In 2002, World War II veterans were dying at the startling rate of over 1,100 per day. Veterans are the living connection to our country’s wartime history and, as they pass away, so do their stories. This episode celebrated the 58th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 2002) by looking back on the honor, bravery and patriotism of these veterans.
Bill Moyers’ 1990 documentary, FROM D-DAY TO THE RHINE (watch video), brought eight World War II veterans back to Europe to speak about their wartime experiences, some of them unlocking memories they had been keeping inside for nearly 50 years. Featuring excerpts of this historic documentary, this NOW episode brought four of these eight veterans to Texas to talk with Bill about their memories, values and commitment to America.
You can access the original Web page for this program at the archived Now With Bill Moyers website.
NARRATOR: You’re watching NOW with Bill Moyers. With contributions from NPR news. This week on NOW: A new generation asks old warriors about courage. “What inspired to you keep pressing forward when you were in the heart of battle instead of just running back or hiding?”
BILL MOYERS: The veterans of D-Day remember what it was like under fire.
HOWARD RANDALL: Frankly, I thought I might be a coward, and that really worried me.
BILL MOYERS: And 58 years later they haven’t forgotten their buddies who didn’t come home.
PAUL MARABLE: I think about the ultimate sacrifice, not those who survived it, but those that didn’t.
BILL MOYERS: D-Day Reunion, a special edition of NOW. Welcome to NOW — or I should say, tonight welcome to “NOW and THEN.” We’re looking back tonight, 58 years to June 6, 1944, when the Allies landed on the Normandy beaches — D-Day. I was just a boy then. I turned ten the very night before the invasion, and every afternoon I would race home from school to read the battle reports in the Marshall News Messenger. In the early evening, I would sit with my parents by our console radio and listen to CBS News; Murrow’s boys tell us what they could of what we could only imagine. You could walk the length of East Austin Street to the sound of those voices coming from radios in every living room. It’s as if all of us — young and old — understood the stakes; knew our world was up for grabs. I suppose that’s why, every year at this time, I remember D-Day as if it were yesterday. It’s also good from time to time to be reminded that patriotism doesn’t come cheaply. Those young men were asked not to define patriotism, or talk about it, but to act on it. They are not so young anymore, and their numbers are dwindling. Some 35,000 veterans of World War II die every month. That’s why we wanted to share with you the experience I had 13 years ago. Filmmaker David Grubin and I accompanied some of the soldiers of D-Day back to Normandy, where, hardly out of their teens, they took on Hitler’s divisions. We produced a film about that trip called D-Day to the Rhine, and tonight we’ve prepared an excerpt from it as our way of remembering D-Day. You’ll see the excerpt in a few minutes, but first I want you to meet some of those old soldiers. We brought them together recently for the first time since the filming in 1989. We brought them together deep in the heart of Texas. That’s right. They’re all from the Lone Star State, my home state; so this reunion was also a homecoming.
MAX LALE: I volunteered in August of 1940. I guess I was 24.
PAUL MARABLE: I went into War II, volunteered for service at age 20, right out of the University of Texas.
HOWARD RANDALL: Let’s see, I was 22 when I got in the Army.
JOSE LOPEZ’S ELDEST GRANDDAUGHTER: How old were you when you got that?
JOSE LOPEZ: About 27.
BILL MOYERS: These men are our fathers, our grandfathers, our neighbors next door. But each day over 1100 World War II veterans die and with them go their stories.
STUDENT: What were your thoughts on the enemy while you were fighting, and what are you thoughts on them today?
PAUL MARABLE: I have never known a veteran who hated the Germans. There was a job to be done, you knew the enemy by the uniforms. In fact they were shooting at you.
HOWARD RANDALL: This is what the lieutenant wore after he came back from service. When he went over, he didn’t have any decorations at all.
MAX LALE: We have lived an experience that is unavailable to anybody who’s not there.
HOWARD RANDALL: These were dramatic and violent moments that I — I’ll never forget.
PAUL MARABLE: I think of that ultimate sacrifice, not those of us who have survived it, but those that didn’t.
JOSE LOPEZ: Right there, where the cow is.
D-Day, June 6th, 1944. It was the greatest sea invasion ever. “Under the command of General Eisenhower,” the official radio message read, “Allied naval forces, supported by strong air forces, began landing Allied armies this morning on the northern coast of France.” At dawn, as the allied forces hit the beaches the Germans were waiting. On one strip of sand, 2,500 Americans fell that first day. We remember it as the Battle for Omaha Beach.
JOSE LOPEZ: I was really very, very afraid. That I want to scream. I want to cry and we see other people was laying wounded and screaming and everything and it’s nothing you could do. We could see them groaning in the water and we just keep walkin’.
