Honoring Our Heros
September 1, 2019 | View PDF
William Ellis Duncan ~ 96
William (Bill) Ellis Duncan is a 96-year-old World War II veteran who served for three years during 1943–1946 in the United States Army Quartermaster Corps and transportation unit. His service in Europe included driving jeeps to supply General George S. Patton’s Third Army as it prepared to liberate Frankfort, Germany, as well as driving ambulances to transport wounded GIs for medical treatment. Duncan is very modest about his contributions during WWII, yet his service in providing vehicles and other supplies to combat troops and transporting the wounded was essential to their wellbeing and the success of American troops in helping their allies defeat the Nazis.
Duncan, the son of William Edgar and Ellis Carter Duncan, was born in Montgomery, AL, on February 23, 1923. Except for his first few years while a toddler, he has spent his life in rural Montgomery County. He grew up during the Great Depression, a time when his family and indeed people throughout the world struggled for a livelihood. From a very young age, he helped in his
maternal grandfather’s general store. In 1939, as the Great Depression was ending, his grandfather died, and it became incumbent upon Duncan who was then a ninth-grader to quit school and work full-time to help support his family that now included four younger siblings. His uncle, Walter Carter, taught him to drive a truck and employed Duncan who then worked hauling coal and other commodities to and from Birmingham by age 16. With experience in running a store and early-learned driving skills, the army would quickly assign Duncan for quartermaster and transportation duties.
At age 20, Duncan was drafted into the army, reporting first to Ft. McClellan, AL, for induction, then to Ft. McPherson, GA, where he received immunizations and was issued uniforms. Reporting next to Deshon General Hospital in Butler, PA, which was then being converted to a soldier’s hospital, he was assigned to the Quartermaster Corps. He trained in general and specialized aspects of troop support including driving various wheeled army vehicles and assisting wounded soldiers. He transported some of Deshon’s first patients, soldiers wounded while fighting in the North African campaign. He and fellow-corpsmen who were adept at fulfilling many duties also helped complete construction of soldiers’ barracks where they were eventually housed. A sign above the Quartermaster Corps’ motor pool aptly proclaimed: We Fix Everything but Broken Hearts!
From Butler, PA, he went to Ft. Eustis, VA, for basic infantry training and received a sharp-shooter badge for his excellent marksmanship. “I was already trained to use firearms because I grew up hunting with sling shots and small caliber guns,” explains Duncan. Next, he received basic medical training at Ft. Lewis, WA. His final stateside assignment was to Ft. Kilmer, NJ, for deployment to Europe. He sailed across the North Atlantic Ocean to Glasgow, Scotland, aboard the Ile de France, a luxury ocean liner that had been repurposed as a troop ship. He then took a troop train to Bristol, England, where his unit stayed for a week learning about booby traps and landmines while housed in a castle-like structure. On each door of the castle were proper names, and all had the middle name of Duncan.
From Bristol to Southampton Port, his unit traveled by troop train, then continued aboard a Polish freighter sailing all night and half the next day to Le Havre, France, where they found the harbor blocked by sunken ships. Landing nets cast down onto a landing barge allowed them to repel down and come ashore without wetting their feet. From there, they traveled in the boxcar of a freight train that was frigid, cold and dark; the only light trickled through its ceiling that had been riddled by German bullets. Their destination, a bivouac area near Paris, was a scene of absolute destruction with bomb craters everywhere and buildings leveled. As horrific as the 9/11 attack was, with the World Trade Center towers reduced to rubble, it could not compare to WWII’s devastation of Europe.
By the time his unit reached Paris, the Allies had already landed at Normandy, and Operation Overlord or D-Day had been a success. Much of France had been liberated, but the Rhine River had not yet been crossed. In late April, 1945, Duncan was one of fifteen from his unit who were sent to Brussels by night to pick up and deliver 15 jeeps to combat soldiers in General Patton’s Third Army as it was moving to help liberate Frankfort, Germany. He recalled crossing rivers on pontoon bridges into Cologne and driving on the German
Autobahn before reaching an area of artillery fire. With jeeps delivered, Duncan recalls, “We high-tailed it out of there.” His unit had been unarmed the entire way, and following that action, he was promoted to Private First Class and awarded a Bronze Star Medal which is given for meritorious service in a combat zone.
