A time of war
July 23, 2009
By Sandy Ates
CHARLES William Eubanks, a resident of West Point, Miss., wants to be remembered-not as a hero, but as a survivor of D-Day.
"Forget about what you saw on 'Saving Private Ryan,' the film footage shown at Omaha Beach was taken from an airplane," said the 86-year-old World War II Army veteran. "It was much worse from our level. The Nazis totally had us pinned down in the sand-all the while, blood, human flesh, body parts and metal were raining down on our Soldiers lucky enough to be alive. We were on our bellies from the time we left the (PT) boats until the time we finally took our objective."
Eubanks, a native of Troy, Miss., is a decorated Army veteran who survived both the Normandy invasion and Battle of the Bulge.
"I survived because of two things," he explained, "Divine intervention and the training at Camp Van Dorn. That is why I am a survivor of the worst battle that there's ever been. If we hadn't been successful June 6, 1944, Americans would be speaking German right now."
He remembers all too well that others were not so lucky on June 6, 1944.
A junior in high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed, Eubanks recalled how he and friends talked about the war.
"We boys knew we were going to fight," he said. "But we had discussions among ourselves as to whether we were going to fight for our country, for the politicians or for the flag. But everybody knew we would fight-the world was in turmoil." Eubanks would not join the Army until September 1943, at the age of 20.
"In the fall of 1943," he said, "I went to a training school in Tupelo and was trained for factory work. I then went to Bristol, Conn., and worked for $325 a month as a copper plater-more money than a country boy ever had."
By then, the recruiting offices had closed and everyone, including volunteers, entered the military through the draft.
"But I didn't feel right about not going to war. My brother was already serving and most of my friends, too, and I felt it was my time to go, so I volunteered for the draft," Eubanks said.
"I should have listened to my employer," Eubanks joked. "He told me he could defer me three times, and when I got into the thick of that hell on Earth, I wished I'd listened to him."
Eubanks remembered boarding a school bus and heading to Camp Shelby, near Hattiesburg, Miss., where he was inducted into the Army.
The veteran remembered one of the draftees at Camp Shelby taunting training officials.
"Jessie Dearing said, 'You don't need to train us. We've been shootin' squirrels since we were six or seven years old. We can shoot those Germans just as good without training,' and he did."
Eubanks left Camp Shelby and headed for basic training at Camp Van Dorn in south Mississippi, training with the 63rd Infantry Division.
"We were treated like animals during boot camp. For two weeks, we were 'caged' and purposely driven to think nothing of ourselves, and were taught to keep moving forward," said Eubanks pausing, and raising a withered index finger upwards. "That's how we were trained."
After basic training, Eubanks shipped out from New Jersey and arrived in Liverpool, England, where the war was already in full swing.
"We were all so young," he said. "So many of us were uneducated Southern boys, but we knew enough to know it was going to be bad."
After arriving in Liverpool, he became part of the 29th Division and was assigned as a first scout.
Eubanks said the first scout was the man who went out first for about 20 or 30 feet when the troops were on patrol, and recalled he was often able to pass through enemy lines because Germans were waiting for the officers who would come behind him. On the morning of June 6, 1944, Eubanks was among the 150,000 Soldiers who stormed Normandy's beaches. At three in the morning Eubanks said, "They gave us a backpack and dropped us out. I couldn't swim and I don't know how I made it.
"We were in water over our heads and a lot of the Soldiers drowned before reaching the beach," said Eubanks. "The Germans did not intend for the allies to get to the beach (Omaha Beach)-they had complete control of the area. On the beach, Soldiers encountered landmines, mortars, small-arms fire-the Germans were pretty smart people."
After visiting Normandy years later, Eubanks said of that day, "It was the biggest resistance Germany had. They were the most prepared army there was. They had big concrete and steel bunkers, and even today, those same bunkers are as good now as they were in 1944."
He talked a great deal about the American military leadership of those days-the good and the bad.
Remembering some words Gen. George Patton shared with the troops, Eubanks heard Patton say: "You old foot Soldiers is the sorriest you could be unless you win this war." Patton also told troops they were bought and paid for by Uncle Sam. "We feed you, clothe you, and give you guns, and you're going to fight!"
Eubanks, who learned to "move forward" in basic training, said the words rang clearer when spoken by the notorious Patton. "If a Soldier gets hit and you know you're going to die, hold up your rifle and let another Soldier get it. It's hard to get another rifle, but it's easy to get more dog faces (Patton's nickname for the Soldiers)."
