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WW II Vet Says 'War is Hell,' But Sometimes Necessary

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 30, 2004 – "Any person who says they wasn't scared in combat, they're a liar!" exclaimed World War II veteran Fred Garrison of Harford County, Md. "I was so scared one time I think smoked a pack of cigarettes in five minutes. I thought I was going to die, but I made it."

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Decked out in his World War II Army uniform, former artilleryman Fred Garrison, 81, of Harford County, Md., snapped to attention and saluted at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial. Photo by Rudi Williams

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Now a pipe smoker, Garrison was decked out in his World War II uniform on the National Mall where the largest gathering of World War II veterans since 1945 mustered for the dedication of a memorial in their honor May 29.

The Mall was awash in patriotism, and tens of thousands of spectators and proud veterans like Garrison, who spent most of his war time with the 551st Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion, keeping all eyes peeled for the German air force. "My job was to shoot down the Luftwaffe," he said, proudly recalling his role in the war.

As a cool breeze flowed through the Mall, Garrison said the memorial that was built to honor the spirit and sacrifice of America's involvement in World War II "means something wonderful."

"Not only to me," he added, "but to all the soldiers, especially the American soldiers, who fought in World War II -- and we won! Of course we had a lot of other people on our side the Canadian, Mexicans, British and a lot more."

The former artilleryman said he "didn't feel slighted one bit" when the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korean War Memorial were built, but nothing had been done to honor World War II veterans' contributions to the freedoms Americans enjoy today.

"But I feel honored now that the government has done this for us," Garrison said. "This makes us special. If it wasn't for people like me, they wouldn't have been fighting those wars in Korean and Vietnam.

"War is hell, but I know the politicians are doing the best they can to avoid it," he said. "But what are you going to do? You don't want to be pushed around. You don't want terrorists coming over here blowing our buildings up. We've got to get them. If it takes war to do it, we must do it period. Whatever the cost!"

Noting that he was 19 years old when he went to war and 24 when he got out of the Army, Garrison said he wanted to go back to work for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company. He worked for that company before joining the Army.

"I was only with them for about five months before I went in the Army, but I learned how to climb poles and knew about field telephones," he said. "So when I went in the service, they put me in the Signal Corps. That's how I got my sergeant's stripes."

Garrison said he decided he didn't want to be a Signal Corps sergeant because he wanted to go into Army Air Forces. "Well, I went in the Air Force and they put me out," he said, though he didn't say why. "They took my stripes away, too! So I went in antiaircraft because I knew about airplanes, and I went through the rest of the war in antiaircraft."

He said American GIs drank a lot champagne in Europe when victory was won. "The French loved us in those days!" he said with a chuckle.

Though "The Greatest Generation" always is described as "aging," Garrison doesn't see himself that way at all. But he is well aware that the world is losing about 1,100 of his comrades in arms every day. "I'm 81 years young thank God I'm still alive!" he said.

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Related Sites:
National World War II Memorial

Related Articles:
Bush Salutes World War II Veterans At Memorial Dedication
Bush Honors Nation's War Dead in Radio Address
Inspiring Words Grace World War II Memorial Walls
WWII Memorial Sculpture Panels Depict Military, Civilian Contributions

Click photo for screen-resolution imageWorld War II veteran Fred Garrison, 81, said if it weren't for people like him, the United States wouldn't have survived to fight the Korean and Vietnam wars. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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