By Mark Robinson
Several veterans in the area get together at the Senior Center near the Kroger store on a regular basis.
James Pyne likes to go every day. He says the people there are good to him, and he likes to spend time with his friends.
Pyne is 91 years old. Born near Zenith, in Monroe County, he had 13 brothers and sisters in the family.
“I didn’t grow up there. I was jerked up there. I was the youngest one of all the kids,” he said. Of all the children, only one is still living, his older sister, Virginia Bradley, who lives in Lindside, in Monroe County.
Pyne wanted to be in the army so badly, he tried to sign up before he turned 18. They told him to go to the courthouse, and when they realized he was too young, they sent him home. When he turned 18, he signed up immediately.
In 1944, he found himself on a ship off the coast of England, waiting for D-Day. “I was in the First Infantry.”
Pyne said that General Eisenhower had a meeting with the whole division, out in a field. “He said ‘If you last five minutes, you’re going to be lucky.’”
“We got on the boat probably a week before, we’d go out in the channel at night to fool the Germans, so they wouldn’t know when we’d be coming. After a few days of that, we went over. I got seasick going over the channel. I had to swim in. They sank our boat, we had to swim in about a quarter of a mile, with our packs, rifle, ammunition. Lots of people drowned, or got killed. We were at Omaha Beach.
“On the beach, there were so many dead fellows, you tried to dig down in the sand so you wouldn’t get shot. Big battleships back behind us, firing at the land batteries.”
“We were pinned down, killing us by the dozen, so my company commander said ‘We ain’t gonna put up with this. Put your bayonets on.’”
“When the Germans saw us coming, they took off. We took that hill. They didn’t want anything to do with bayonets. We drove 30 miles forward that night. Fighting day and night, didn’t get no rest. We went on to Germany. I got shot in Aachen, Germany, street fighting against Germany’s best troops.”
“I got shot in the right leg, below my knee. When I got shot, I was running and the machine gunner got me, and my foot turned around backwards. A tank got the machine gunner. They carried me out, two men on a stretcher, and when the mortars came in, they’d put me down and jump in a hole. They said ‘You already got shot, we don’t want to get shot.’”
“Got shot October 13 or something. Shoot, I’m 90 years old I done forgot the day.”
“That was the end of it for me. The field doctor said take him to Paris, so they took me to Paris and put me in the hospital. Was there a week or two, then to England, ended up at White Sulphur for about six months. That was an army hospital.”
“They were talking about shifting troops to the Pacific to fight Japan, but they dropped the bomb, and that ended that.”
Pyne married Violet Martin, and they had nine children.
“I done everything for work. Wasn’t no jobs at that time. Cut timber, farmed, got a job at a factory in Narrows, VA. A guy from Lewisburg came over and told me I got a job for you and you can make good money. I went to work for Bill Lewis, worked there seven years. I sold cars for a while, and I worked on cars. Body man.”
Violet passed away many years ago, and James lives with one of his sons in Fairlea. He goes to the Presbyterian Church by the Fairgrounds gate. “I’ve gone there off and on for 50 years. I took the family there years ago.”
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Florey Bucklen is 82 years old. He was in the army during the Korean War, but he spent his two years in Austria.
“Out of 200 men in my company, every one of them went to Fort Ord, CA, and that meant they were going to Korea. But, they sent me to Europe. I was the only one out of the whole company who didn’t go to Korea. Somebody pulled some strings somewhere. I had an aunt who was very interested in me and my brother. She was a letter writer. I think she might have written to a Congressman,” he said.
Bucklen was born in 1933, in Buchanon County, VA. He has lived in Greenbrier County for 40 years, and said he wouldn’t live anywhere else. “I was a building maintenance mechanic. Plumbing, heating, electric.”
His wife is deceased. He has three sons, two of whom served in the army.
“One of them jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. He was a paratrooper,” said Bucklen.
“Lots of things have changed over the years. You know, we used to watch Buck Rogers, and Dick Tracy. They’d have these fancy gadgets, like wrist radio watches. But now, we would have been amazed to see something like that in real life. Now we’ve got all kinds of things that do that stuff.”
When he was young, Bucklen said they buried potatoes and cabbage in a hole in ground to keep them from going bad. “We’d dry beans, then string them and call them leather britches. They’d keep like that. Then when you wanted to eat them, just throw them in a pan of water and cook them up. We did lots of pickling, canning, made sauerkraut. Those big crocks were essential to old time farmers. Now, Good Lands, people like them for door stops.”
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Emery Boone is 88 years old. He fought in Europe with the First Infantry Division of Engineers. “I wasn’t in the battles. I was behind the lines, building bridges. The Germans were blowing them up as they retreated, so we were building them back. Sometimes, we had to lay our tools down and pick up our guns and shoot the snipers. A couple of guys in my unit got shot in the shoulder and in the leg, but I didn’t get shot at all.”
Boone grew up in Nicholas County, and worked as a dairy farmer in Craigsville. “That’s hard work. Four in the morning until dark at night, seven days a week.”
He has 19 great-grandchildren. Twenty-one years ago he retired to Lewisburg.