Essay Written by Seth P. Sitter of Clarksville Academy
As part of the Clarksville Kiwanis Club’s Memories of Service and Sacrifice Project’s “Interview a Veteran Contest”
Today, I interviewed my grandfather Dr. Leon R. Sitter. During the interview we discussed his service in the Army from 1943-1946.
My grandfather was a staff sergeant of the US 86th Infantry division in WWII, and was awarded a bronze star. He fought at the crossing of the Rhine, marched through Nazi occupied France and Germany, and was one of the approximately 16 million men and women that fought for the allied cause in WWII.
He grandfather enlisted in the army at the age of eighteen, in his home town of Cobden IL. At the time of his enlistment, Cobden was a town of only 1000 people, and almost all of the men of enlistment age were either drafted or enlisted. Out of a town of only 1000, 14 men did not return from World War II.
My grandfather served in the European and the Pacific Theaters of war during WWII. As a rifleman, he was issued an M1 Garand semi automatic rifle that fired a 30-06 round. He was in many situations in which he was under fire and camped only a few feet away from the German lines. During these situations, artillery was raining down upon them.
He marched all the way through Eastern France and through most of Germany. Most of the time during the marches the soldiers would not have any motorized vehicles to carry them. Also the soldiers had, little or no tank or aircraft support to defend against enemy armor or their devastating counter attacks.
The weapons that my grandfather’s generation was equipped with can not even begin to compare to the modern weapons of today. In WWII there were no bulletproof vests, guided missiles, robots, or even thermal and night vision goggles to see an enemy stalking in the night. Armor tech has also increased throughout the years. My grandfather was an infantry soldier, however for the tank crews during WWII, their then mighty tanks were easily knocked out of action, however, today the mighty M1A1 Abrams tank has lost very few, if any operators.
The same applies to the soldiers, not to belittle today’s soldiers, but once or twice a week you see on the news about an IED going off overseas and killing 3 or 4 soldiers, but During WWII there were staggering losses every day on all fronts. The low number of casualties in modern warfare is due to the advanced weapons, tactics, and improved armor that the average soldier is equipped with. Because of this, we no longer suffer such staggering losses on the field of battle, however as General George S. Patton once said, “Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow, and of the man that leads that gains that victory.”
My grandfather told me many stories about his time in the war zone, but there was one in particular that stood out. He had chased a German soldier through a neighborhood, when the soldier ran into a house with my grandfather close behind. He chased him upstairs, and found him in a closet attempting to change into civilian clothing. This was a common occurrence with German soldiers towards the end of the war, as they did not want to be captured and be forced to leave their families.
As my grandfather took the German downstairs the soldier claimed that the family downstairs was his, and he begged not to be taken away. My grandfather explained to the best of his ability, that the soldier and his family will be soon reunited as that the war was almost over. To this day, my grandfather wonders if the soldier ever made it back to his family. When I heard this story, it made me realize, even though the man on the other side may be your enemy, but he is still a human being and almost always has a family who are hoping and praying for his safe return.
My grandfather’s tour led him through most of France and Germany, and part of the Pacific. As I get older, I believe that I am becoming better able to appreciate the sacrifices that our service men and women made. In the world today we are so well informed by the news that we cannot help but to notice all of the tragedies happening overseas. Some seventy plus years ago our WWII soldiers marched off to battle, and now only a few remain alive. I will try to keep these stories alive for future generations of my family. After all it is much more then history, veterans like my grandfather lived through it.