Volunteering for war -- but wondering why
By Thomas Brennan | The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C. | Published: June 3, 2013
At 92 years old, Leon Woodrow Kellum looks back on World War II and wonders how he is alive today.
“I know luck has nothing to do with it,” said Kellum, of Jacksonville. “It has to be by the providence of God why I’m here.”
Joining the Army in 1940 at the age of 19, Kellum expected some sort of backlash from his parents but was surprised when he didn’t receive it.
“There wasn’t much going on at the time so I figured why not join, being that I didn’t have a lot of education,” Kellum said. “They didn’t say nothing. Not a word when I brought those papers home. My daddy signed them and I was on my way. I reckon I did it to get as far away from home as possible.”
Kellum recalls basic training as “hell.”
“We always wondered why we did so much training,” Kellum said. “It surely paid off when we got to combat. It kept us alive.”
Stationed in Panama when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor the Army asked for volunteers to join the airborne units. Kellum raised his hand.
“We loaded up on a troop ship and it took us 35 days to get to Gibraltar,” Kellum said. “We didn’t lose a ship ’til there. That’s when the Germans launched their torpedo planes. I finally made it to Italy. We got involved in the war a little bit while we were in Italy. Everyone wanted to get into the war before we got there. Once we got there we wondered why the hell we wanted to be there in the first place.”
War is indescribable, Kellum said.
“It’s a living nightmare mostly,” he said. “You were scared every time you moved. People who weren’t scared just ain’t right. When the bullets and artillery are hitting right around you — that was the worst time of my life.”
Later Kellum would parachute into France with the 550th Airborne Infantry.
“I landed in a grape vineyard in southern France,” Kellum said. “When you’re with an airborne unit you don’t fight from the front — the front is all around you.”
It was during the fighting in France that Kellum would be awarded the Bronze Star for valorous acts.
“They were passing them out like candy,” Kellum said. “I guess they figured they’d give me one too.”
During his 14 months overseas, Kellum would fight his way through France and eventually found himself in the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was so cold and so foggy, you couldn’t see your hand in front of you,” Kellum said. “It was the coldest winter I’d ever seen. It was absolute hell. A lot of young people died. They captured some men too. The air was so full of planes. All I can tell you is it’s something nobody should ever want to be part of.”
After he was shot in the hip he was shipped to a hospital in Paris where he “got healed up and shipped back out.”
“The last battle I was in was at the Rhine River,” Kellum said. “After we got done, we were given the option to go to the Pacific being that the war was over for us. I said no and they put me straight on a Navy ship to go home. I was discharged as soon as my feet hit Fort Bragg.”
His discharge made him extremely happy, he said.
“Nobody wins at war,” Kellum said. “We thought we did but we didn’t. We killed a lot of people. We destroyed so much before we left. Too many mistakes were made.”
Looking back on his enlisted days now, Kellum said that in war you can’t appease the enemy.
“All you can do is kill them,” Kellum said. “You just live from day to day. That’s all you can do. You live and kill to keep your buddy alive.”