By Larry Incollingo
As it appeared in the newspaper Nov. 8 1998
It does happen, but as long as there is someone who will remember them, old soldiers should never have to fade away. Somewhere, someplace, there is one whose sacrifice for this country you may want to remember. Single him or her out this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, and say, “Thanks. Thanks for what you did for me.”.
This is a salute to one of them: John I. Hill, of Medora. He was a soldier only two years, but, after digging fox holes from Aachen, Germany, to the Elbe River during World War II, in his own words, “Two years was plenty.”
A six-foot country boy, Hill was reared on Pea Ridge, a rural community about six miles west of Medora. He joined the Army in April of 1944. A farmer’s son who had walked in furrows behind a horse-drawn plow, after his discharge in May of 1946, he remained a farmer for the rest of his life. Now, on the eve of Veterans Day ‘98, at age 81, he is retired.
“I’m supposed to be retired,” he smilingly amended that. “But I work every day. This season I picked 60 acres of beans and 50 acres of corn. The longest day I worked this fall was 10 hours.”
He does this for his kids, Jim Hill and Mary Beavers, both of whom are following in the farming footsteps of their father.
“And,” Hill’s smile broadened as he added, “sometimes I get paid.”
Hill lives a short ride west of town in a modest, cozy house with his wife Naomi Ruth. Like some others of today’s rural elderly, their life together began at church, and this past June they marked 51 years of blissful marriage. His father was Styles Hill; his mother Fannie Gillen of Lawrence County. She had three brothers: Inman, William, and Frank. The three of them marched away from Lawrence County to World War I and never returned. American Legion Gillen Post 33, Bedford, is named in their honor.
Tucked away among keepsakes in the sitting room of the Hill home are the typewritten pages of Hill’s World War II memories. Among the numerous entries is a light-hearted recollection of finding two cows somewhere in Germany and of having milked them and churned butter, a real treat for fighting GI’s at the time. Also noted in that story is how one of the cows ended up as chow after she kicked a milker “clean across the barn.”
Most of Hill’s account of his months in the army, however, is deadly serious stuff. It is about having survived the bloody battles of the capture of Aachen, the Siegfried Line, The Bulge, the Remagen Bridge, and his last battle which was fought on the banks of the Elbe River before and after meeting with Russian soldiers there.
“It was miserable,” he said of the mud and the cold, of being a member of a rifle company, of digging foxholes and being shot at. “We didn’t see any generals where we were, and very few colonels. All the fighting was bad, but the battle on the banks of the Elbe River was one of the hardest battles I ever got into.”
Hill experienced a close call just after that battle. He inadvertently stood up within view of a sniper across the river. When he heard and felt the zing of a bullet past his head he dropped down to the ground. “He never did get another shot at me,” he remembered, “because I never did stand up again.”
Of particular interest in Hill’s recollections was the GI reaction to V-E Day. “We didn’t do a lot of celebrating,” he recalled. “That night we were more impressed by the lights of a small town. All during our fighting the nights were dark, and the only lights we saw were those of tracer bullets and shell bursts.
“We were near this little town that had its own electric generating plant. And that night, after all those months of dark nights, we saw our first buildings all lit up with electric lights. It was something to see,” he said.
Somewhere, someplace near you, perhaps, there is an aging soldier who shouldn’t fade away. Seek him or her out in person or by phone this Veterans Day. Say, “Thanks. Thanks for what you did for me.”