Vet recalls his WW II combat support roles
November 15, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- People seeking help at the Red Cross desk at Fort Sill Reynolds Army Community Hospital may meet 91-year-old Don Ginter, an Army veteran who served in World War II.
Calling himself a "Longhorn-Sooner," he was born in Texas but was adopted at age 2 and raised in Lawton.
He lived in town and attended school until the beginning of his senior year of high school. With a record of poor grades and more interest in a young lady, he asked his mother to sign enlistment papers so he could join the Army. Dec. 14, 1939 Ginter began what he thought would be a three-year enlistment.
But, history interceded when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. declared war in 1941. Because of that Ginter would serve until the end of the war.
The 18-year-old was assigned to 1st Battalion, 1st Field Artillery at Fort Sill where his typing abilities earned him a job as a clerk.
"My commander was happy to get me and pointed to a duffel bag full of Army regulations that needed sorting and filing," he said.
Just like today's Army, units sometimes traveled to other Army posts for training. Ginter's unit boarded a train bound for Columbia, S.C. to get its allotment of vehicles. He said the train ride took weeks, because the troop transport had a lower priority that sidetracked the train. The return home wasn't much better as rain and sleet made for miserable conditions. It even led the unit to load a couple Army motorcycles onto two-ton trucks, because the Soldiers riding them grew too cold to continue.
Back at Fort Sill he transferred to 2nd Battalion, 18th Field Artillery where he was assigned to a staff position as a field lineman. That career field included schooling as a switchboard operator, something he completed at Fort Sill.
In 1944 Ginter got stationed to a unit where he wasn't happy, although he requested a transfer back to Fort Sill, it was denied. Working in plans and training, he one day received an official message that said Soldiers who requested a transfer to airborne could not be refused.
"I went in and made my request to my commander and placed the message before him," he said. With that, he was headed to Fort Benning, Ga., for jump school.
Just as his familiarity with paperwork benefited him, it soon backfired on him. Arriving as a specialist, Ginter made his six qualification jumps and expected he would be earning his wife and family an extra $50 a month. But, an error in his records showed him to only be a private, that $50 increase was whittled down to $28.
"At least I didn't lose it all," he said.
Ginter then was stationed in England in September, 1944 where he was assigned to 377th Parachute Field Artillery of the 101st Airborne Division.
He continued to serve as a switchboard operator for a while working in an English castle. While there, Ginter earned a three-day pass and hitchhiked to London where he received a reminder of what a small world he lived in.
"I was waiting in line to get my sleeping quarters, when the hotel clerk asked the guy in front of me where he was from. He walked over to a U.S. map on the wall and put his finger on Lawton, Oklahoma," said Ginter.
The two Soldiers struck up a conversation, and Ginter learned the Soldier's mother bought Ginter's father's house. That home is a mere three houses down from where he still lives.
Ginter then moved up to a unit in France and from there to a support unit not far from the front lines in Bastogne, Belgium.
"The night we arrived they came around and took a blanket from each man to give to Soldiers with the 82nd Airborne Division in Bastogne," he said.
With his lone blanket, he hunkered down in the cold, safe from attack but definitely chilly waking to a fresh coating of snow the next morning.
His closest brushes with the enemy happened when a phone line went down between a couple units. He prepared to go troubleshoot the line and asked for someone to go with him, and since no one volunteered, he went alone. A couple miles away, his morning tranquility shattered as a Screaming Mimi, the nickname of German rocket artillery, flew over his head and exploded in a field about a mile away.
"Boy, I hit the ground," exclaimed Ginter. "I made up my mind that was the last time I'd go out by myself."
Later as commanders feared a possible German offensive with tanks breaking through Allied lines, he and other support personnel were assigned to fill out two-man bazooka teams, each with an experienced Soldier. That offensive never materialized and Ginter's war passed without further incident.
Not long thereafter he moved to a base in Austria and served there until the Germans surrendered. When he had accumulated enough points to return home, a clerk saw he had served "five years, seven months and 14 days," an amount that far exceeded his three-year enlistment agreement. He suspected the clerk didn't know about the order against discharges until the end of the war and authorized his discharge.
However, his days with the Army did not end with the conclusion of World War II. In 1948 with a growing family, Ginter enlisted again as a private first class in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Noticing his paperwork trail showed an absence of overseas assignments for several years, he shipped out for Korea where he was to serve as a chaplain's assistant.
"I think the chaplain must have been Catholic, because when he learned I was Baptist I got reassigned to the 13th Quartermaster Battalion," he said.
In 1963 Ginter retired from the Army as a sergeant first class with 21 years of service.
His service time continued however, as he taught CPR with the Red Cross for 12 years and now fields questions from hospital visitors.
"Joining the Army was a good decision and helped my wife and I raise our family," he said. "I enjoy working with the Red Cross and helping Soldiers today just like I did long ago."