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Area WWII veterans tell their war stories

Last month's cover story about James Carroll, the World War II Navy veteran who lied about his age so he could enlist at 15, touched the hearts of many other veterans in the Tampa Bay area.

Many of them or members of their families contacted us with their own World War II stories. In honor of these brave veterans in the wake of Memorial Day, here are some of their stories.

Fred W. Wright Jr., Times correspondent

Never got lost

Edward J. Doyle's most vivid memories are of driving the unmarked roads of Belgium at night. He didn't have a map during the nine months he and his commanding officer hunted for sites to set up a 40mm anti-aircraft battery of eight guns.

"We had to find our way back to base each night," the 90-year-old Seminole resident recalls. "I never got lost once in my whole damn time there," he recalls.

Discharged as an Army Tech-5, Doyle later became mayor of East Providence, R.I.

Retrieving bodies

In his three years of duty with the U.S. Army, Pinellas Park resident Alvin R. Kalicki, 89, saw action in the invasions of New Guinea, New Britain and the Philippines. He also was among the first troops to secure the ruins of both Japanese cities leveled by atomic bombs.

In the island campaigns, his duties often included retrieving the bodies of U.S. troops after a battle. In the ruins of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Kalicki recalls military authorities weren't aware of the full impact of radiation exposure on humans weeks after the blasts.

"When we were there, we weren't wearing any gloves or helmets," he recalls. "They figured everything was all over with."

Patton's praise

Sam Consolo, a 94-year-old Treasure Island resident, survived some of the fiercest campaigns in Europe. As an Army sergeant with the 540th Combat Engineers, Consolo and his team blew up obstacles, cleared mines and prepared the way for more troops to come ashore.

He took part in the invasions of North Africa, Italy and France. "They were all rough," he says.

But what he remembers the most is getting thanked in person by Gen. George S. Patton. "He shook my hand," Consolo says.

Great adventure

For Port Richey resident Ralph Bandino, his years in the U.S. Navy after the end of World War II were "a great adventure."

He served on famous ships like the USS Midway and USS Valley Forge. Although his service at sea started a year after the war's end, the sailing wasn't always smooth. "We had pretty bad seas," Bandino, 85, recalls. "I never once got seasick."

Heckled by Russians

Trained as a fighter pilot, Leon "Bill" Braxton, 95, found himself flying transports as the war ended. Stationed inside the Russian zone in Vienna, Austria, he flew supplies daily to the Balkan countries like Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.

As the Cold War heated up, "The Russian fighters only shot at us once or twice," the Davis Island resident recalls. "Mostly, they'd just heckle us. They'd fly as close to us as they could."

Braxton, who served first in the Army Air Corps and then the U.S. Air Force, retired in 1959 as a Lieutenant Colonel. He has written four nonfiction books on his World War II experiences and is working on his fifth.

Donald Duck and Jitterbugging

Martin Abrams, 88, considers himself a lucky guy. Not only did he win a pass to London during World War II by doing the best Donald Duck impersonation in his unit, but he kept his feet. While serving in Belgium during the Battle of the Bulge, Abrams' toes and feet became frozen from the bitter, wet winter. "The Army boots were the worst," he says.

Medics took him out on a stretcher, first to a house in France, then to London. After he recovered, the Palm Harbor resident entered and won a jitterbugging contest.

He finished his Army service in Paris, as a clerk typist. "A pack of cigarettes, a chocolate bar and a bar of soap were all I needed for a week's rent."

Tea and pitchforks

As a radio operator on a B-17 "Flying Fortress" over Germany, Eddie Deerfield was required to fly 30 missions. He had to bail out on his 14th mission and was wounded on his 30th and last combat flight.

The dangers weren't just from enemy fighters and flak (anti-aircraft artillery). They flew at 18,000 to 25,000 feet, up where temperatures were 40 to 50 degrees below zero.

There was also the danger of overzealous English farmers. When Deerfield of Palm Harbor safely parachuted to earth on his second bailout, he looked up to see a farmer probing his chest with a pitchfork, thinking he was a German pilot.

"I began to talk to him with my American accent, so he could see I was not German," Deerfield, 90, remembers. It worked. The farmer and his family then fed Deerfield tea and cookies until a ride came to take him back to base.

'Vive America!'

After spending the night in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Floyd H. Davis, an Army private, marched with thousands of other GIs through the city of Paris to celebrate its liberation in 1944, even while Free French soldiers "were still sniping at German snipers."

Parisians cheered them the whole way. "French girls were there with their wine. They were shouting, 'Vive America!'

"It was just a thrilling experience to be a part of that at age 18," Davis, now 89, recalls.

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer living in Seminole. You can reach him at travelword@aol.com.

Area WWII veterans tell their war stories 05/18/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 26, 2014 2:21pm]
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