"That's the funny thing about a man dying," said Anthony Cherry. "You always remember their last breath.
"They go, huuuuuugh," he said, sucking in air and flaring his eyes open. Then he shoves the last breath out of his lungs with a huff, dropping his head to the side.
So Hollywood was right.
But it wasn't a movie set Cherry crawled across in the frozen winter of 1944. The deaths he saw, hundreds or maybe thousands of them, plenty at his own hand, were real.
He went to war when the draft nabbed him at 22.
"Anybody that volunteered was nuts," said Cherry, now 89.
Starting three years, one month and seven days of service, he joined the 94th Infantry Division, which, as part of Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, became known as "Patton's Golden Acorn."
was no easing into war for the 94th.
The division went to the Lorient and St. Nazaire sectors in September 1944, to contain some 60,000 Germans in those submarine ports, according to the National Archives and Records Administration. They were replacing the U.S. 6th Armored Division, which had suffered heavy losses.
Cherry worked as a machine gun section sergeant, or "the worst job in the Army," as he put it.
"You have to set up your positions," he said. "And there are 30 men depending on you getting the right placement. Even one man is a big responsibility."
Cherry was part of the heavy artillery Company M in the 376th infantry.
"You don't hear much about them," he said. "But that was probably the best division in Europe."
"To me, you had heroes that were unsung out there," said Cherry.
He credits displaced persons, working in camp ammunition factories, for saving lives by damaging German ammunition.
|Anthony Cherry fought with Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army, 94th Infantry Division, in Europe during World War II.||"I had an 88(mm shell) hit within five feet of me, but it didn't explode," he said. "They sabotaged the shells. That's a real hero."|
"You hear 'Patton, Patton, Patton.' You never hear '94th, 94th, 94th,'" he said. "His guts and my blood."
Plenty of his buddies' blood splashed the snow of the Ardennes Offensive, otherwise known as the Battle of the Bulge.
They were supposed to get parkas to battle in the 20-below-zero weather, but they got frostbite instead while fighting the deadliest battle in WWII.
At one point they were cut off in a farm area for three days when rations ran out. Hunkered down with hungry soldiers, Cherry ran up to the farm attics, and found hams and sausages smoking in the attic. He beat the ham to break it apart and fed the troops.
The trail of the 94th went to Saar-Moselle Triangle in 1945. That January they captured Tettington and Butzdorf, then Nennig, Wies and Berg.
They crossed the Saar River under a smokescreen in little boats that had machine gun holes in them.
"Then it was battle, push, battle, push until the triangle was taken," he said.
On the way to Ludwigshaven, "We must have destroyed 100 pillboxes," said Cherry.
It was at the Saar-Mosel triangle that Cherry ran into Germans from an army desperate for men. From 500 yards, a soldier can't tell if he's aiming at a man or a child. Sometimes it wasn't be until he was standing over the body that Cherry realized he'd taken aim at a boy of 13 or 14.
Sometimes the enemy was too close, like when he jumped face-to-face with a German at Ludwigshaven.
"I looked at him, bounced back and fired three shots," he said.
He searched the soldier and took a souvenir Luger.
He pulled his trigger many times during his service.
"I heard this command often: 'I want you to take this prisoner and be back in five seconds,'" he said.
Trekking across Europe, the 94th used shells to announce their approach to towns along the way. Troops arrived at ghoulish scenes.
"A lot of times you'd walk into homes with tables full of food and people sitting around them, all dead," said Cherry. "So we'd push them out of their chairs and eat their dinner."
Cherry became a war businessman, trading cartons of cigarettes for kilos of cabbage and potatoes. He got himself a Calthorpe 250cc motorcycle.
"That was liberated," he said.
And, as in most war stories, there were good times.
"I had volunteered for kitchen duty when a shipment of Scotch came in," said Cherry. "We sure had a good time the next two or three days. As bad as it was, there sure was some fun."
Cherry's major injury happened during an attempt to capture Nenning, Germany, when a house door swung out, broke Cherry's nose and loosened his teeth. His hearing suffered the heaviest losses, and post-traumatic stress disorder followed him off the battlefield. Surviving these, he would be awarded a Victory Medal, Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantry Medal and a European Ribbon with four battle stars.
Though he suffered no physical injuries from the enemy, he was surrounded by war.
"They were all close calls. There was no such thing as a close call," he said.
He saw one soldier in a huge tank open the door just six inches. Then blood squirted out, and the weight of his body thrust the door open as it fell out of the tank to the ground.
There were tears, too. Cherry once walked into the barracks once to find a soldier crying on his rack. He said, "I sure miss my mama." Cherry put an arm around him.
Cherry's brother, Sam, was a medic in the same war. Both made it back to see their mother.
As she said to Cherry's wife, Bonita, later, "My boys were never the same. They were never the same."
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