’.

One of the oldest veterans I’ve ever interviewed was Mary ‘Polly’ Adelaide Woodhull Lipscomb of Fort Wayne. Polly as we called her lived in the same senior retirement home as my mother. Polly was 101-years-old at the time of our interview with two of her children present. But she was full of life and excitement at the idea of talking about her life in World War II as an Army nurse, which included being married in an old English church! The photo below shows Polly standing with her son and daughter, all of them holding items that were significant to Polly during her war years of service.

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Here are excerpts from her story in my book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans:

Born in 1913 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Lipscomb earned a nursing degree from Methodist Hospital in Fort Wayne. She enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps in August 1942. With a desperate need for nurses, the Army quickly assigned First Lieutenant Lipscomb a place aboard the Queen Elizabeth, a former luxury ship converted for troops.

Taunton was located about 100 miles west of London. When Lipscomb arrived, the wards were already full of wounded British, Canadian and American soldiers.

Many patients suffered from what was termed ‘shell shock’. Since Lipscomb had worked with psychiatric patients in the States, she was assigned to that ward.

Some patients found comfort in doing simple crafts like weaving and often presented Lipscomb with their completed creations. “I treasured their gifts,” she said, including a placemat and brightly colored orange scarf.

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What made including Polly’s story in my book a clincher was the photo album she had put together during her war years and allowed me to view.

I love looking at old photos, especially when I’ve met people in them.

Polly died in 2016. I wish she could have seen this book, but at least her family members will have it to remember her by. They plan to attend my book launch on Saturday, Nov 4, 2017, from 1-3pm at Allen Co Public Library in downtown Fort Wayne, meeting room C. The public is encouraged to meet and thank these veterans who fought in the biggest conflict the world has ever known.

If you know of a World War II veteran who would like to be interviewed, please let me know via the contact page at this website.

 

The Soldier who was Asked Not to Serve

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Today I’m honoring a World War II Army medic who was born 94 years ago this week. A friend recommended I talk with him a few years ago and am I glad to have done so! What a story! I wrote this for a military publication I write for. It is commitment to his country like this that makes American soldiers great!

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During WWII, John Robert Myers of Berne, Indiana, was offered the unusual opportunity by the United States Army to not serve his country in battle.

“I had been the forward on our basketball team at Wilshire High School in Ohio,” he said. “While training as a nurse after basic training in Stanton, Virginia, Army hospital officials recognized my athletic skills and asked if I would play for the hospital’s basketball team. They said I would not have to go overseas.”

Myers refused the offer. “I knew I’d feel guilty later for not fighting,” he said. “I went into the war to do the best I could for my country.”

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Myers was born Dec 24, 1921, in Berne, Indiana. After graduating from high school in 1940, he worked on the family farm with his father.

Like so many young men, Myers’ routine was interrupted at the outbreak of war. Upon being drafted in 1941, Myers completed basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, then was assigned more specialized training as a nurse.

He worked there until December 1944 when he was shipped to the Philippines. “Our ship was a former luxury liner with everything torn out and bunks added to accommodate soldiers,” he said.

In summer 1945 the emperor of Japan surrendered and the war was over. Most troops headed home but not Staff Sergeant John Myers. “I had not earned the required number of points to be discharged,” he said.

The required number of points was based, among other things, on time in service, battles fought, etc.

Myers remained in the South Pacific, serving six months in Manila on a hospital ship, the USS Yokohama. “We were set up to receive injured American soldiers and POWs,” he said.

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Myers also worked at St Luke’s International Medical Center in Tokyo. In addition to scrubbing floors and fixing windows, he volunteered to work on the sixth floor, an area other soldiers shied away from. “It was the contagious disease ward,” he said. “I chose to help there because I wanted to be where I was needed.” St. Luke’s hospital is still in existence today.

Soldiers on the sixth floor were afflicted with, among other things, hepatitis, cancer, meningitis, venereal diseases, and small pox. Unfortunately, working closely with patients caused Myers to contract hepatitis. “I hurt so much I wished someone would hit me over the head and knock me out,” he said. It took Myers a month to recover.

While overseas, Myers wrote letters to a female friend, Chloe, at home. She wrote back. John Myers was discharged and arrived back in Berne in May 1946. He and Chloe married four months later. They became parents to three daughters and later, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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John returned to farming and attended Bethel Brethren Church in Berne. His story of being a medic in World War II has been recorded by local students.

Of his time in the Army during WWII, Myers said, “Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge on our trip home brought tears to my eyes! To live in a place like America is such a privilege. I was glad to help my country when I could.”

