Remembering, honoring our veterans

 - Cynthia Woolbright
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Working hard has always been a part of Texas native Gene Seals' life.

Seals, 83, is now a Clinton resident. But in 1943 he was busy as a volunteer at one of the nation's many Civilian Conservation Corps camps when he decided to join the Army.

"I figured I was going to get drafted anyway, so I might as well beat them to it," he said.

Immediately after boot camp, a 21-year-old Seals was shipped to England with the rest of the Army's 75th Infantry Division. They spent two months in the Allied Forces' training grounds, stocking up on supplies and preparing to enter a still-growing war.

Seals and his unit joined the battle in November 1943.

But Seals spent only a month fighting the Nazis.

He was shot Christmas morning, during one of the war's most famous campaigns -- the Battle of the Bulge.

"Almost everyone I knew got shot or hurt somehow. That is, if they were lucky enough to get out of it," he said.

Seals remained in the hospital for rehabilitation until May 8, 1944. He emerged just in time to be a guard at Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp in southern Germany that had been liberated by the Allies.

"It was terrible, the things that had gone on there," Seals said. "I tried to understand how people could be so mean, but I still can't."

After the war, Spc. Seals returned home. He tried the civilian life, but found it hard to get a job in post-war America, especially with the disability from his war injuries.

He went back into the Army and into another war. He spent 13 months in Korea serving under General Douglas MacArthur.

"I feel awful lucky to go through two wars and still be walking and talking, when thousands and thousands never came back," Seals said.

Seals retired from the military Nov. 1, 1964 as a first sergeant. He spent 18 years working for Island County before his second retirement.

Despite the war wounds, two Purple Hearts, a double combat infantry badge with a star, two Bronze Stars and a presidential unit citation -- Seals remains modest about his service.

"I did it because that was the thing to do and I think everybody should serve if they have a chance," Seals said. "It teaches you to obey orders and stay out of trouble."

Seals and his wife, Margaret, have two children and three grandchildren. They've been married since Dec. 27, 1947. ???

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