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World War II veteran reflects as 98th birthday nears

Ray Brown, who will turn 98 on July 30, holds photos of himself throughout various stages of life as he sits comfortably in his home in south Parkersburg. (Photo by Jenna Pierson)

PARKERSBURG — At the age of 18, Parkersburg native Ray Brown was drafted into military service for World War II in March of 1944.

“I grew up with a bunch of kids (in South Parkersburg),” Brown said. “And three of us went to the Army together in the same outfit. And two of us came back.”

As Brown prepares to celebrate his 98th birthday on July 30, he recently reflected on his time in Europe fighting in major military conflicts including the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

Brown initially served in the 17th Airborne Division, 193rd Glider Infantry, 1st Battalion Company A. After graduating from Parkersburg High School in February 1944, he was quickly pushed through basic and maneuver training for his position and shipped to Europe towards the end of 1944.

“And in fact, the matter is we thought our old division was calling to be shipped to the South Pacific,” Brown said, recalling his surprise. “On account of the Germans it was about over with we thought. And then they made the breakthrough of the Bulge.”

With a map showing his path of journey during World War II in hand, Ray Brown describes his time throughout Europe as an American infantryman. (Photo by Jenna Pierson)

The Battle of the Bulge was an offensive campaign launched by the Germans towards the end of World War II that was fought in forested regions between Belgium and Luxembourg. It was the largest battle fought during the war, and American forces were the leaders in casualties.

“They trucked us into the front lines,” Brown said as he recounted wearing white sheets alongside his fellow battalion members to blend into the heavy snow. “And we went into Bastogne, [France, a municipality of Belgium.]”

From there, Brown’s battalion company would fight, many sacrificing their lives for freedom.

“We didn’t have time for nothing; there was just our rifles and the 60-millimeter mortar and a 30-caliber machine gun, that’s all we had against the Germans,” Brown said. “And their artillery, they blasted us …. We got back down. We got into a house. And there were 47 of us out of 150 plus.”

After the Battle of the Bulge, Brown was hospitalized in France for 54 days to treat severe frostbite of his feet. This earned him a Purple Heart.

After his release, what was left of his company was merged into Battalion Company B, and Brown went on to invade Germany from the air on March 24, 1945.

“There were more planes in the air than there were on Normandy,” Brown said of that day, when two gliders and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain touched down. “When the gliders landed, we were scattered.”

The gliders were steel rods covered in canvas with no motors or controls.

“We landed in an orchard, and it took off both wings,” Brown said. “We had a load of ammunition tied down in the middle of the glider, and there were 15 of us in the glider.”

Brown would remain in Germany until the end of World War II.

“We thought we were going to the South Pacific,” Brown said. “They put us on a ship … the captain came on [announcing] and said hear this, hear this, hear this, Japan has surrendered and I’m going to Boston.”

Brown went on to receive a 30-day furlough and came home for Labor Day of 1945 to be reunited with family and friends. His furlough was extended multiple times, and he was officially discharged from the service on Nov. 11, 1945, as a private first class after returning for a short period of time to Fort Meade in Maryland.

“I walked out of the chapel with my discharge in my hand, my little receipt,” Brown said.

He proceeded to hurry to Union Station in Washington D.C. to catch a last-minute train back to Parkersburg.

“The conductor of that train was moving, and he said, ‘Come on, You can make it,'” Brown said. “I ran down through there, I took ahold of the train, and he took my bag and me and pulled me up on there.”

Brown came back to Parkersburg and married a woman by the name of Loraine, who he had met in high school but told he was going off to the war and did not want her to wait on him because he hadn’t been sure if he would make it back.

While he was in France, he was in the northeast region of Lorraine and had purchased a handkerchief that reminded him of his Loraine back home. He would later give it to her. They were married on Dec. 30, 1945.

“It (marriage) was the most important thing in my life, the best thing that ever happened to me,” Brown said. “We were married 55 years. We had three children, and we never had a fight.”

Brown would go on to work for Sears for nearly 40 years, Peoples Bank for over 10 years and finally Carl’s Pawn Shop, which was owned by his daughter Diane’s husband.

Brown went on to be decorated with other awards for his service, such as the Middle Eastern Service Ribbon with three bronze stars, a World War II victory ribbon and an African Theater World War II Victory Ribbon.

Jenna Pierson can be reached at jpierson@newsandsentinel.com

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