Sadly, Robert “Bob” Myers, 92, Berne, passed away Monday, February 3, 2014. I’m glad to have met him and that he shared his story with me.

Several WWII vets and other vets are among us.  Find a vet and tell him/her thanks for the service they provided to our country!

Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

 

Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge

Vernon 'Bun' Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge.

Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge.

My Vet of the Week is Vernon W. ‘Bun’ William Affolder of Decatur, IN. Mr. Affolder died on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. His birthday would have been tomorrow.

 

I interviewed him in his home three years ago. He became emotional about several parts of the war that were still very real to him. That taught me decades of time doesn’t erase memories of the horrors of war.

We need to support our vets with patience and understanding.

Thanks, Mr. Affolder, for your service. Rest in peace.

Note: This story is similar to those found in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

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As part of the first group of soldiers who left Decatur, Indiana, to serve as soldiers in WWII, Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder never dreamed his military career would be so eventful.

 

Affolder was born in Van Wert, Ohio. He moved with his family to Decatur in 1927, graduating from Decatur High School in 1937. He worked at a local hardware store until 1941 when he got a notice from the United States Army. “They drafted me, then told me to go home,” he said. The Army did not forget Affolder. In January 1942 he and other young men from Adams County were sworn in as American soldiers.

 

Assigned to the infantry, Affolder completed basic training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He and thousands of other troops learned to shoot and hike through miles of poison ivy-infested weeds carrying heavy packs. Affolder was so sunburned by the time his parents visited him in 1942, they didn’t recognize him.

 

Affolder transferred to Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Louisiana, where he worked in the supply room. Thanks to his proficiency at typing due to a course in high school, he was sent to the Army surgeon’s office. “Because I worked for the Army surgeon, I wore a red band on my arm and a red cross on my helmet,” he said. “But I did not administer medical aid. My only job was to distribute supplies from the Surgeon’s office.”

 

Within months Affolder was aboard the Queen Elizabeth, along with thousands of other American soldiers, bound for Europe. “At the back of the boat were 52-gallon drums,” he said. “They hid depth bombs which were designed to go underwater and sink German submarines.”

 

Staff Sergeant Affolder spent 13 months in Bristol, England, working in the 5th Corps Headquarters. His commander was in charge of all field hospitals and aide stations. Affolder liked record keeping and working with the four officers and six enlisted men assigned to his office.

 

Living among the British was educational. “A bulletin board in the city park listed announcements about the war,” he said. “Despite the ‘loose lips sink ships’ saying, we knew if you wanted to know something about the war, ask a Brit!”

 

In June 1944, Affolder’s unit traveled to a place in France called Omaha Beach. At 0900 hours on June 6 (a day later than originally planned, due to inclement weather), thousands of Allied landing crafts dropped American and British soldiers into the waters near the edge of the shore. The intent of the Allies was to storm the beach and run off the firing Germans.

 

The Germans had placed big logs on the shore close to the edge to prevent Allied landings. “They shot big 88 shells at us,” said Affolder. Chaos reigned for hours as the Allies struggled to take the beach. Affolder and thousands of other American soldiers were thrust into a battle they had been ill-prepared for, but they fought valiantly.

 

When a shell blew off the leg of an American soldier, Affolder, standing nearby, was placed in a dilemma. As an aide to the Army surgeon, he wore an arm band indicating his connection with the medical office, but he had no authorization or training to administer aid.

 

“The other soldiers standing there thought I should try to help the wounded soldier,” he said, “but I was only a supply clerk. I had not even been issued a gun.”

 

Affolder helped load fallen soldiers to the safety of the landing crafts. “They were mostly young guys around age 21,” he said. “They lay with their eyes open and arms outspread. I still have flashbacks of that time.”

 

By the following day, the Americans had gained a foothold of Omaha Beach. After the Germans retreated, Affolder resumed his work in the surgeon’s office. There he met General and future United States president Ike Eisenhower. “He was a wonderful guy,” said Affolder. “He talked to us about our work at Omaha Beach.”

 

For Affolder the tragedies of war were not over. In December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, he and other American soldiers nearly lost their lives as part of what became known as the Malmedy Massacre. “We pulled out of Malmedy, France, on December 16, the night before a German combat unit captured 84 American soldiers and shot them,” he said. “I think that was the scariest part of the war for me.”