BILL MOYERS: How old were you?
JOSE LOPEZ: I was 30 — 30 years old.
BILL MOYERS: Weren’t you too old to be here?
JOSE LOPEZ: Almost. I didn’t feel too old in those days, because I knew we had to do something.
BILL MOYERS: Did you have to lie about your age to get in?
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah, I did.
BILL MOYERS: You lied about your age?
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: You told them you were younger than you were?
JOSE LOPEZ: Two years younger.
BILL MOYERS: Why did you do that?
JOSE LOPEZ: Because I wanted to join the paratroopers.
BILL MOYERS: Why?
JOSE LOPEZ: So we can hit the enemy — so we could meet the enemy as soon as possible and get this thing over.
BILL MOYERS: Get this thing over?
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: You had two children at home. You had a two year-old and a —
JOSE LOPEZ: It’s the reason that they didn’t take me in the airborne. They found out I was married and had two kids, so they said, “Don’t worry.” They put me right in the infantry.
BILL MOYERS: Uh huh. They wouldn’t put you in the airborne because it was too dangerous. So they put you on Omaha Beach!
JOSE LOPEZ: Right.
BILL MOYERS: It was here on Omaha Beach that Jose Lopez, now 79 years old, from San Antonio, Texas, saw his first action. He fought his way across Europe with a water-cooled machine gun, rising to the rank of sergeant. It was on a field in Belgium where he received his nation’s highest honor for gallantry in action, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
BILL MOYERS: Do you remember the first day somebody shot at you?
PAUL MARABLE: Yes, day one. Oh, sure. It was day one and I thought they was shooting particularly at me.
BILL MOYERS: With your name on it. Paul Marable lives in Waco, Texas. He landed at Utah Beach as a second lieutenant with the 90th Infantry Division.
PAUL MARABLE: The first absurdity of the whole war for me occurred right here on this beach. While I was out here counting our people in from our battalion, our artillery battalion, a fella came up behind me and while I was busy making my notes, he said, “You know how I could get back to England?” And I thought, “Well, a lot of people would like to do that!” And I turned around and this was an air corps, an Army Air Corps pilot, as we called-it — Army Air Corps — in those days, and he was in his dress uniform.
BILL MOYERS: Out here?
PAUL MARABLE: Green blouse, as we called it, the tunic and ice cream, or pink pants and low quarter highly polished shoes. And so I just had to ask him, “What in the world are you doing out here like that?” He had known that he would have only one mission to fly that day, because he had been flying missions apparently fairly continually and this — he was told this would be it. And so he had a heavy date in England and he thought he’d just outfit himself for the day, put on some coveralls, fly his mission, get back, rip off his coveralls and go on his date. There he was in class A uniform. His plane had been hit and he had to bail out. He’d come down in a parachute and there he was, all ready for his date.
BILL MOYERS: Wonder if he got back?
PAUL MARABLE: Oh, I directed him to one of the landing craft that was then being used to evacuate wounded. They were just loaded up with stretchers of wounded. So I suppose he did, yeah.
HOWARD RANDALL: The trouble with Patton was he didn’t really want us in foxholes much; he wanted us to just keep goin’ and goin’ until you either captured it, got wounded, or you were killed. And, of course, Patton, he said, “When you’re wounded, you don’t just give up. You keep shooting!” And he meant it! If you were conscious, you shot until somebody came and put you out of your misery. And, of course, he was brutal in some respects. He was about the only general that said, “We’re here to kill these guys and kill ’em as fast as we can and no messing around!”
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: The Battle of the Hedgerows is on again! This is the beginning of the drive that chased the enemy out of the entire Cotentin Peninsula and placed the Yanks on the Brittany border.
The Norman hedgerows, ancient thick walls of vegetation and dirt. Concealed behind them, the enemy put up fierce resistance at close range. Many a soldier lost his life on a field surrounded by hedgerows.
BILL MOYERS: This is it?
PAUL MARABLE: This is the hill. I wound up at the crest of the hill overlooking the roadway helping a sergeant with a machine gun, and that’s where I was when we had our big trouble.
BILL MOYERS: Big trouble?
PAUL MARABLE: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: What was the big trouble?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, a tank came around from that side of the hill right on the roadway, blasted the Jeep of our artillery liaison officer and the —
BILL MOYERS: Where was the tank?
PAUL MARABLE: It came around from that side and parked right there under our position to where I can still hear the gears in that turret turning and they elevated that gun and shot right into the face of this cliff. The front of the L trench jumped at us, but the sergeant, he got to his feet, with his rifle and starting shooting down on the tank. I don’t know whether he was trying to shoot into the muzzle. I have never known, but we took a second round, which killed him, and I scrambled back out of that place and dropped into a little hole, oh, 10 or 15 yards on back on the hill.
