Honor Flight is a national non-profit organization founded in 2005 to give aging or terminally ill veterans a day of honor in Washington D.C. There is no cost to the veterans.
The average age for a living World War II veteran is about 90, so they are getting first priority for seats.
The Philadelphia hub’s next trip is Sept. 9. It leaves from and returns to St. Luke’s Greek Orthodox Church, 35 N. Malin Road, Broomall, Pa. 19008.
The return is at 6:30 p.m., and those wishing to join the welcome back with flag-waving and cheers would be well appreciated.
Among the veterans participating in the trip will be Lewis Hiller of Dunmore, Pa. Below is his story.
By Lewis Hiller
I was inducted into the U.S. Army on August 28, 1941 at Fort Meade, MD. We received uniforms and a bit of basic Army life and bused out seven days later to Camp Walters, Texas. At Camp Walters, we completed 13 weeks of basic Army training. Following basic training, a11 40 of us new soldiers were assigned to the 45th Division at Camp Barkely, Texas. The Division was mainly made up of the Oklahoma and Arizona National Guard, including a large number of American Indians. Most of us “dammed Yankees” had never even seen an Indian before.
In March 1942, after training in Texas, we were shipped to Pine Camp in NY for winter training, expecting to fight the Russians. There we had ski training and hiking through deep snow that was up to our waist and sometimes our chests. Every soldier would take his turn at the point for two minutes and then drop back to the end of the line. Many of the men developed pneumonia and frozen hands and feet. Obviously, training was very difficult.
In the spring of 1942 we were moved from there to Fort Devens, MA to train off Martha’s Vineyard and to do mountain hiking in the forests of New Hampshire. We remained at Fort Devens through Christmas 1942. We had paraded through Boston and most of the surrounding towns in New England for months until Walter Winchell got on the air and broadcast that we were only a parade outfit and should be overseas fighting the Germans. Soon we were put on alert and the Division was then sent to Camp Pickett in Virginia for amphibious landing training off the coasts of North and South Carolina. The weather there was unusually cold in early spring, and several men were lost who fell from frozen rope ladders and were crushed or drowned between the ships. We later shipped to Camp Patrick Henry, VA that turned out to be our P.O.E (Port of Embarkation).
On June 8, 1943, we loaded on the ships for unknown ports. After 14 days of zigzagging across the Atlantic, we arrived off the shore of Oran, North Africa. On June 22, we went down the cargo nets with full field packs, two bandoleers of ammunition, three hand grenades, rifles, bayonets, two canteens of water, three days of rations, and loaded in the Landing Crafts Personnel (LCP’ s) to head into combat in North Africa. After 2 1/2 hours of riding the waves, most of us were seasick and crawled ashore. If General Rommel and the Germans forces were still there waiting, many of us wouldn’t have made it.
Rommel’s luck had turned also, and he was on the run, abandoning North Africa. We stayed in North Africa for a few weeks of training and reconditioning, or mainly to stretch our legs, before heading back into the ships for the invasion of Sicily.
On August 12,1943, under General Patton, we loaded into the ships in North Africa and hit the beaches of Sicily, off the shores of Gaela. The Navy was short of training, and as a result, dropped the ramps on a sand bar, and we ran off into 10 feet of water. We lost a lot of men who either drowned or were shot by the Germans who were waiting for us. We came ashore and were immediately in hand-to-hand combat. We fought through the Germans and pushed to eight miles inland on the first day. It was reported that our casualty rate that day was over 65%. It was a real awakening for all of us. I remember seeing a German with a flame-thrower put the flame on Sgt. Cook and burn him down to an ash. I can still see that today. I also remember taking our first prisoners and all of us receiving an order to shoot them because there was no way to hold them and to continue fighting.
In a battle to guard Calagerone Airport in Sicily, from being retaken by the Germans, I was hit in the left leg by German bullets and about the same time a bullet struck my full canteen. It knocked me down but I got up quickly and ran to catch up with our men. With great relief, I learned that my leg was very wet from the hole in my canteen, and not from my own blood. The Medic patched me up and we moved on. We pushed up through Sicily, the 1st Division on our left and the 36th on our right to the city of Palermo. Near the city, we stopped for a short rest along a coast road overlooking the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, the Germans spotted us from a railroad gun from up above. We lost a number of good men. My good friend Lynn Hannah, who was no more than five feet from me, was hit in 57 places. I didn’t get a scratch. General Bedell Smith pulled us out of our shock and probably saved all our lives. After a good fight, we took the guns and continued on to Messina. At Messina, we learned the Germans had pulled out and crossed over into Italy.
We were pulled back to Palermo to receive replacements, ammunition, and rations, and we were told that we were selected to spearhead the landing in Italy. We had the 3rd Division on our left and the 36th Division, along with the British on our right.
In late July 1943, we landed with little resistance near Salerno, in Italy near Salerno, under the command of General Clark. However, the 179th Infantry landed benath a cliff and ran into a strong German defense. After we secured our beachhead, we set an enveloping deployment around the German forces to allow the 179th clearance to get off the beach. Together, we pushed inland.
