William Thompson was in a foxhole.
The man beside him was named Worthington, from Alabama. They were less than a foot apart as bombs rained down around them. Members of the U.S. Third Army, under the command of Gen. George S. Patton, were under attack as they made their way through war-torn Europe during World War II.
“German artillery shells were like someone screaming as they came in,” Thompson said. “It didn’t take long to figure out what was making that racket.”
It was around dusk when one blasted in the foxhole where Thompson had taken cover, killing the soldier at his side.
“It could have been me just as well as him,” Thompson said.
Shrapnel from the bomb’s shell lodged into Thompson’s backside. The 89-year-old Cohutta resident still has that piece of mangled metal, about four inches long.
Thompson was raced off to a hospital in a Jeep.
“We left flying — as much as we could fly,” he said.
Thompson’s wound was tended to in a hospital in either Germany or Belgium, a detail time has erased. The doctor gave him the piece of shrapnel telling Thompson he may “need it sometime.”
Thompson was awarded a Purple Heart. But the injury didn’t keep him from going back to the front lines. As soon as his wound healed, Thompson returned to his unit.
“I went into the same outfit, but there wasn’t a soul I knew left,” he said.
Others had either been injured or killed.
“Our orders were to go until we were stopped,” Thompson said. “Patton had to be first.”
Thompson saw battles throughout France, Belgium, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. He was there during the famous Battle of the Bulge, which he described as “Attack and shooting. Attack and shooting. You hope you come through it alive.”
Thompson had to worry not just about being shot or attacked and killed, but about the extreme cold temperatures soldiers faced as they recaptured Europe.
“I don’t know if it’s true or not, but they said one night was 40 below,” he said. “You put on all the clothes you had.”
Thompson saw death, destruction and wreckage until he was discharged in 1945. He said buildings in Germany were so damaged, they would fall without warning. He was ordered to guard supplies and be a lookout.
“I’m surprised William got home at all with all he went through,” said Evelyn, his wife of 62 years. The two met just after he returned home from war.
Thompson had been drafted at age 18 in 1943, but he says he’s proud to have served.
“You get in there, do your duty and go,” he said.
Leo Whaley, a friend of Thompson, is awed by the attitude of those fighting in World War II.
“The thought of the young men was either us or them,” Whaley said. “You didn’t question it. I admire their sacrifices. We have people like this in our country, exceptional. He put the good of his country before anything else.... I’ve always been in awe of the sacrifices.”
When Thompson returned, he worked as a dairy farmer. He retired a little more than 25 years ago when a blood clot developed in his leg. The Thompsons have one daughter, Fredie Sutton, and two grandchildren, Ethan and Meghin.