Volume 12, Issue 22 ~ May 27- June 2, 2004
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Memorial Day Memories
As a young soldier, skill, ingenuity and daring made hell bearable for Zane King
by Thomas G. Ratliff

On Memorial Day 2004, the National World War II Memorial officially joins the parade of monuments on the Mall in Washington, D.C. A greater treasure, as some 2,000 World War II veterans die each day, are the living memories of the survivors …

“I live close enough to see the place where I was born and raised,” 78-year-old Zane King told me over the long, mild Florida winter. The middle child of five, King was born January 6, 1926, in Chesapeake Beach, raised there and lived all of his life there — except for his war service in the 1940s and winters nowadays in Florida. He lives now in the house he built 54 years ago.

Zane King and Mary Lucille, his wife of 58 years, spent the winter of 2004 just across the street from us in an RV park in Florida. At first we waved and spoke, but as time passed we began to have conversations. We talked about the weather, where we were from, our families, our lives and our work.

When it came out that I had published a book about my father’s time in World War II, Zane began to speak of his own experiences in that great war.

Zane was 17 when he volunteered for Army duty in July of 1944. “Son, war is hell,” said his father, a World War I veteran, upon learning that his son had enlisted to fight in the Second World War.

“War is hell,” Zane King agreed nearly 60 years later.

“I saw horrible things. Bodies were everywhere, buildings were destroyed, artillery would tear up the trees, debris was everywhere.

“My father was right.”

Many World War II veterans are reluctant to talk about the horrifying times, sounds and sights that had disrupted their young lives. But Zane agreed to talk, so I got my out notebook …

Zane spent six weeks in basic training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. He shipped out of Boston harbor early in September of 1944, on a Liberty Ship built by the Kaiser Corporation. He crossed the Atlantic in a 100-ship convoy. It took 21 days to make the crossing because they set a zigzag course to decrease their risk of being targeted by a submarine.

“Being raised around the water all of my life,” King remembered, “I could read from the stern of the ship the trail in the water when it would make a turn in its zigzag pattern.”

The convoy reached Le Havre, France, at the end of September, 1944.

King fought in Belgium and into Germany as a “foot soldier carrying a Browning rifle.”

He fought under Gen. Courtney H. Hodges with the 1st Army, 2nd Infantry, 109th Regiment, Company L. To the best of his recollection, he thinks he was in the 3rd Platoon. “I didn’t pay much attention to where I was,” he said. “I was just trying to stay alive.”

Perhaps for that reason, King seemed enamored of the ability of World War II fighter pilots. “We had some really good pilots,” he said, describing how they would come in low, headed straight for a target, and at the last second roll their plane up on its side as they made a sharp turn, releasing their bombs at just the precise second to deliver them right on the target.

Skill, ingenuity and daring made hell bearable to the young soldier. “Just after crossing into Germany, and backed up to the Siegfried line as we were heading for Aachen, the Germans opened the steel door of a concrete bunker and rolled out an 88 cannon and began firing,” he recounted. When the Germans quit firing, they rolled the cannon back inside the bunker and closed the steel door.

“When they did that, U.S. troops ran up with a welder and welded the door shut. Nothing or nobody could get out,” he said.

King’s company fought through Aachen. Just outside of Aachen in the Huertgen Forest, he was wounded in the abdomen. He was evacuated to a hospital in Liege, Belgium, for treatment and time to heal.

“Once I was healed up, I was sent back to my outfit. I caught up with them at the Rhine River, just after the Battle of the Bulge. We had the Germans on the run and were advancing quickly. Three days after joining my outfit, I was wounded again.

“I didn’t realize I was hit until I felt the blood running down into my shoe,” King said. “A field medic sewed it up, and I stayed with my outfit. We were pushing the Germans back, and things were moving quickly.”

Zane carries a scar on the front of his lower right leg just below the knee where that long-ago field medic worked his magic.

A few days before the war ended, King’s outfit captured a complete German tank division in Czechoslovakia. The division was out of fuel, ammunition and supplies, so they just gave up. He had moved to Plzen, Czechoslovakia, when word came that the war had ended.

By then, King had earned a Purple Heart and promotion to buck sergeant. “They would make you and break you in a day’s time,” he said about his promotion. He got the Purple Heart for his “stomach wound.”

Zane King may or may not go to Washington for the dedication ceremony of the National World War II Memorial on May 29. It may not be too little, but it’s too late. Said King: “That memorial should have been built 50 years ago.”

About the Author
Thomas G. Ratliff of Carlisle, Ohio, wrote I Can Hear The Guns Now to preserve letters his father, Ova W. Ratliff, sent home during his eight and a half months in World War II. Ova Ratliff was reported missing in action in Germany’s Huertgen Forest on November 14, 1944. Find more about his book at www.icanhearthegunsnow.com.

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