BILL MOYERS: And?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, that’s where I was when I don’t know how much later I was not hearing.
BILL MOYERS: Were you unconscious or just stunned?
PAUL MARABLE: I think I drifted in and out, because more time passed when I finally looked at my watch than I had realized, and — but I was stunned, yes. And then I felt this poking on the back side of my left shoulder. And I thought it was, one of our people, of course. I turned around and, instead, it was a German soldier with what we called a “burp gun,” a Schmeiser, I believe, is the correct name for a machine pistol. And he let me know that I’m supposed to come out.
BILL MOYERS: What’d he say?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, the best I could hear him — he was speaking English. at that point — he said, “For you, the war is over.” Yes, he said that directly to me.
BILL MOYERS: “For you, the war is over”?
PAUL MARABLE: Yeah. Bad feeling.
BILL MOYERS: He could have killed you, couldn’t he? Could have shot you?
PAUL MARABLE: Oh, very easily. And I’ve often told myself that probably had I been in his spot and he in mine, I probably would have done away with him.
BILL MOYERS: Today’s your birthday. How old are you today?
PAUL MARABLE: Sixty-eight.
BILL MOYERS: Do you sometimes realize you’re lucky to be
PAUL MARABLE: Oh-ho! Oh, yes! I — every day since that German didn’t just take care of me where I was, I’ve thought I’ve lived on borrowed time. Absolutely. Yeah. And that’s been a blessing in many, many ways. I have thought that, because of that, I’ve been able, a little bit better than most maybe who haven’t gone through that, to decide what’s really important. I don’t get disturbed easily at little frets. And then I feel that I owe some things, too.
BILL MOYERS: To who?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, the good Lord and the people around me.
BILL MOYERS: Family? Is there a part of your experience that you just couldn’t share with your family?
PAUL MARABLE: Yes.
BILL MOYERS: Do you just not talk about it?
PAUL MARABLE: No.
BILL MOYERS: The German cemetery near Pointe du Hoc. Here, in rows of five, lie the bodies of German soldiers killed in the Battle for Normandy.
BILL MOYERS: Did you hate the Germans, the German soldiers?
MAX LALE: I came to look upon the Germans really not as men, but as machines. They were as intent on killing me as I was them, and we had a mission. You do it. Or do the best you can to do it.
BILL MOYERS: Did firing those shells at soldiers like these bother you then, or now?
MAX LALE: Not then, not now.
BILL MOYERS: Have any curiosity about that 18 year-old?
MAX LALE: No. He was a faceless machine as far as I was concerned.
BILL MOYERS: The Allied armies raced through Paris and across the French countryside toward Germany, pushing the enemy back toward the Rhine with extraordinary speed.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: In many a village, town and city in France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, people cheered their liberators and then paused to say a prayer of gratitude. At a road junction near the town of Malmedy the SS Troopers herded unarmed American prisoners into a field and mowed them down with machine gun fire. In the American lines, word of the massacre soon spread to a vengeful GI.
MAX LALE: It’s reasonable to expect that if you surrender you’re not subject to being killed. But these men had no choice in the matter. We were captives and the Germans used rifles and handguns and just killed them in cold blood. It just wasn’t fair.
PAUL MARABLE: My case was a little different. I — mine was a one-on-one thing. As you say, you’re not in a very dignified situation, but I know one thing I’ve wondered since. I work. in a financial institution and I’ve always thought if somebody came in to rob it and should point a pistol at me, I wonder if I wouldn’t fly apart and do something really foolish because I never again want anybody to point a gun at me, which happened frequently when you’re a prisoner of war. You’ve got somebody pointing a gun at you, and that is a — and that is a bad feeling. You —
AL BUSSELL: Pretty humiliating experience.
PAUL MARABLE: Yeah, it is. Absolutely. Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: With his armies in retreat, Hitler made one last desperate gamble to split the Allies on the Western Front. The Battle of the Bulge would become the largest pitched battle ever fought by an American army. The German counterattack had caught the Allies completely off guard. For weeks, the fighting was confused and desperate.
BILL MOYERS: Now this, the woods came right out to here. Those woods in those days came right out to here.
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah. Yeah, it was trees in here.
BILL MOYERS: Trees.
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah. But right there, where the cow is, I don’t have nothin’ ahead of me.
BILL MOYERS: You can see right back there?
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah, it was — that was the best spot I picked out.
BILL MOYERS: And the Germans came from?
