For Veterans Day: An American Soldier

Contributed by Vince Williams

In honor of Veterans Day I would like to tell the story on one American Soldier.  This is a story that was told to me over 20 years ago.  I did not find out until a couple of days ago that I was the only person this soldier told this story to.

In the spring of 1943 most of the class of 1943 and the entire class of 1944 of The Citadel were called to active duty in the United States Army.  The Class of 1944 was called to active duty in its entirety to fill the ranks of the decimated junior grade officers, 1st and 2nd Lieutenants.  They were taken by train to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina to attend Boot Camp.  The Army decided to keep these former Cadets together in companies during boot camp.  One of those companies did not have enough soldiers to fill its ranks.  A non-Cadet soldier was assigned to that company for the duration of boot camp.  This is the story of that soldier.

The first few weeks of boot camp were like all other boot camps, learning close order drill and rifle manual.  The cadets of this particular company went to the Drill Sergeant and informed him that they already knew enough close order drill and rifle manual.  They offered to prove it.  The Drill Sergeant accepted their challenge.  The leader of this company divided them into groups with a set number of soldiers.  He arranged it so that the new soldier did not work with the numbers and had to sit out.  He then took charge and marched them over the parade ground in a very intricate pattern that was apparently impressive to all who saw it.  The Drill Sergeant dismissed the companies made up of The Citadel Cadets from learning the close order drill and rifle manual the first weeks of boot camp.  They were allowed free time during that training period.

As boot camp progressed this soldier became friends with the other soldiers in his company.  He was a few years older than them, 28, and did not have some of their training and experience.  Through their friendship and camaraderie he was able to complete a very successful boot camp.  After graduation, this soldier was separated from that company and assigned to field artillery school.  Eventually, he graduated from field artillery school and was assigned to the European Theatre of Operations for World War II.

His combat experience was under Patton’s Third Army.  He was involved in the invasion of Southern France, the dramatic rush Northwest to break Hitler’s back in the Battle of the Bulge and later was involved in the assault on Hitler’s mountaintop retreat in Germany.  While in Germany he was reunited with the men of the company that he had gone through boot camp with.  He was deeply saddened and shocked to learn that of almost 130 men only about 30 were still active in the war.  The rest had either made the ultimate sacrifice or were wounded.

After the war ended this soldier returned home to Valdosta, GA where he raised his twin daughters and led a very successful life.  He went to rest in the arms of God in December 1993.

On May 13, 1989 I was deeply honored to be giving the privilege of becoming a member of “The Long Grey Line” when I graduated from The Citadel.  After walking across the stage and receiving my diploma I returned with my family to their hotel.  My Grandfather, Flournoy Barksdale Vinson (FB to his friends), asked me to come to his room.  When I got there he told me the story I have just shared.  He was that soldier that was assigned to that company of Cadets from The Citadel.  He then gave me a ring I had never seen him not wearing.

I never knew what my attending The Citadel meant to him until that day.  Even after he told me, I didn’t realize how special and important it was to him.  November 9th was my mother and her twin sister’s birthday.  When I called her for her birthday we started talking about her father and I mentioned this story.  She had never heard it.  My Grandfather never talked about the war to anyone, until I graduated from The Citadel.  Then every time I saw him he talked about it a little to me.  I didn’t realize until just a couple of days ago, that when I graduated he saw me not only as a grandson, he also saw me as a brother.

Please remember and pray for our soldiers and Veterans this Veterans Day.  Even the ones who come home without a Purple Heart are wounded in ways we can’t fathom.

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5 Comments to “For Veterans Day: An American Soldier”

  1. This is an awesome post, Vince. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank Paul,

    I didn’t know that he had told nobody that story until yesterday. I had always assumed that when I enrolled at The Citadel he would have told my mom at the very least. Senior year I got to introduce him to Colonel Howard. I wonder, now, what he thought about him.

  3. Great story, Vince. Mr. Vinson was an awesome man. I know he was very proud of you, but I didn’t know about his connection to the Citadel.

  4. Mr. Williams,
    Your grandfather is one of the silent heroes that ensured us the very freedom to post to this site. I know by reading in your post the pride he had for you along with the tremendous pride you show for him every day of your life.

  5. Thank you Mr. Hughey.

    My grandfather was an amazing man and my hero. I am eternally thankfull to my parents for honoring me with his name. I’m doubly thankfull that they chose his last name!!

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