by Norm Kelly
I spent four years in the Air Force and then in January of 1955, I was a veteran. It was not until 2013 that I heard someone say “Thank you for your service.” I thought they were kidding me. Then Honor Flight became a reality, and the ‘welcome home’ veterans received around America after their flights to the Washington Monuments was overwhelming. Many of the combat veterans have been silent about their stories all those years. I met one of them named CARL H. PORTER. He is ninety-two now, born in Pekin, Illinois and a resident over at the Buehler Home. I have written about other veterans and after meeting Carl I wish I would have dedicated the last decade to writing veteran’s stories.
Carl was married to his beloved wife Marlynn for sixty-seven years and just lost her last year. “Norm I was raised in Manito and I met ‘Marly’
In 1940 and of course Pekin was the place that was important to us. I came to Peoria a lot and she and I would go to dances at the Inglaterra. I was not much of a dancer, but I soon learned. We did not get married until 1946 over in Peoria so I wrote her a lot of letters…truth is I still have them. The wedding gown you see in that picture of her was made out of a parachute that I sent home to her.” That marriage produced two children, Chip and Lisa, four grandchildren and eventually nine great grandkids.
Once WW 11 broke out Carl tried to enlist but due to his color blindness he was rejected. Of course once the draft notice came, Uncle Sam seemed to have changed his mind and off Carl went to become a paratrooper. “I ended up in California and went through the tough paratrooper training. I remember the first time I jumped I felt like a million dollars.”
D-DAY JUNE 6, 1945
“Norm you were in the Air Force and you know its funny the things a guy remembers from training. It was during D-Day briefings we were told not to take any prisoners until after we hooked up with our land forces. They also told us not to load our weapons until we were safely on the ground. That order most certainly saved my life. The drop over Normandy was fast and low and I remember looking up and seeing the tracer bullets making holes in my ‘chute. I did not pay much attention to where the parachute was taking me. I crashed into a tree when I landed and ended up dangling from a limb.”
Before Carl could extract himself from the tree three German soldiers appeared beneath his feet. Of course combat soldiers are trained to fire at the enemy but Carl realized that his weapon was empty. He wisely dropped his weapon and within a few minutes was marched off as a prisoner of war. He told me that had his weapon been loaded he would have most certainly fired at his would be captors, resulting in his certain death.
Carl was marched off by his captors and eventually deposited with a dozen of other American prisoners. They took one boot from each man and were then left guarded and remained there over night. “In the early morning we were marched off, our fingers laced together over the back of our heads. Our new home was within a stonewalled courtyard and imprisoned in a room. The stone walls were about two feet thick and by then I think we numbered about seventeen men.”
Carl and his companions were marched a few miles down the road where they came to another stonewalled courtyard and taken to a room where they remained. “The fourth Division was on its way inland and eventually that led them to an estate where we were being held prisoners of war. Rifle fire, mortar fire and chips of stone were ricocheting around our cell far longer than I care to remember. We were behind some thick stone walls we thought would give us adequate protection except from what was coming in through the small windows.”
Hunkered down the men weathered the storm that was coming at them from both armies. “Suddenly a wild-eyed German rifleman rushed into the room threatening us with his bayoneted rifle. He jabbed his rifle at me.” ‘Ruskie?’ Nein! Nein! I yelled. Englich?, Nein! I slowly turned my shoulder toward him pointing to the American Flag attached to my jump suit. American I said.”
What happened next surprised every man in the room and would give them a memory that they would never forget for the rest of their lives.
“The soldier broke into a wide grin as he yelled, ‘AMERIKANISCH!’
‘AMERIKANISCH!’ He then leaned his rifle against the wall and grabbed me in a bear hug.”
Quickly one of Carl’s buddies grabbed the rifle and headed outside. It took a few moments for Carl to untangle himself from the overly friendly German before he was in the next room selecting a P-35 pistol and a BAR type rifle from the stack of guns about twelve Germans had deposited on the floor in their rush to surrender to the Americans.
“Germans were surrendering faster than we could take their weapons, so we herded them into the inner rooms with their ‘Potato Mashers’ still sticking out of their belts.”
As the chaos encircled the Americans an effort to contact the Fourth Division was made to let them know that Americans had control of the area. One of the men spied a bugle hanging on the wall. He began to blow on it as loudly as he could, hoping the men in the fourth would stop their firing.
“The way the sounds came out it was hard to say if he was blowing Chow Call, Taps or Reveille, but whatever it was the firing let up and then ceased all together. We all gathered around the man that had blown the horn. ‘Hell, I never blew one of the damn things before in my life, but I had to do something.’”
Later Carl learned that a general had ordered the building they were in destroyed by naval fire. In fact a sergeant told him that he was about to ring up the navy for the barrage when they heard the sound of the bugle which resulted in the cease fire.
Among the peace and quiet the prisoners, all 210 of them were corralled and marched off to the beach. The war was over for them. It was a remarkable story that would be recounted in TIME Magazine, where seventeen paratroopers turned the tables on their German captors, taking all 210 of them prisoners.
“A SMALL MISHAP”
That’s how Carl reluctantly described his severe injury to his hands and fingers when he volunteered to attempt to disarm a jerry-rigged piece of enemy ordinance that was posing a threat to the troops. “It wasn’t the bomb that got me it was the detonating cap that I had in my hands.”
Carl Porter was awarded a Purple Heart due to his injuries.
THEY HAD A DREAM
“Norm we were married over in Peoria in 1946 and Marly and I discovered that we both had had a dream about living in Alaska so in 1947 that is exactly what we did. I ended up having a job with Pan Am Airways and lived in Ketchikan, Alaska as well as Annette Island. We stayed there forty years as I later developed a large insurance agency.”
Carl Porter lived an extraordinary life, a lucky one he claims, with his beloved wife Marly and his marvelous family. He lives alone now among his friends in Buehler Home with his memories and the pictures of his bride in a wedding dress made from a parachute he sent her.
Editor’s Note: Norm is a Peoria Historian and author. firstname.lastname@example.org