Victory in Europe was at hand. Duncan recalls transporting American movie stars with the USO to provide entertainment for troops. His unit was sent to southern France near Spain. After V-E Day, May 8, 1945, just as they were to be deployed to the Philippine Islands, Japan surrendered. The U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, on August 4. and 6, 1945, respectively, ending World War II. Duncan returned to the U.S., landing at Boston Harbor, MA, and destined for Camp Sibert, AL, where his unit was given a three-week furlough. For the remaining six months of enlistment, Duncan was stationed at Ft. Benning, GA, where he served as a medical aid man to handle emergency situations encountered by cadets preparing to become Second Lieutenants. He accompanied cadets on so-called problem exercises to provide aid in case of an accident.
Problems were skirmishes and simulations where cadets learned to use combat weapons such as bazookas, machine guns and hand grenades, how to take cover during an air raid and other offensive and defensive skills. While today’s cadets train using virtual technology, in 1946, they used live weapons and ammunition. During one such skirmish, Duncan’s life was threatened by friendly fire when his Second Lieutenant unwittingly dropped him at a target site and gave the order, “Wait here.” Duncan soon encountered his own problem. A tank opened fire on the site where he waited. All he could do was to take cover behind a small building. Minutes after shelling began, his Second Lieutenant returned exclaiming, “Get in! We need to get out of here!” ‘I’ve been ready!” Duncan yelled.
In February, 1946, he completed his enlistment term and returned to Ft. McPherson where he was discharged. After traversing 30,000+ miles in three years of service, it was good to return to his Montgomery County home. The need to earn a living and the lack of transportation prevented him from continuing his education through the GI Bill. Instead, he purchased a truck and began a life-long business of hauling livestock and raising beef cattle. He and his wife, Elizabeth Mastin, were married for 60 years until her death in 2008. They have two daughters who are devoted to their father. After retiring, Duncan built a cabin at Lake Jordan where he enjoyed fishing, excursions in a pontoon boat and the peace and quiet of the lake. He enjoys reading western and WWII novels and natural history books, watching televised Atlanta Braves games and quiet country living. He has been a long-time, active member of First Southern Baptist Church in Hope Hull, AL, where he served as a councilman.
To this day, Duncan maintains that his military service during WWII, and his presence in Europe as it was being liberated were the most significant, impactful events of his life. He is proud to have served fellow-soldiers and his country.
Daniel R. Mims ~ 97
Daniel R. Mims is a 97 year-old WWII veteran who served in the U. S. Army’s
Infantry in dangerous combat liberating four Philippine Islands, namely Luzon, Leyte, Mindoro and Mindanao, receiving the Infantry Combat Badge. Mims was born in Chilton County, AL, August 25 ,1922, to his parents, Shelton Park Mims and Alma Owens Mims. He was reared in Autauga County, AL, where he worked helping his father who was a farmer. Mims was drafted at the age of 20 for service in the U. S. Army’s Infantry. He was sent to the San Francisco, CA, area in November, 1942, for basic training, and he joined the TX Army National Guard Unit that had been mobilized. His unit moved to Daytona Beach, FL, to deal with a possible German invasion because Germans submarines were lurking off the Atlantic Coast. In 1943, he was sent to the 19th Infantry with the 24th Army Division to Miami, FL, with deployment to the South Pacific where he engaged in the Liberation of the Philippines.
