Harold Payne survived the hard, lean years of the Great Depression and combat operations all across the European Theater of Operations; severely wounded and captured in the Battle of the Bulge, as a Prisoner of War he survived illness and near starvation while men died to the left and right of him. Then he came home and did forty years in the coal mines of his beloved "West-By-God-Virginia".
Like we say in the Army: "Harder than woodpecker lips."
Harold Payne FINALLY recieved due recognition for his service & sacrifice in October 2008 - FORTY EIGHT YEARS after the fact! ! !
Blog STORMBRINGER is Veteran-owned and operated, like the many business ventures I am involved in . . . operations constrained postings to commemorate the week of Veteran's Day / Remembrance Day . . . readers have sent so much Veteran material of friends and family there was no possible way I could post it all on Nov 11th therefore I will present much Veteran-themed postings over the next few weeks up to the Holiday season . . . on behalf of freedom-loving people everywhere:
"ALL GAVE SOME - SOME GAVE ALL - THANK YOU VETERANS!"
World War II Memorial - Washington DC
The following was originally posted in the Charleston Daily Mail a little over a year ago:
Friday October 10, 2008
World War II Veteran Finally Getting Purple Heart Today
by Jake Stump - Daily Mail Capitol Reporter
CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA - A mortar blast had caused a building to collapse on Harold Payne, crushing his ribs and voice box. The other soldier inside was killed.
German forces found an incapacitated Payne and took him and his captain prisoner. Trapped under rubble, Payne was unable to move or speak. But he could hear German soldiers telling his fellow Americans, "Help get him up or we will kill him." That was in January 1945.
After more than 63 years of records mishaps and government red tape, Payne is finally getting a Purple Heart for that attack. Payne, 84, of Cabin Creek, will officially receive his medal at a ceremony today in Charleston. He first inquired about the Purple Heart in the 1970s. Most of his military records were missing, incomplete or flush with typographical errors.
But earlier this year, the Payne family met with representatives from Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito's office, who got the ball rolling in getting Payne his military decoration that's long overdue. Through a series of records searches, officials found documents in the National Archives that verified Payne should receive the Purple Heart. Payne is somewhat relieved.
Severe beatings, starvation and zero degree temperatures under German captivity never destroyed him. He wasn't going to let the obstacles preventing him from receiving his Purple Heart do it, either, although it took decades.
"It's been a mess," Payne said Thursday. Payne was only 19 when he was drafted to the Army in 1943. He'd been working at a coal mine.
A child of the Great Depression, Payne finished school after the sixth grade. Yet he managed to be one of only two soldiers to complete chemical warfare training in a class of 42.
He served throughout European countries such as Italy and England and was ready to come home, but then the Battle of the Bulge erupted. It was the major German offensive launched in December 1944 towards the end of World War II. There were 19,276 Americans killed; 41,493 wounded; and 23,554 captured or missing.
Payne considers himself one of the lucky ones. He had gone through an 11-day period stuffed in a boxcar without any food. "I had no water or food, but I survived it," he said. "They put us in boxcars because the U.S. and British were pushing in and they kept moving us back into Germany further. They huddled us up together like a bunch of dogs in zero-degree weather for 11 days."
Payne remembers an average of five prisoners dying each day. German captors would strip the dead and store the bodies away in a separate room. Payne figures he wouldn't have survived much longer without food or water. Still, the Germans would only feed him an occasional bread morsel and little else during his four months of captivity.
"So many people starved to death," he said. "I don't care if the bread was black, or there was a crumb of cornbread or a cabbage leaf, I went ahead and ate it."
The soldier stood about 5-foot-6 and weighed 175 pounds going into the Army. As a prisoner of war, Payne slimmed down to 112 pounds. During this time, he acquired an unusually extreme desire for pancakes. It was the last meal he had before the Battle of the Bulge. His yearning became so bad that he dissolved noodles into a sort of flour and attempted to make pancakes out of them. These pancakes, however, made him dangerously ill. "I wanted pancakes so bad that I dreamed of pancakes," he said. "I kept seeing pancakes." The lack of food caused long damaging effects on Payne's health. He now suffers from five bleeding stomach ulcers.