JOSE LOPEZ: They was coming that direction. That way, right there.
BILL MOYERS: This is the citation you got when you received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Let me read what it says and see if it brings back some of the memories. “On his own initiative, Lopez carried his heavy machine gun from Company K’s right flank to its left in order to protect that flank, which was in danger of being overrun by advancing enemy infantry supported by tanks…”
JOSE LOPEZ: Right.
BILL MOYERS: “…occupying a shallow hole, offering no protection above his waist, he cut down a group of 10 Germans. Ignoring enemy fire from the advancing tank, he held his position and cut down 25 more enemy infantry attempting to turn his flank. Glancing to his right, he saw a large number of infantry swarming in from the front. Blown over backward by the concussion of enemy fire…” — where did that happen?
JOSE LOPEZ: That was in the same area, right here.
BILL MOYERS: “…Lopez immediately re-set his gun and continued his fire.. Single-handed, he held off the German hoard until he was satisfied his company had effected its retirement. Again he loaded his gun on his back and, in a hail of small arms fire, he ran to a point where a few of his comrades were attempting to set up another defense against the onrushing enemy. He fired from this position until his ammunition was exhausted. Still carrying his gun, he fell back with his small group to Krinkelt,” the village back there. “Sergeant Lopez’ gallantry, on seemingly suicidal missions in which he killed at least 100 of the enemy, for almost solely responsible for allowing Company K to avoid being enveloped and to withdraw successfully and to give other forces coming up in support time to build a line which repelled the enemy drive.”
JOSE LOPEZ: All I remember is “no more rounds” and just carried my gun and I just walked and I could — whistle away from the bullets behind my back. Then I care less. I just want to get up there to meet my — the rest of my unit.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think of yourself as a brave man?
JOSE LOPEZ: Well, all I could say, that I believe any man would do the same thing, anybody.
BILL MOYERS: Once the German counterattack was thrown back, the Allies seemed to have the enemy beaten, but still Hitler wouldn’t quit. There was fighting all through the grim and icy winter.
HOWARD RANDALL: On January, in the snow in Luxembourg, we entered a holding position. That was the Third Army, Patton’s army, and all we did was patrol for a while in the snow. And then the night before the big attack, my company commander said, “Randall, you are designated as liaison officer between Battalion and Regiment.” This probably saved my life, since in the next four days six of my men were killed and the platoon sergeant, which would have been my same place, was wounded with white phosphorous.
BILL MOYERS: Howard Randall lives in central Texas near Austin. He served in Patton’s Third Army.
HOWARD RANDALL: I was a second lieutenant. This means you have 40 men that are dependent upon you for their lives and they treat you as their father. And here, you’re 22 years old and can’t possibly be that smart. This was my first introduction to real fear. I was given a mission to take a few men and reconnoiter a small dirt road, only about a half-mile long, and determine if it had on anti- personnel or anti-tank mines or if it had trip wires. And this was under a foot of snow and it was down right next to the river, the Sauer River, and in open country. The tree stopped about a half-a-mile upslope.
And when I got this news from the Battalion S2, the intelligence officer, I said, “But don’t we have engineers to do this kind of thing?” And he said, “We have engineers, but they aren’t doin’ this kind of thing. They’re on some other mission.” And then I said, “Don’t you have mine detectors that I can take down there?” He said, “yeah have mine detectors. They’re out on another patrol.” He said, “Lieutenant, there are five snowsuits in the corner. You take those and go.”
So I had four men and myself, and I threw the snowsuits to them and I tried to orient at them on this, thinking, “this is the worst situation I can think of” and the panic mounted in me. It was below freezing. My teeth were chattering so badly I could not orient them properly.
BILL MOYERS: You couldn’t talk, you mean?
HOWARD RANDALL: I couldn’t talk. I finally resorted to the infantry motto, which is, “follow me.” I could say those two things. And then we walked through the woods, following a road for about a half a mile and came to the end of the tree line. And then you could look out and see this completely untrammeled snow, a small rural road — you could see a depression in the snow to show where the road was, not a mark on it and it led right down to the river. And you look up — this wasn’t a moonlit night, but the snow gave enough light — you look up — 450 feet high was the escarpment which contained all the pillboxes in our zone on the Siegfried line.
BILL MOYERS: German pillboxes?
HOWARD RANDALL: Yeah. These were manned and ready to go. And I thought, “My God, when we step out on this snow we’re going to be visible, we’re going to be moving, and immediately a magnesium flare will go up, a parachute flare — and they stay up a long time — and then, naturally, you get machine gunned.” This is always the sequence. And I was so scared I really didn’t know what to do and I really didn’t know how to find these mines.
