DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Wounded in battle, Army soldier Richard E. Haines said he was on his way back to the front lines in World War II when Germany unconditionally surrendered to end the devastating conflict in Europe.

Fellow World War II veteran Wendell W. Cultice and his Army supply unit were headed into Germany from France when Victory in Europe, or V-E Day, was declared May 8, 1945.

“The cafes were swamped and the cognac and schnapps were flowing freely,” the Xenia man said Thursday.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the end of a war that claimed millions of lives throughout Europe.

It also marks the destruction of the Nazi regime in Germany, liberation of Nazi concentration camp survivors and the end to bloody battles between the United States, Britain, Russia and other allies battling Germany and Italy.

The war in the Pacific against Japan would continue unabated until August 1945 when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the war.

Decades later, Miami Valley veterans of World War II have not forgotten the toll of a global conflict that claimed up to 60 million lives, saw 25 million wounded in battle and left a wake of unprecedented destruction.

From Xenia to Europe

Cultice, 92, went from Xenia to Omaha Beach in Normandy, France two months after a massive Allied invasion rolled ashore on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

“The thing that really stands out in my mind is the wreckage that was heaped on both sides of all of the roads and the arteries that travel,” he said.

Tanks and half-tracks were knocked out. Land was checked carefully and marked clear of mines.

Cultice was an Army sergeant and one among more than 16 million U.S. servicemembers in the war.

“Facetiously, you get the impression when you’re part of a 16 million unit, that there isn’t anybody that knows what’s going on around you,” he said. “But someplace, someone knows what’s going on, and so you have a responsibility and if you carry out yours, it will work.”

He kept his sense of humor throughout the trials of wartime service.

“One of the things that was important in the service was to keep a sense of humor,” he said. “Soldiers are really adept at finding humor in almost anything in order to avoid getting all caught up. Of course, some of them weren’t able to do that psychologically. Training went on and they knew they were going to be shipped out and they really couldn’t handle it.”

The former butcher became part of an Army boot camp training cadre at Camp Lee, Virginia, before he shipped out overseas.

“When I look back on it now, I spent about 5 percent of my life in the service and that’s not really much to give your country as opposed to people who’ve spent 10, 15, 20 (years), and some lost their lives,” Cultice said.

The author of several books, Cultice moved back to his hometown of Xenia after a more than four-decade career in education that took him across the country from Long Island, N.Y., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and places in-between.

That decision to go into education was predicated on a promise on a troop ship he was on sailing to wartime Europe.

“I said this is a pretty serious situation,” he said. “And I went back to my bunk and I made a covenant with the Almighty. I said, ‘You get me through this mess, whatever happens, and I’ll spend the rest of my life, as much as I can, taking care of your children.’ And I did that. I did that.”

The images of children and war have remained with Cultice. At the end of the war, he recalled children walking barefoot through piles of garbage and picking up what they could in metal cans to bring home to their parents.

Cultice also witnessed the aftermath of a liberated Nazi concentration camp in Germany where thousands were slaughtered.

“Things that are indelible, you’re never going to forget them,” he said. “You’re never going to forget them.”

Clark County man on the front lines

Haines manned a Browning Automatic Rifle on the front lines fighting his way into Germany.

Now 89, the Mad River Twp. man in Clark County has a car with a large Purple Heart decal on a side door and on the license plate, a reminder of the wounds of war 70 years later.

He was an Army infantry squad leader and part of a three-man rifle crew. The hardened soldier fought in three battles in Europe before bullets from a German machine gun sidelined him.

The Tewksbury, Massachusetts, native came ashore in a landing craft in northern France in late 1944 after the Battle of the Bulge.

“We just fought all the way through,” the retired mechanic remembered during an interview at his home.

“Everything was bombed and beat up,” he said. “… Who knew where we were. There were no signs you’ve entered this town, you’re entering that town.

“You go along until you see somebody falling beside you … then you start getting nervous,” he said.

As they pushed into Germany, Haines rode in a Jeep as a scout at the front of a convoy. Nazi soldiers were in retreat, but “every so far a machine gun nest would slow us down,” he said.

The first machine gun nest was destroyed. Then the U.S. soldiers found a second.

“I got hit in that second one and that’s the end of me and the war,” he said.

On April 15, 1945, bullets tore into his right leg.

“I didn’t have my assistant (squad leader) with me and I didn’t have my ammo loader,” he said. “And when I ended up with that second machine gun nest I had no ammo. I had a gun but couldn’t use it. What good is it?”

After days in a hospital to recover, he was put on a troop train on his way back to the front lines, he said.

But for Haines, there would be no more war. Germany surrendered under the ceaseless onslaught of Allied bombs and troops pushing into the country. V-E Day finally ended it all.

“Everybody was yelling and happy about it,” he said. “Everybody was excited.”

©2015 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) Visit the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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