Veteran remembers economic hardship and world war
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas
LUBBOCK, Texas — J.D. Payne remembers that he was one of the few boys raised in Matador who didn’t work as a cowboy during the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“I made a living off of them, kind of, taking care of their boots when they came to town once a month.”
At 11, Payne had begun working part time after his father died in a car wreck.
“My mother raised me and my brother. She took in sewing. We didn’t have anything.”
But he began carrying his portion of the family economy by picking up clothes for a cleaning business.
“I would go up and down the street knocking doors, and saying, ‘Have you got any clothes for Solomon’s Cleaners?’
“I was getting a nickel on the dollar. I wasn’t a burden on my mother. I was making my own way.”
At 12 he had a regular job in the barber shop, working as a shoe shine boy and polishing cowboys’ boots.
He continued through high school graduation, then went to California to work in the shipyards.
“Before the war, everything was on the east and west coasts. People in Matador and Floydada were going somewhere to find a job.”
After World War II began, he came back to Matador and eventually decided to volunteer for the Seabees.
“It came a big snow storm, and the buses couldn’t run. I was in Matador and I was supposed to get up to Lubbock to go into the Seabees. But I couldn’t get there, and then they closed it down. Before another two weeks, they drafted me into the military.”
He became a radio operator, and was in California training for the invasion of Japan when the Battle of the Bulge started.
“They shipped us across the United States and sent us to Europe.”
“We were a tank company attached to an infantry company, and I was a radio operator for a lieutenant. We were in a jeep.”
Payne laid lines from the command post to the tank lines in his job in the 86th Division.
For a change, Payne, who went through extreme poverty in the Depression, was having an easier time than others of his generation.
“We did very little foxhole deals. I was in a different war — the same outfit, but a different war. I rode while they walked. I slept in a house, while they dug foxholes.”
But everything in Europe in World war II had an element of risk.
“We lost some people. I lost a 2nd lieutenant that I was working with. We were somewhere in Germany, and he had a lieutenant that he was friends with that was up on an observation post on a hill.
“Me and him and a jeep driver were down below the hill.”
Payne remembers that the officer invited them along, but they declined and stayed with the jeep.
“About 30 minutes or an hour, don’t know how long now, they came bringing him down on a stretcher, dead. The Germans had fired into the observation post where he was visiting his friend, and killed those people.
“There, except for the grace of God, go I, you know.”
He also remembers taking cover under a truck during artillery fire.
“We were at some little town, and they were bombarding the heck out of us. Me and the sergeant and a couple of other guys crawled under a truck, with shells falling around us. When they quit shelling us, we got out, and well, the truck had dynamite on it.”
Payne remembers as a highlight of the war that men of his company helped liberate some wine cellars in Austria not far from the Berchtesgaden mountain retreat where Adolf Hitler had an underground bunker.
“The captain, our company commander, knew they had all these wine cellars underground up there. So, we went up there. The French army had gotten there a day or two before we did, and they had just gone in there and pulled the plugs. The rooms were just kind of swimming in wine because those French military people had just torn up things and let the wine run out.”
When the war in Europe was over, Payne remembers, “They took us from there and shipped us back to the United States. We went back to California where we had been before we went to Europe.”
He was sent to Corregidor in the Philippines, where the war also was winding down.
After the privation of the Great Depression, Payne seemingly had carried a ticket of safety through the most violent war in world history.
“I was the luckiest guy in World War II, because I lived through 10 months of combat and I saw the world. I came to Lubbock in 1954. I moved into this house right here in 1954, been here ever since.
“God’s been good to me.”