The Greatest Generation: WWII vets recount experiences in war, challenge students
AFTON — For over two hours a medal-laden World War II veteran held the attention of Afton students as he recalled the bloody days he sacrificed for his country as a platoon sergeant.
Paul J. Andert, 91, of Tulsa, and Jim Alsup, members of “The Greatest Generation” spoke about their experiences in the war.
Andert served in Africa, Sicily and Europe. He earned 25 medals for his fighting in seven major campaigns and two invasions in the European Theater of Operations during the war.
His war involvement landed him a gig where he spent four hours with Brad Pitt and the cast and directors of “Fury,” a film set during the final months of World War II
“I enlisted in the Army in 1940,” Andert said. “I lied about my age, I was 17-years-old.”
Andert, who served under General George Patton was wounded twice, one in France and another time in Germany on the Siegfried Line.
As Andert spoke of landing on Omaha Beach, on D-day and fighting in the Battle of the Bulge he told the students “the best classroom is at the feet of the elderly.”
Andert spoke of the value of history.
“If you don’t know where you came from – how in the hell do you know where you are going?” Andert told the students.
Andert spent eight years of his childhood in a Catholic orphanage.
“Nuns are tough and they made me tough,” Andert said.
That toughness was evident as he told the students he went AWOL when he left a replacement unit to go back to the front lines.
“I wanted to go back,” Andert said.
Several times during Andert’s dialog, he was interrupted by applause by the students.
He told the students how the French women who had betrayed their county by making friends with German soldiers had their heads shaved so their fellow citizens could see they were traitors.
“The Siegfried Line was the worst,” Andert said. “The thunder, lightning, rain and mud.”
The Siegfried Line was a military defense line that covered almost 400 miles.
During one of those battles, Andert jumped in a large area where pots of sauerkraut were being stored. An enemy bullet ricocheted hitting one of the pots splattering Andert with sauerkraut.
Later he was splattered with blood while standing by a fellow soldier who was shot in the temple with a bullet.
“I picked up a handful of mud and put it on his brain,” Andert said.
The mudpack saved the soldier’s life, he said.
“I’m glad I did, he introduced me to the girl who I would marry,” Andert said.
Andert choked up with emotion when he told the students how a 15-year-old girl offered him her seat on a crowded bus. His military duty was completed and he was headed home.
“I never took the seat,” Andert said. “I never forgot about her either.”
He encouraged the students to write a book about their lives. He ended his speech by challenging the students, “Leave something behind, and don’t let your life be blank.”