The campaign up through Italy was much more difficult than was Sicily. The terrain was very mountainous. We fought up each mountain through the Po Valley toward Naples. The Germans had very powerful tanks and were set up in the mountains overlooking the valley. With superior tanks and position, they quickly disposed of our tank support. The German tank mounted 88’s caliber guns could track a lone soldier and get him within three shots.
As the Platoon Leader and the assigned B.A.R man, I was firing from behind a rock wall shooting down at the German forces. My friend Jim Gaitanis, at the end of our line, was badly hit. Fortunately, I was able to turn over the B.A.R to one of the ammunition carriers, crawl out to pick off the sniper and get Jim to the Medic. However, later that same day, I was struck behind the ear by a bullet that went through my helmet. I still don’t remember how I got to the field hospital for a five-day stay. We captured many German and Italian troops as we pushed up through the ridges and valleys. The Germans were the best trained soldiers in the world but they were trained to follow their leaders’ commands and weren’t taught to think for themselves which was a big difference between them and the U.S. Army soldiers. They said they never knew what the Yanks would do next because we used our heads and did what we thought would work.
After a few days of needed R & R following the liberation of Naples, we fought inch by inch against well-entrenched German troops as we headed north toward Monte Cas
sino. The Germans stopped us cold, and we were pulled out in January of 1944 to spearhead the Anzio Beachhead invasion, a move to outflank the German Gustav line.
The armada left Naples for Anzio, landing in January 1944 under General Lucas, and caught the Germans by surprise. However, there were too few troops to advance inland more than a few miles. We were ordered to hold up and to dig deep foxholes, but unfortunately this was the rainy season, and we lost a number of men to dysentery and trench foot. I was one of the first to get amoebic dysentery and was carried away from the beach by stretcher to spend several days on the hospital ship, Arcadia, in the bay of Anzio. Here, all the injured were laid side by side on the deck of the ship. I can vividly remember the German fighter planes flying over us strafing the ship, bullets ricocheting off the deck, within several feet where we lay. Although a terrifying experience, I was too sick to move.
I returned to my unit just a couple days before we received orders that we were jumping off to break through on our way toward Rome. At Monte Cassino, our tanks were brought up to the hedgerow where we were holding position. The gun barrels of the tanks extended over our heads firing for hours at the German stronghold at the Abbey. As a result, I couldn’t hear anything for three days after that. At Bizerette Airport, we chased the Germans out, but a German tiger tank fired at the wall protecting us, causing it to collapse on us. After digging out and running toward a better location, I got hit in the leg, and treated by the medic in the field. The Germans were in retreat when we finally reached the city of Rome. Rome was declared an open city in June 1943. We were given passes to go into the city, where we visited St. Peter’s Cathedral and the tombs.
Once again, the 45th and the 3rd Division, under General Omar Bradley, spearheaded the landings for the invasion of southern France in August 1944. Our division landed between Marseilles and Toulon against heavy German opposition, but were able to break through and move inland nearly 12 miles the first day. We connected with the 3rd Army, which had landed at Omaha Beach and pushed nearly 400 miles toward Germany. Amazingly, there were only two of us soldiers left from the original Company E, 180 Division. However, my time was running out.
In September, near Rougemont, France and the German border, I got hit with shrapnel from a mortar shell and was sent to the 300th General Hospital in Naples, Italy where I stayed for nearly three months. The largest fragment of metal went completely through my leg creating a hole about two inches wide. However, many smaller pieces remained. The surgeon colonel did a good job removing the larger pieces of shrapnel, but couldn’t get all the smaller ones without risking the loss of my leg. He advised me to discourage any further surgery. For much of the three months in the hospital in Italy, I wore a body cast that ran from lower leg to chest.
On December 10, 1944, I was sent from Naples by hospital ship across the Atlantic to Batty General Hospital in Rome Georgia. Several days later, the army offered-me train tickets home to Scranton, PA to see my family for Christmas. I took my crutches and gratefully accepted their offer. I arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas afternoon, but too late for the train to Scranton. After sleeping in the lonely train station that night, I caught a morning train to Wilkes Barre and there transferred to the Laurel Line to Scranton, and the trolley to Dunmore. Getting along with my crutches and duffel bag along the route was not easy. That afternoon, I found the 2nd floor apartment on N. Blakely Street in Dunmore and was home. It was the first time I saw my son, David who was born 15 months earlier. It was wonderful to be home.
After the Christmas holidays, I reported to Camp Pickett, VA to a hospital for rehab on my wounded leg. I was there until the end of May 1945. I made many good friends in the Army, and lost many good soldiers and friends. Truly, God watched over me through many tough battles in and close contacts with death all around me. In May, I was shipped to Fort Dix, NJ and received my discharge from the service on June 18,1945 and headed back home to my family.
Lewis Hiller In WWII