WWII veteran recalls many faces of combat
He compares the war he fought to hell, but Herman Grissom said he would do it all again because freedom, he said, is “worth everything.”
“I remember the day we hit the beach,” said 90-year-old Grissom, an Air Corps veteran of World War II. “I don’t remember the boy’s name, but it was him and I who made it across the sand and started up the hill. He was almost on top of me we were so close — he was almost touching me as we crawled together. The Germans were on top of the hill and all of a sudden he just went limp. He never made a sound or anything. They killed him stone dead while we were right beside one another. I can see his face, but I don’t remember his name.”
As Grissom recalled hitting the beaches of Normandy on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, as a radio operator with a recon squadron, the memories became vivid and painful, but “people need to know that freedom isn’t free,” he said.
“If hell is worse than Normandy, I can’t even fathom how bad it is,” said Grissom, who was drafted at the age of 18 in 1942. “There were bodies lying everywhere, but we pushed right on in there. I don’t know why they didn’t get me. I didn’t even get a scratch, but I was pretty good at sticking close to the ground.”
It didn’t take long for Grissom to accept the fact that people will be hurt or killed in combat. His leaders urged the men not to make friends because it would hurt more when they died; but it was impossible to not forge friendships, he said, adding that during the winter, he would take turns rubbing his friends’ feet as they sat in a snow-filled fighting hole to keep them from turning blue.
Fear was a constant for everyone on the battlefield and anyone who says they weren’t scared is a “bold-faced liar,” he said. His unit rarely got a break, he said, but for the most part, they were left you out on the lines until they were wounded or killed.
“You take somebody’s life and you’re never the same,” Grissom said. “That poor joker may be the worst person in the world, but he had a mother and father who loved him. He had friends. He was a man too, standing up for his own freedom.”
Grissom, while proud of his service during the European campaign, said he isn’t proud of what he had to do during the war.
“If you weren’t there, you can’t comprehend what I had to do at such a young age,” he said. “But, I’d do it again in a second. Freedom is worth everything I went through.”
His parents weren’t happy when Grissom was drafted, he said, but they never let him know it.
“I didn’t join — they put me there,” he said. “I didn’t enlist. I ain’t crazy. You didn’t have to worry about getting in. They were taking everyone who could breathe. They grabbed up all of us young boys who turned 18.”
By the time the war ended, Grissom had made his way to Berlin, having spent months on his feet, patrolling Europe and fighting city to city, he said.
“I can’t be proud of killing people — it’s just not right,” Grissom said. “But people will never get along. As long as people are the way they are, there will never be peace. That’s the way it’s always been since the beginning of the world. There’s nothing in this world but greed and we will always have war and young men will have to fight it.”