Manila World War II veteran remembers
Art Slaton of Manila is among the veterans that remember well the end of World War II and the long years and lives it took to get there.
Slaton was called to service (drafted) in August of 1942. He said he was not happy to leave his home but the thought of not answering the call never entered his mind. He was among the thousands of young men who volunteered and who were drafted after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
It was a time of change. Slaton said he was plowing with mules at the time he left the farm but by the time he returned in 1945 mules were being replaced with more tractors.
Slaton was in the 80th Infantry Divsion, 313th Artillery Field Battalion in the European Theater.
He moved to Mississippi County from Alabama at the age of 20. He had worked on a farm most all of his life and never dreamed he would be called on to cross the ocean to countries he had only read about.
He went over in style as he joined 23,000 troops aboard the Queen Mary. He said the Queen Mary had also been drafted for the cause and it was a beautiful ship owned by the British. There was so many aboard, the men would just sleep wherever they could find a place.
"Most of us had never been on a ship before and we suffered from a bout of seasickness," Slaton said. "I remember I was so sick I couldn't answer the call for a boat drill. The best I can remember, it took us about four and a half days and it was fast and rough. It was a terrible ride. I came back on a German World War I ship, the Edmond B. Alexander. We were glad to be coming home."
Before leaving the United States, Slaton trained in Tennessee, Arizona, California, and left from New Jersey. Slaton's arrival to England followed D Day by about 30 days.
"We had heard about D Day and we knew what to expect," he said.
Slaton's Battalion left England and went to France.
"We were chasing Patton's Army, the 4th Armored Division, across France," Slaton recalled. He ran off and left us but when we got pinned down, he had to come back and get us. We were young and just doing what we had to do and were told to do."
Slaton was there for over two years. He said all of the men looked forward to receiving mail from home. When the soldiers wrote, they could not say where they were or what they were doing. "I'm here and okay" is about all they could share.
"I was one of the fortunate ones," Slaton said. "The 80th Division had 15,000 men at all times. We suffered 23,000 casualties. It was a time when everyone was doing their part. The men who could were fighting. The women and men at home had to pick up the slack. They went to work in factories keeping us in supplies, they went to work on the farms and everyone made sacrifices."
Slaton said he was driving for a Colonel who was a career military officer and a graduate of West Point. The Colonel asked Slaton what he was going to do when the war was over and his reply was, "I'm going home as fast as I can get there."
Slaton, like most who have served in wartime, spent years trying not to think about it much less talk about it.
"I think we just wanted to forget it," he said.
Slaton recently found two souvenirs from the war he had put away, two pistols, a Lugar and a Walters.
"Some of the men were shipping weapons home but we could bring one each home with us at the end of the war," Slaton said. "We were working a check point and disarming the German 9th Army and I found the Lugar on the dash of a truck. It had never been fired. I reached in the truck and claimed it. I brought one home and had a friend bring the other one back to the states for me."
He decided to sell the two pistols recently and had no problems finding new homes for them.
"I decided it was time for someone else to have them," he said.
The guns had moved around with him as he and his wife had traveled on the job for many years.
After the war, he met and married his wife, Ada. They had lived in a mobile home in Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama as they traveled for over 25 years. Then they settled in Manila. He worked for S.J. Cohen for 39 years before he retired Dec. 31, 1989. He started out running a drag line for the company and retired as vice president and general superintendent.
Ada passed away in 2010. They were married for 60 years.
"The war taught me, and many others, plowing with mules was not the only way to make a living" Slaton said. "Farming taught us at an early age hard work is just part of life."
Slaton has seen a lot of changes in his life since he earned $21 a month for serving in the Army.