Mims’ unit participated in the Battle of Leyte October 17-December 26, 1944, with the amphibious invasion of the island by American forces and Filipino guerrillas under the command of General Douglas MacArthur against the Imperial Japanese Army led by General Tomoyuku Yamashita. Mims was part of the treacherous assault of Leyte with its numerous deep-water approaches and sandy beaches. The campaign for Leyte proved the first and most decisive operation in the American reconquest of the Philippines. Japanese losses in the campaign were heavy, with the army losing four divisions and several separate combat units, while the navy lost 26 major warships and 46 large transports and hundreds of merchant ships. The U.S. Army and Army Air Forces suffered 3,602 killed, 11,991 wounded for a total of 15,554, yet Mims escaped the Battle of Leyte uninjured.
Mims participated in the U.S. Army’s second major target for attack at Mindoro, a large island directly south of Luzon and Manila Bay, and MacArthur’s main goal in taking it was to be able to construct airfields on it for fighter planes that could dominate the sky over the most-important island of Luzon, with its major seaport and capital city of Manila. Mindoro was a major victory for the 6th Army and the USAAF, and it also provided the major base for the next move of MacArthur’s 6th Army: the invasion of Luzon, especially at Lingayen Gulf on its western coast. Mims participated in the attack, clearing the remainder of the island and engaging in numerous mopping up actions during the following month. Again, Mims escaped harm in the Battle of Mindoro.
Mims was part of the 24th Division among 200,000 men which moved to recapture Luzon from the Japanese 14th Area Army which fought delaying action on the island. It engaged in a furious battle on Zig Zag Pass, suffering heavy casualties, clearing up Japanese resistance after the battles were finished as well as patrolling the area until the War with Japan ended in August 15, 1945, with the surrender of the Japanese.
Mims landed with the 24th Infantry Division at the island of Mindanao April 17, 1945, and cut across the island to Digos, stormed into Davao and cleared Libby airdrome. Although the campaign officially closed on June 30, 1945, the Division continued to clear up Japanese resistance. In October, 1945, Mims accompanied his Division for occupation duty on mainland Japan. The recapture and liberation of the entire Philippine Archipelago ended almost three years of Japanese occupation.
After discharge from the Army in January 1946, Mims returned home to work on his parents’ farm, passed the GED and graduated from Auburn University (AL Polytechnic Institute) with a B.S. Degree in Agricultural Science using the G.I. Bill in 1951. For two years, Mims taught agriculture to veterans followed by 34 years as the Chilton County Agent for the AL Cooperative Extension Service disseminating useful farming information. Although retired, he still assists farmers when called upon by them.
Mims and his wife, Martha, have been married 62 years, and they have one son and two grandchildren. Throughout the years, he has enjoyed fishing and hunting rabbits and squirrels. It’s not that I enjoy shooting anything. I just enjoy getting out into nature.” He recalls that his father who served in WWI taught him how to shoot. After retirement, for three years, Mims worked at the local radio station, WKLF, interviewing people about farming. At Clanton, AL, he served as the President of the Lions Club and as the Secretary/Treasurer of the Peach Festival in 1954.
Mims is reluctant to talk about his valiant service in the Army’s Infantry; yet the Infantry that he was involved in during WWII is the main land combat force and backbone of the Army. They are responsible for defending our country against any threat by land, as well as capturing, destroying and repelling enemy ground forces. Mims’ Infantry duties consisted of performing as a member of a fire team during drills and combat, aiding in the mobilization of vehicles, troops and weaponry, assisting in reconnaissance missions, processing prisoners of war and captured document, using, maintaining and storing combat weapons. World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind. Mims was involved in the liberation of the Philippine Islands where mountain peaks reaching to over 4,400 feet as well as the jagged outcroppings, ravines, and caves typical of volcanic islands offered formidable defensive opportunities. It is miraculous that he never was injured in combat in liberating four Philippine Islands. At times, he did suffer the hardship of lack of food when supplies were cut off resulting in having to eat meals of bananas and monkey meat.
Mims looks back on his WWII military service saying, “It gave me a sense of being here. When you’re a child, time doesn’t mean anything to you, but if you are a veteran, it is really important. I enjoyed working with foreign people and meeting people. Serving in the military thousands of miles from home gave me a sick feeling like I was all alone.”