 

Later that spring, Affolder saw the atrocities of Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, just weeks after its liberation in April 1945. “We saw the butcher block where German dentists had removed gold from prisoners’ teeth,” he said. “We also saw a guy with a wheelbarrow carrying the body of a dead soldier.”

 

By summer 1945, the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. Due to the number of battles he had fought and length of time of service, Affolder was one of the first to be discharged. American soldiers were flown back to the States in C47’s planes. “There were no seats inside, but that left room for more of us GIs to get home,” he said. (Note: GI is abbreviation for ‘Government Issue’ and was a common nickname for American soldiers.)

 

Back in Decatur, Affolder resumed working at the hardware store before choosing to sell life insurance, a career he continued until age 85. He and his wife Phyllis met in 1941 while Bun was on furlough. Phyllis died in 1992. Affolder remarried Alice in 1995.

 

For his contribution to the war Affolder was issued a Bronze Star for bravery and acts of  meritorious service. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the United States Armed Forces.

 

Arrangements by Zwick & Jahn Funeral Home, Decatur, Ind. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/fortwayne/obituary.aspx?pid=169212673#sthash.CW2SFZSQ.dpuf

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Profile of WWII vet Gale (‘Smoky’) Baller – US Army

Smoky Baller served in the US Army during WWII.

Smoky Baller served in the US Army during WWII.


For the past several years I’ve made it a point to interview WWII veterans. Their stories are always interesting and historic. I encourage you to tell a veteran — any war– thank you for their service.

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During World War II, Gale (‘Smoky’) Baller fought on the front line in Germany. “Machine gunners had high risk positions,” he said. “The Germans shot mortar shells at us because they knew we could do the most damage to them.”
Baller –he grew up with the nickname ‘Smoky’ because he tap danced with a sister as children — graduated from Bluffton High School in 1944. After being drafted into the United States Army in August, he passed a physical examination at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis. He completed basic training at Fort Blanding in Florida which pleased Baller. “I had never traveled outside of Indiana and liked Florida,” he said.

Baller disembarked with thousands of other American soldiers from New York City on the second largest British ship in the world – the Aquitania. They landed at Le Havre, France.

Baller didn’t get seasick during the nine-day voyage, but he didn’t attempt the menu. “I didn’t think I’d like British food so I packed a box of Hershey bars,” he said.

At Le Havre Baller was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division, 39th Regiment, D company. “In our unit you operated a machine gun or mortar shells,” he said. Baller carried cans of ammunition for machine guns. The cans weighed 45 pounds and were carried over a soldier’s shoulders behind the gunners. “One gunner carried the receiver for the machine gun and the other carried the tripod,” he said.

In Winnersburg Germany Baller and other American soldiers requisitioned the home of a German couple to spy on the German army. The German home owners understood English and seemed relieved when Baller and the other soldiers explained they would not hurt anyone. While Baller did guard duty from the home’s second story window, the German woman offered the Americans a treat. “She made us a strawberry pie,” he said. When the soldiers prepared to leave, Baller thanked the couple for their hospitality with chocolate bars.

The Battle of Remagen Bridge in March 1945 was vicious. “Both sides wanted that bridge which was the last remaining one over the Rhine,” he said. “The Germans tried to blow it up, but we made a pontoon for our guys to go across in jeeps and on foot.”

By the end of the war in Europe in May 1945, Buck Sergeant Baller began preparing, as did thousands of other soldiers, to fight in Japan. While waiting, Baller was assigned to work in a motor pool shop at a resort requisitioned by the Allies in Germany.

A handful of horses provided Baller the opportunity to ride daily after his work shift was completed. Unfortunately, his horse stepped in a ditch one day during a ride. Baller broke several bones in his right hand. The horse escaped uninjured.

Baller spent six months in a hospital in Munich. When the doctor said Baller’s hand would have to be re-broken, he was shipped back to Galesburg, Illinois. The war had ended in August 1945. Baller was honorably discharged in November 1946.

For his military service Baller received a Distinguished Unit Award from France. He also received the following medals: Bronze Star, Good Conduct, European Campaign, World War II Victory, Army Occupation, US Unit citation, Honorable Service, Expert Shooting and Combat Infantry.

After the war, Baller married. He and his wife, Alice, became parents to two sons, Jerry and Mark. Following Alice’s death, Baller remarried Norma in 1990.
During his lengthy work career, which ended June 2013, Baller worked for the Steury Bottling Company, Reimschisel’s Motors and Hiday Motors.

Baller’s thoughts of his military service are simple. “I went in as a soldier who was often scared to death, but I grew out of it,” he said.

The End