I knew this was important information because of the battalion going down these roads in a few nights carrying assault boats to hit the river. So I really gulped hard in trying to conquer this fear, told all the men to get behind the trees and I just jumped down on the road. And I didn’t blow up. And I was pretty pleased about that.
And then I just thought, “Well, I’ll just keep going.” So I walked another about 50 yards in the snow and motioned for the next guy — I’m thinking, “he probably won’t come out,” but he did and that gratified me immensely. And we all went down with this big interval between us in case of one of us set off a mine.
And, well, to make it shorter, we trampled the heck out of all that snow and got back to the tree line. And by that time we were so relieved and happy that we were throwing snowballs at each other. And when we went back to through our own outpost lines, we completely forgot to pass word and almost got shot doin’ that. And went back and reported this — that there were no mines to Battalion S2. And he said, “good information, Randall.”
And I turned to leave — I’m brushing aside the blackout blankets that hung at every CP, and he said, “hey, Randall, how did you determine there weren’t any mines on that road?” And I said, “we trampled the hell out of every square foot of snow on your goddamned road!” And that was the end.
PAUL MARABLE: A day out there on the battlefield is not the Hollywood neat hole that makes ’em fall and are quiet all of a sudden and go into a state of rest.
HOWARD RANDALL: Uh huh.
PAUL MARABLE: It’s grabbing faces and it’s screaming and it’s rolling on the ground and, I’ll tell you, you prop somebody with a throat wound up against a hedgerow and his last heartbeats will squirt blood four feet out in streams. When you see things like that and worse, you know you are being killed. You don’t think a short second about whether you should be killing them or not.
HOWARD RANDALL: If you don’t kill those guys when you can, the next day you’re going to meet ’em and they may kill ‘ you and they may kill your best buddy. So, no matter how you feel about it, it’s your duty to kill these men as fast and as many as you can.
PAUL MARABLE: I think it was Patton who said our duty is not to die for our country; it’s to make them die for theirs. And that’s what we were about.
BILL MOYERS: Standing guard on the German border were the dragon’s teeth. The Siegfried line — a network of guns, pill boxes and underground bunkers.
BILL MOYERS: When General Patton ordered your unit to attack the Germans from behind the dragon’s teeth, what happened? What did you do?
HOWARD RANDALL: We were supposed to take this little town of Welschbillig It was way down there and they just jumped up and ran like hell toward this little town at least a thousand yards down a gentle long slope. And God the mortar started landin’ on us — and I was runnin’ as fast as I could and I felt this hammer blow on my left ankle and I turned a violent cartwheel and really went up in the air and came down on my helmet and shoulder and I skidded a ways, because this ground was soft and we were goin’ downhill. And then my runner plops down beside me and I said, “look at that leg, because I don’t want to, and tell me if it’s there.” And I was really scared, because I couldn’t feel a thing. And he said, “well, it’s all right, but you got a big piece of metal stickin’ out of your ankle.” And I said, “pull it out.” And he didn’t want to. And I said, “pull it out. We’ve gotta go!”
“The mortar fire was increasing. We were going to die if we stayed there. I really didn’t know what to do. I heard the machine gun bullets and this mortar-fire and, as I say, not a tree or a bush ahead of us for hundreds and hundreds of yards and that little town down there. And here’s where I relied on the movies. I thought, “I’ve got to do something to get out of this and maybe inspire them a little bit.”
And I saw the corporal and I said, “Corporal, how is it over on the left?” And he came back into sight and said, “It’s lousy over here. Bullets comin’ in and breakin’ the clouds.” And I said, “Sergeant, how is it over to the right of this rise?” He came back in a little while and said, “We aren’t goin’ that way.” And I said, “We’re going straight over the top and you guys go first” and I meant it, because I didn’t know they’d follow me if I went first. These guys weren’t in my platoon. So they went, by God. They jumped up and ran like hell and I jumped up third man and pretty soon we got this whole mess goin’ again.
BILL MOYERS: You were hit? You had fragments in your ankle?
HOWARD RANDALL: Yeah, the ankle was pretty badly hit. I couldn’t feel a thing with my leg and I was kind of dogtrotting after awhile. I couldn’t walk anymore. I had to be helped down off the hill.
BILL MOYERS: What is it over in — that way? Edward J. Myers, First Lieutenant, fought in 17th Infantry, 76th Division.
HOWARD RANDALL: He’s from the State of Washington, Puyallup, Washington, March 1, 1945. That was the same day I was wounded. He was behind me probably a hundred yards, maybe 200 yards, and he caught a piece of mortar fragment in the stomach, lived until that night. I didn’t know he’d died until a couple of days later.