He served under Patton for about two weeks before reassignment under the command of Gen. Omar Bradley, who he described as a Christian man. "Patton low-graded us to get us to fight. He played on your mind, but it seemed to work because we won the war."
Still under Patton's command, Eubanks said that on June 11, five days after the landing, he and other Soldiers dug in at the hedgerows. A German reconnaissance plane flew just above them, the pilot searching for his landing strip under darkness. "All down the line, we told our boys not to fire on the plane because it was a trap set by the Germans," Eubanks explained. "One foolish Soldier took a potshot at the plane and when the pilot saw the light, he laid a strip of bombs right on top of us." Eubanks and many other wounded Soldiers were evacuated to a hospital near Coventry, England.
"The Red Cross broke the news to my mother that I was missing in action, and the Army sent her my dog tags, my watch and a copy of the New Testament that we were given in basic training," Eubanks chuckled. "All the while I was recuperating at the hospital in England."
A letter from the War Department arrived for Mrs. Louise Eubanks, July 5, 1944, expressing the Army's sorrow for their recent erroneous telegram. The letter further explained that her son was wounded in action June 11, 1944 in France, and was hospitalized in England. The Army, however, would not give her details about the nature of his wounds.
Shrapnel remained in the wound to his left leg, but he learned to walk again with the help of a young nurse's aid at the hospital, 17-year-old Cynthia James, who lived in nearby Birmingham, England.
"The best thing about the war was meeting my wife. The moment I met her in the park one day, I knew that I was going to marry her," Eubanks said, with a large smile and twinkle still in his eye.
Eubanks believes the attention of the lovely Welsh nurse's aid had just as much to do with his speedy recovery as the treatment received by doctors. With the war still very much in progress, the same war that brought the two together separated them.
Released from the hospital in October 1944, Eubanks was sent back across the Channel-the Battle of the Bulge would be Hitler's last great offensive. For one two-week span, Eubanks said, his bunch, which belonged to Bradley, was loaned out to Patton's Third Army for the drive to Berlin.
"Central Europe was bad," he said. "By the time we got to Berlin, the city had been carved into four pieces." Eubanks said he spent about three months on occupational duty in Berlin and learned to despise the Russians almost as much as he did Hitler because of their destructive behavior toward Berliners.
He was glad to learn his old friend from Camp Shelby made good on his promise as a veteran squirrel hunter. "Dearing would go out alone at night and stalk Germans. He hunted them just like he did those squirrels-shot them out of bell towers and places like that."
In the spring of 1946, Eubanks sailed back to America, spent two weeks mustering out at Camp Shelby, and took the bus north toward home.
He arrived home in Pontotoc, Miss., unannounced. His mother, who two years earlier thought she had lost him, now had him home for good after two years, nine months and 13 days. She also learned that he had married (in March 1946) the sweet young nurse's aid who helped bring about his quick recovery.
He returned to England to be with her until her country clearances were approved, then returned home to Pontotoc. Traveling from Birmingham, England, to Birmingham, Ala., she arrived in 1947, and he was waiting there for her.
"She was the best thing that came from my service during World War II," says Eubanks, resting peacefully in the kitchen chair at their home in West Point. "Then we added three beautiful children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. Yes, life has been very good after all those years of marriage." (Cynthia Eubanks passed away Aug. 5, 2004. They had been married for 57 years).
Daughter Annie says he fills his life now by appreciating the family pictures and military awards and decorations. Pictures are everywhere-humanity mixed with inhumanity, real life and real war. "It wasn't until Mother passed away that he has really started talking about his military service and World War II experiences," she said with deep admiration in her voice.
"On Memorial Day we have a ceremony here to remember the boys from counties like Pontotoc and small communities in the surrounding area. They were behind a plow one day, hunkered down behind a tank the next," said Eubanks. "Those with whom I fought alongside, few returned home, but I think about them every day. The boys from the 29th hunkered down, running behind tanks across Europe, nearly 20,000 of them getting killed, teenagers saving the world, aching for their mothers."
He has many medals, certificates and citations to prove his heroism-the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart. Still, the first thing Charles W. Eubanks tells visitors who see the small museum in his modest West Point home is that he is not a hero, but a mere survivor of D-Day, because the real heroes never made it back home.