Memories of the last great warGeorge Aden enjoys life in Solon Springs. The senior still cuts his own wood and walks to stay fit.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
George Aden enjoys life in Solon Springs. The senior still cuts his own wood and walks to stay fit.
“I’ll be 88-years-old the eighth of May and I’ve never been in debt in my life,” he said.
But the American people owe him a debt for answering his country’s call.
A draft notice propelled Aden into World War II. The Solon Springs native joined the U.S. Army at the Milwaukee induction station on Feb. 10, 1943. He was 18.
Earlier this month, Aden sat down to talk about the two years and nine months he served. He recalled Texas heat and dew-laden mornings in Ireland. He crossed the ocean, landed on the beaches of Normandy and faced heavy gunfire in northeastern France before being wounded in action and returning stateside. Later in life, he was a woodworker, living for a time in Minneapolis before returning to the town of Solon Springs.
“I can honestly say I never got bored in my lifetime,” Aden said.
His service started with basic infantry training in Mississippi. The seven months there were hot and sticky, Aden said, and made him “sweat like the Dickens.”
On Oct. 21, 1943, Aden embarked from New York for Europe with a massive convoy — two battleships, two aircraft carriers and a multitude of destroyers and cruisers.
“As far as you could see on the ocean there were ships,” Aden said.
During the 15-day crossing, the ships would zigzag every 15 minutes to avoid submarines.
In Europe, Aden trained with the 5th Infantry Division in the mountains of Northern Ireland.
“We liked the people very much,” he said. “They were good to us there.”
A little over a month after D-Day, on July 9, 1944, the division traveled 1,000 miles by boat to Normandy beach.
“We had to go through the water to get to the beach, so up over my knees,” Aden said. From there they marched to the front lines.
“We left about noon,” Aden said. “We got in there about 9 o’clock that evening.” The first artillery shell the Germans fired at them landed a quarter of a mile away from his battalion. Behind him, Aden saw fellow soldiers bunching up, something they had been told not to do.
“I wasn’t afraid of gunfire,” said the Solon Springs man, who had been hunting in the Wisconsin woods since he was 12. “The one thing I was afraid of was being taken prisoner. Freedom is gone then.”
In Normandy, Aden’s company advanced into an area only to find their communications had been cut. For two days, they were alone.
“They had us surrounded there, a whole company of us, and I could see it on the guys’ faces and in their eyes how scared they were,” Aden said. “A person can get awfully hungry in two days.”
The company managed to rejoin the battalion, and Aden recalled the battle to break out of Normandy. The 40-mile front was lined with guns.
“When they fired all those guns at one time, it started in the morning, ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom,’” he said. “There was branches flying through the air and halves of tents in the … trees, all those explosions.”
Aden took part in armored patrols behind enemy lines, sitting on top of tanks to keep up with the vehicles. Then the 5th Infantry Division joined the “race across France” to keep the German troops stationed on the coast from getting back to Germany.
In Northeastern France, Aden’s company faced heavy resistance. Sniper fire was especially dangerous.
“The guys were going down like tenpins sometimes,” Aden said. “There were at least six, seven went down in less than an hour.
“I was out in the open quite a bit. I could feel the bullets sometimes going by me, they were hot.”
Aden said he stayed on the move whenever he was out in the open, moving every time he counted to three.
“You could get hit, too, but it was a lot safer than standing still,” Aden said. A slit trench he dug was also key to keeping out of snipers’ sights.
The Solon Springs man was injured in a nighttime attack by German forces on Sept. 11, 1944.
“It was so dark and you couldn’t see your own hand in front of your face,” Aden said. “They must have fired their machine guns at least 10,000 shells in that area.” He was shot in the upper part of his right leg. Doctors managed to get gangrene out of the wound and sew it up.
“They saved the leg,” Aden said. But that signaled the end of his overseas service. After months in European hospitals and a bout with hepatitis that whittled him down to 105 pounds, he boarded a hospital ship for the states.
“We landed at Charleston, S.C. on the 28th, yeah the 28th of February,” he said. “Were we ever glad to get there, too.”
After hospitalization and rehabilitation, Aden served stateside. He nearly melted away in the Texas heat, then nearly froze to death in Wyoming before finishing his service in California. He received his honorable discharge on Nov. 23, 1945, and traveled back to Solon Springs.
“It was just nice to be home,” Aden said.
Despite his injury, the Solon Springs man is spry, but careful about how much weight he puts on his injured leg. Aden talked about shoveling out his driveway by hand after the Halloween blizzard of 1991 and splitting his own firewood. He didn’t like the idea of the government spending so much money on wars and talked about the need for better services for veterans, particularly medical facilities and travel.
“I’d like to see them taking care of veterans closer to home,” Aden said.
He earned the WWII Victory Medal, Purple Heart, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and American Campaign Medal for his service.
“I can’t find my purple heart; I don’t know where it is,” Aden said. He was contacted about receiving a French Liberation Medal, as well, but didn’t want to travel to Eau Claire to pick it up.
Members of the public are honoring veterans like Aden, who served when their country called, by offering free trips to Washington, D.C. to see the WWII memorial and other D.C. landmarks. The next Honor Flight Northland is scheduled to depart on May 15. Two additional flights are scheduled for this year on Sept. 25 and Oct. 9.
Aden said he probably won’t sign up for a flight due to health issues.
“I’ve got my name already on that memorial in Washington, D.C.,” he said, and has plans to be buried in the Spooner Veteran’s Cemetery.
For more information on Honor Flight Northland, visit http://honorflightnorthland.org