BILL MOYERS: Were you close?
HOWARD RANDALL: We were, yeah, we were good buddies. He was very brave and his men liked him because he took care of them probably better than any other officer and his men in the company.
BILL MOYERS: What do you mean “took care of them”?
HOWARD RANDALL: He played father better than the rest of us.
BILL MOYERS: How old was he?
HOWARD RANDALL: He was younger than I. He was 21, but he made first lieutenant and I was still a second lieutenant. Hence, he was my company commander on this day. When we got through with the action on that day, in the middle of the night I learned I had a new company commander and I didn’t know him well. I’d seen him once. And then I didn’t get to think about Eddie very much, because my wound hurt, I was exhausted, we’d bedded down in a house and later that night we had to capture the high ground outside of Welschbillig. And the next day was full of combat and we killed a lot of Germans with artillery. And then I quit. I couldn’t walk anymore very well and I had to be helped around off the hill. And I learned when I hit the battalion aide station, that gangrene had set in — I’d waited too long. And then my captain surgeon took a look at it as I was on the gurney and said, “Randall, we may have to amputate your foot.” And that’s when I sat up and pleaded very eloquently. And the lieutenants around me applauded, I pleaded so elegantly. In fact, I shouted and swore a little bit.
BILL MOYERS: Well, what did you say?
HOWARD RANDALL: And I said, “Goddamn it, don’t cut that foot off. It’s all right. I can walk on it still even though it hurts like hell.” And he said, “Well, we’ll let it go for awhile and try massive doses of penicillin. And that — it worked to an extent. A week later it burst out its sutures and he sewed it up again. Another week later it burst again and he said “To hell with it,” pulled all the sutures out and said, “You’re going to have one bad, ugly scar.” I says, “Who cares?” And so it came out. So that’s what I –
BILL MOYERS: When did you find out about Eddie?
HOWARD RANDALL: When I came off the hill with some — with the sergeant helping me off the hill, and back to battalion CP, one private walked up and said Ed was dead. Well — but it helps when you’re hurting yourself and are exhausted, you don’t really — I didn’t show as much emotion right then as I do right now. And I guess that’s a lesson.
The war changed my self-perception. When I got out of it, I realized I didn’t have to do any of this macho posturing I had done as a teenager and a, a young man. You’re always showing off and, my God, you can’t get much more Rambo than running at the enemy shooting your gun as fast as you can. In combat it seemed pretty obvious after the first major encounter and the men come back to a rest area, nothing petty arises. There are no arguments. The guys like each other much more than they ever did before. They have a common bond of existing together under terrible hardship and every thing petty just kind of goes out the window.
PAUL MARABLE: You’re stripped to the essentials and when you are, that gives you a pretty good sense of balance and living right.
HOWARD RANDALL: All decisions in later life are viewed in the perspective of your early experience in the war, and I wasn’t afraid to just make a major decision involving money or stuff because I’d say to myself, “Hell, if I lose it, I’m still alive and nobody is shooting at me.”
PAUL MARABLE: Life is pretty short, after all.
HOWARD RANDALL: Grab it and run.
PAUL MARABLE: Yeah, go for it. And that’s — and also I think I feel full well the biblical statement “This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” And that’s very meaningful.
HOWARD RANDALL: Uh hum. Frankly, I became a little more religious out on that battlefield than I ever was before also.
PAUL MARABLE: Not so self-sufficient as we all thought at that age in the early twenties, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Thirteen years after that trip, we met again in Waco, Texas.
PAUL MARABLE: Hello, Max. Welcome.
BILL MOYERS: Max Lale and his wife Cissy and Howard Randall and his wife Carolyn came to the home of Paul and Betty Marable for lunch. From the start, the memories flooded back.
HOWARD RANDALL: It’s the top of a combat boot. It’s just the piece, it goes here on top of the combat shoe.
BILL MOYERS: So the shell went through the boot?
HOWARD RANDALL: Yeah. And luckily that helped to cushion it a little bit.
BILL MOYERS: But it went on into your leg
HOWARD RANDALL: Yeah. The sick part of this is that, a year later I was wearing this same boot at the University of Illinois and one day I took it off and looked in and there was that dried blood all over the bottom and I didn’t even know it. And I was so poor apparently, that I couldn’t afford any other shoes.
BILL MOYERS: Jose Lopez couldn’t make it up from San Antonio. For years, Jose didn’t tell his family about his war experiences — not even how he earned the Congressional Medal of Honor.
MAGGIE WICKWIRE: I knew he had a medal, but we never really talked about it. It was not the most important thing in his life. The important thing in his life was his wife and his family.