Payne attributes part of his survival to living through the Depression. In those days, he learned what he could eat out in nature and how to keep warm. Some methods he used to keep his feet warm included covering them with sand or cow dung.
During the Depression, Payne and his family would gather beechnuts, chestnuts, hickory nuts, dandelions, milkweeds and all sorts of greens for food. They'd hunt anything that moved. Any squirrel, rabbit or raccoon didn't have a chance," Payne said. "We ate them."
One thing they couldn't eat was grass. "We tried that," he said. "I remember me and my dad sitting on the porch and we saw a cow across the field. I was 4 years old. My dad said, 'I don't understand how we can't eat that grass when the cows eat it up in a storm.' He went into the house, grabbed a pair of scissors and we cut off some grass, washed it and cooked it. It dried up in the frying pan."
Food wasn't the only problem for a POW. Payne suffered several beatings. One incident involved German soldiers beating him in the head with their rifle barrels. In a separate incident, Payne tried arranging a trade for coffee and food but was whipped by seven Germans with straps. He had other skirmishes with fate. Payne recalls a time when a bullet skimmed the top of his head, penetrated his scarf and killed a man standing next to him.
British forces took over the German camp and liberated Payne and his fellow prisoners in April 1945. Despite being a free man, Payne was in wretched shape. He spent about a month in an England hospital and was covered in body lice. He got to go home in June.
"It about ruined my life," Payne said of his war experiences. "I reckon I've been a lucky man all my life." The headaches and nightmares weren't over when he reached the States. He'd lost everything in England - his duffel bags crammed with documents, identification, watches and $1,000 in cash. He didn't even have his dog tags.
This created a dilemma for Payne, who struggled to prove his identity to officials back home. Payne managed to keep a hold of one key piece of evidence - a prisoner identification card issued to him and signed by German officers. He received an honorable discharge in October 1945.
But his discharge papers didn't indicate he was a POW. The omission didn't seem to matter to Payne, who wanted to get on with life. He returned to the coalmines, where he worked for more than 40 years, sometimes loading up to 32 tons a day.
There were a few other discrepancies in Payne's discharge papers, which stated he served in the 515th Battalion. That was true, since it was his training unit. When he went to war, he was assigned to the 550th Battalion, which was excluded in his papers.
Thirty-three years later, Payne's former son-in-law, a Vietnam veteran, received a visit from a veterans' counselor about GI benefits. The son-in-law told the official about Payne and his horrific account of World War II. The counselor then met with Payne and encouraged him to seek medals and benefits.
With the lapses in Payne's discharge papers, it was tough convincing officials he qualified for several military decorations. Even worse, his Army records in a St. Louis office were destroyed in a fire. He had lost contact with all soldiers he worked closely with in the war. Most were killed in action.
But something almost unimaginable occurred in 1992. Payne joined a POW group through the American Legion and attended a gathering in North Carolina. There he stumbled into his old captain, the same guy taken prisoner with Payne back in 1945. They started keeping in touch and the captain wrote letters to officials verifying Payne's actions.
Documents found in the National Archives also confirmed Payne's military record. Payne would finally receive four service stars and a Bronze Star. LaDonna Craft, one of Payne's two daughters, said she admires her father for his resilience over the years. "He never gave up hope," Craft said. "He's got a backbone about him. We would keep getting turned down and have more papers to fill out again." Craft never heard her father speak about his war experiences until after he retired as a coal miner.
Payne also has two sons. His wife, Margaret, passed away three years ago. "She's really missed," Payne said. "I really miss her." Despite his firsthand encounters, Payne still ponders the effects of war to this day. "How are these wars going on?" Payne said. "Why can't we get along? In my years of thinking about it, I can't understand it. I'll never get over it. I always think about it and what life is all about."
This information was sent in from my Special Forces mentor and long-time friend, Mike (obliquely referred to in STORMBRINGER
as The Deacon - Mike has forgotten more about weapons, ballistics and demolitions than I will ever know - and that's a LOT). Mike often speaks of the hardscrabble life growing up in the mountains of beloved West-By-God-Virginia - his Uncle Harold is a living example of how the Great Depression hardened the men and women who fought and survived the horrors of the Second World War.
- Sean Linnane