The Greatest Generation
Each Veterans Day, fewer of the men(& women) remain who served in World War II –
and on the homefront.
Paul Andert, Infantry Platoon Sergeant, First Class
Not all Greatest Generation stories have happy beginnings. Paul Andert had a difficult childhood that drove him into war service. But his years in the Army also allowed him to meet some of the greatest men of that time.
It began with the death of his father, a WWI veteran who suffered what was called at the time “shell shock,” now post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Andert and his brother were sent to a Catholic school, which for Andert was an unhappy experience. The nuns were tough, he says.
“They taught us how to be disciplined and also how to be mean,” he says, chuckling.
During his third year of high school, one of the teachers accused him of making a face at her, and the school threatened to expel him. Although he was allowed to stay, by that point, Andert was fed up with high school.
The war had started in Europe, and the 17-year-old Andert told his mother he planned to quit school and join the Army.
When he went to enlist, he said he was 18. But he needed proof. His mother gladly signed a letter so he could join up, he says.
From there, Andert met with severe bullying in the Army. One corporal would kick him and tell him that he was a runt.
Once that corporal, whom the men nicknamed “Hog Jaw,” threw Andert in a trashcan and rolled it down a cobblestone street.
“What Hog Jaw didn’t realize was that I had already grown up with the nuns,” Andert says. “I grew up that day. I decided that they weren’t going to run me out of that Army.”
Eventually, Andert was placed in the Second Armored Division under Col. (later Third Army General) George S. Patton.
“Did I know him? I carried him on my back!” Andert says.
The incident happened during a training simulation. A bridge had been marked with a white flag, indicating it had been destroyed. The men had to cross a small river on foot. Soon they heard sirens blaring on an old tank and knew the colorful Patton was headed their way.
When Patton saw the bridge was not usable, he gestured for the driver to go around. The inattentive driver instead managed to get the vehicle stuck in the river. Patton started cursing and yelling for someone to get him out.
Four men, including Andert, waded into the river and rescued Patton, carrying him across so his boots wouldn’t get wet.
From Patton, Andert learned a kill-or-be-killed mentality and also leadership. Andert recalls Patton used to say that you can’t push spaghetti; you can only pull it.
That was Andert’s mantra, too, as he led his men though dangerous missions in north Africa, Sicily and on the second day of the Omaha invasion in the Normandy landings.
He also served as honor guard during the Casablanca Conference, when President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and other leaders met to plan the European strategy for the next phase of the war.
For his valor, Andert was accorded a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.