JOSE LOPEZ: This is the purple heart.
ELDEST GRANDSON: Is that for getting shot?
JOSE LOPEZ: Yeah.
MAGGIE WICKWIRE: And then it was when I was 35 years old, we started asking him questions and he described the scenes so vividly, that I now understand what he went through.
JOSE LOPEZ: And the next morning they were looking for Lopez, Sgt. Lopez. So finally they woke me up, and they started patting me on the back. He said, “You got the Congressional Medal of Honor.”
JOSE LOPEZ: Unless somebody asked me about it, otherwise I never really say anything.
MAGGIE WICKWIRE: But you never really told us the story of how you won the medal yourself. You never sat down with us and said this is how it happened, never, and we didn’t ask because, you know, to us, he was still just our dad.
BILL MOYERS: Jose Lopez is a veteran of two wars, rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. Along the way, he met three presidents.
BILL MOYERS: The folks at home have even named a highway after him — he travels it every Sunday on the way to church.
PASTOR: I confer to Sgt. Lopez…
BILL MOYERS: In a recent service, the Pastor and congregation once again recognized Jose for his uncommon courage.
MAGGIE WICKWIRE: I think that he did what he thought was best at that time and at that moment and I believe that he thinks that anybody who was in that circumstance would do the same thing.
HOWARD RANDALL: The one time I was behind enemy lines, I was so scared and so were all the men, didn’t say a word and every one of you are very far spread out because you never know when you’ll walk into some trouble.
BILL MOYERS: Howard Randall retired to the Texas Hill Country west of Austin.
BILL MOYERS: He and his wife, Carolyn, spend their days tending to the ranch. It is a project that has kept them busy for over 30 years.
HOWARD RANDALL: Some guys married women that wouldn’t do this at all and we’ve had them venture that when they came out and said well, do you do this alone and I say no, Carolyn’s with me all the time
BILL MOYERS: This past year Randall faced one of the biggest challenges of all. His Macular degeneration, which developed in 1996, has now almost robbed him of his eyesight.
HOWARD RANDALL: I get despondent every once in a while because I used to read an awful lot and I used to follow the financial stuff. I do have a closed circuit TV and it magnifies up to 70 times. So I can look at legal or financial stuff.
BILL MOYERS: War didn’t prepare you for that.
HOWARD RANDALL: No. But luckily being on the ranch, I can still drive the pickup truck and the tractor and I hit some trees of course, but I don’t care, they don’t sue me and I don’t kill anybody.
BILL MOYERS: What is the prognosis?
HOWARD RANDALL: Zero. It never gets better and it could get worse. But I’m 80, what the heck, I made it, I’ve already got it made.
PAUL MARABLE: We thank you for every day of life. We thank you for this particular gathering.
BILL MOYERS: When Paul Marable returned from the war he was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. There he met and then married Betty Lewis 57 years ago.
BETTY MARABLE: There are three things that I can remember about those days: singing, shortages and soldiers
BILL MOYERS: They visit Waco’s Vanguard High School to share their experiences of America at war.
PAUL MARABLE: They had taken one of the barns and had sealed up the horse stalls making separate compartments and confined you in solitary confinement. And I spent 8 days in solitary being taken out different times of the night and day for interrogation. I’ve been asked many times, “how much weight did you lose?” And I don’t really know. But I know that at the depths of our malnutrition I was able to put this finger and thumb around the upper part of an arm except for the skin that would stick out like that, but my arm was that big around, I remember that.
STUDENT: When were you most frightened during the war?
PAUL MARABLE: I guess you’d say when that tank came around. And I can still hear the servo motor gear noise when that 75 came around and pointed right at us and was elevated just looking right where we were. That’s not a good feeling.
BILL MOYERS: Howard Randall also meets with students at his local high school.
HOWARD RANDALL: How I describe an infantry attack? You just get out there and the forty guys with rifles and the lieutenant is in front. He has a carbine which isn’t as powerful. And you just run at them pulling the trigger as fast as you can and hear there is artillery shells bursting and mortar shells, machine gun fire and you know you or somebody else is going to be wounded or killed. This spurs you on to go a little faster. A few minutes before — no, a few seconds before this shell hit me, I saw one land right beside me. It was not three, four feet away and it dug itself into the dirt. And naturally, if it had exploded, I wouldn’t be explaining this. It was a dud.
STUDENT: What inspired you to keep pressing forward in the heart of battle instead of just running back or hiding?
HOWARD RANDALL: Frankly, sometimes the situation is so that you have to keep going forward cause going backwards doesn’t help you any. It’s an imponderable thing, courage, but it is the most important thing to the front line infantrymen.
HOWARD RANDALL: I hope they take a little bit of patriotism and maybe the idea that when the going gets tough, you often just can’t quit and there’s something, maybe duty, maybe the feeling for your buddies, you don’t want to let them down
HOWARD RANDALL: Okay, here we go, Silver Star, the Red, White and Blue — you have to be kind of brave for a day to do that, and I was surprised that I could be. Frankly, I thought I might be a coward and that really worried me. I thought about that a lot. Over the 58 year span that this uniform has endured, I can hear it still talking to me, it’s saying, “Hey, let’s go out and try to get a date.”
STUDENT: Thank you for coming, I really enjoyed listening to you.
HOWARD RANDALL: Good, good, I’m pleased.
HOWARD RANDALL: I’ve remembered some things in talking to these kids in the high school that I had forgotten for all the intervening years, of 58 years, just details.
BILL MOYERS: Such as? Because of their questions and —
HOWARD RANDALL: Yeah. One of them was an item that I had forgotten that was — almost took my life and that at the time it was very minor, but we were — the squad of us were attacking a house and I was a lieutenant so I got to throw the grenade in the lowest first story, the sergeant through it through the second story and the corporal threw it through the third story. And we said now and did all this, but the corporal’s grenade hit the sash, and I didn’t know it, bounced out right behind me. And remember three seconds and this is supposed to go off. And a private — and I’ll never know who it was — said “lieutenant, grenade” and I reflexed, took one step and got behind a tree.
BILL MOYERS: I guess you never know how many close calls you had.
HOWARD RANDALL: Oh, God, yeah, I thought that was a really close call and I didn’t even think about it and didn’t know —
BILL MOYERS: How did you feel with all the fuss that came about the greatest generation, celebrating you guys that had come home and lived so modestly and unpretentiously?
MAX LALE: I guess recognition finally, pride
PAUL MARABLE: There’s a book out, a best seller some time ago called Flags of Our Fathers about the raising of the flags on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima and the author, who’s father was one of the flag raisers quotes him in that book as saying the only heroes are dead and that’s when I think of any greatest generation, I think of that ultimate sacrifice, not those of us who have survived it, but those that didn’t.
BILL MOYERS: Howard Randall has written a book of his own.
HOWARD RANDALL: I wanted to preserve all the photographs that I had taken, along with the unofficial history of the 76th Division, because I didn’t want them lost. When I go, I didn’t want those just to be swept aside because they were somewhat historic.
BILL MOYERS: He gives the book away to high school students.
HOWARD RANDALL: I thought they ought to have more individualized and personalized accounts of stuff that their grandfather did.
BILL MOYERS: Max Lale is a history buff, who became president of the Texas State Historical Society. His own memoir is now part of history.
MAX LALE: I have surviving three siblings, the youngest is 15 and a half years younger than I. One of the experiences of returning home was that here was this youngster 12, 13 years old, sitting, looking at me, I think I know that man but I’m not sure who he is. And that persuaded me that it would be worthwhile to do.
BILL MOYERS: And Paul, yours is The 255 days
PAUL MARABLE: Yeah, that’s just an account of my POW experience. I did it for my kids.
BILL MOYERS: Did you learn anything about yourselves from writing the book that you hadn’t thought about before?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, I learned some things from the trip we’ve made with you and that is that I needed it —
BILL MOYERS: You needed that trip, why?
PAUL MARABLE: To stomp on the ground and think of things that happened as cathartic experience really.
BILL MOYERS: How do you think it changed you?
PAUL MARABLE: Well, I don’t know how much change but I felt a lot more comfortable.
BILL MOYERS: What had you been uncomfortable with?
PAUL MARABLE: I didn’t realize that I lacked any comfort in it until after that trip. And one of the thing is, as I was saying to you a minute ago that made me feel good was the question you asked on the hill where I was captured was it all worth it and those two little French girls on bicycles came around and one of them was singing. And while I was trying to think of the answer, was it worth it, you said that’s the answer isn’t it, and I was able to say yes.
BILL MOYERS: Do you still believe that?
PAUL MARABLE: Oh, yeah.
BILL MOYERS: Their freedom to sing on those bicycles in a free country?
PAUL MARABLE: Yeah.
BILL MOYERS: When I first met them in 1989, I wondered how these fellows could put behind them the memories of war. I came to understand that they never did and never can. Max, Howard, Paul and Jose remind me of the millions of boys who went to war for our country and came home as men.
That was then, D-Day to the Rhine. For these old soldiers, thanks for watching. We’ll be back next week.
For NOW, I’m Bill Moyers.
This transcript was entered on March 27, 2015.