Interview with Russell Warren Byers Senior on November 11, 2006 by Eric Byers his Grandson.
Q: When did you join the United States Military?
November, 1942 I went in service on November the 15th 1942.
Q: Which branch of the service did you serve in?
When I first went in Quartermaster of the 10th armed division. And from there after I got my basic training they transferred me to England. And February of 1943 they put me into General George S. Pattonís Headquarters. I served in the in Headquarters as a truck driver moving his headquarters from one location to another. Everybody said George was a mean man but he treated us like angels. Where ever he went he always saw that we had a building and in our trucks we carried a folding cot to sleep on inside the building and ate in the mess hall. So really we did nothing from the time you settled in one headquarters Ďtil he wanted to move to the next one. Because he wanted you to be there in cause the Germans broke through or something so that we could move real quick and we could do anything from one time to the next stay in this building at his headquarters. And he treated us like little angels. Always said he was a mean man but wasnít to his people he was working for him. And I liked old George. And I really never fought in any battles the whole time I was over there. When the war was over I the most interesting job I ever had we didnít have anything for our trucks to do, and we hauled Hitlerís misplaced people that he had working for him and took Ďem home. And we would go to a place and load of a couple, a truckload, of people that needed to go back to a certain country in Europe and the first question that they asked was, ĎWhere you going to take us to work at now?í We would tell them we were going to take them home and they were the happiest people you would ever talk to. And I did that from the time the war was over until 1st of December of 1944, because it was í45 that I got out of the army. Thatís all I did for the last six months running around all over Europe and seeing. I was in every country except Russia. But Russia was an ally of ours so they took care of their own people. So I have seen all of Europe. The nicest little country in Europe I know of is Luxemburg. Thatís a beautiful little state of its own.
Q: What was your title?
I was a T-5, Corporal. T-5, that was as high as truck drivers got.
Q: What was the trip overseas like?
Well, it was just as slow it took us about two weeks to get over there by boat. Every trip I ever took they boated me I never flew an airplane the whole time I was in the service. But took about two weeks and we went to Manchester, England, when we left New Jersey. We shipped out of a port in New Jersey and were on the seas about two weeks and landed in Manchester, England. We were there until they landed on Normandy. General Patton, they were exactly 12 miles in off of our army with our army fighting 12 miles in when I landed with Patton Headquarters on a truck in a boat. It was Normandy beach, there wasnít a port there, and we landed about 3 feet deep. We had waterproofed the engines of our trucks so that they would run underwater. I drove off that boat into 3 feet of water. And up onto Normandy beach with fighting exactly 12 miles in when I landed there.
Q: Had you ever handled a gun before going into the military?
Well, I was an old farm boy I shot squirrels and all kind of hunting. I had a dog used to when I went to school we went paw cat hunting every night, the boys in my community. We skinned them and sold the hides to make money. So I knew how to use a rifle before I went into the service, but I never had to use my rifle in the war. I never shot my rifle one time in the war.
Q: So you were issued a Rifle?
I was issued my rifle and my truck. And I had a pistol which I wasnít supposed to really have that I had gotten off of a German soldier, so I carried a pistol on my belt and had a rifle in my truck. But I actually used either one of them.
Q: How did you feel about President Roosevelt?
Well, as far as I know he was just the same as any other president as far as I know. I donít know anything great he did or anything bad he did as far as I am concerned because I was drafted and all kids my age that was 19, 20, 21 years old, we got drafted, I was 21 when I got went into the service drafted. And I went to Columbus, Georgia down Fort Benning. Took my basic there, and my wife and I were married six weeks before I left for the service. They let me bring her to Columbus, and she stayed in a room in Columbus and they let me go from the service every night to go see her. In other words, in basic training the army was good to me. Of course you had to be reliable and do whatever they told you to do. But every evening when we came in from our training, they put us in a truck and hauled a whole load of men to town to stay all night with their wives. The next morning at five oíclock the picked us up to take us back for roll call. So me and my wife got to live together about six months while I was taking training and she got to stay with me in the army. As in she was just a civilian then. But we were married and they let her go to rent a room and I could stay with her.
Q: How many men were in your unit?
Our unit was very small because we just hauled headquarters. I think we had about 15 trucks. So probably 20-25 men total. There were two men who got killed a Sergeant and a Corporal they were riding in a little jeep and hit a road mine, but that was the only two men that got killed in my company during the whole war, but they had hit a road mine. A mine along side of the road in their jeep, the Sergeant of the company and his assistant was riding in their jeep and it blew the jeep up.
Q: So, the mines were always dangerous?
Yes, you had to watch for them along the side of the road, you had to watch for anything bad, you didnít want to get out of the middle of the road.
Q: What did you eat?
I ate regular meals at the cafeteria just like anybody else would eat at home, like you did if you were here in the states. We had meat, potatoes, and just regular, other words I didnít eat these here packed up dinners that you carried with you because I was always where there was a kitchen. Hot meals, hot meals just like you would anywhere else.
Q: What did you wear?
Well, we just wore a uniform with third army division patch on our shoulder. Just mostly it was khakis because the war was fought in the summertime and then in the fall, it was khaki clothes.
Q: So, what were the conditions like geographically?
Well, temperatures over there are very similar to what they are here. I donít see much difference, it wasnít too awful cold and wasnít too hot, when I was fighting. I was at a dangerous headquarters because if you think about it the Germans were looking for Pattonís Headquarters very seriously. But he always found a place where they never found us and we never had to move at a minutes notice, but we never stayed in one place more then a week. Because he didnít want the Germanís to know where we were at cause when you are at the headquarters that is where all of the information and everything is going on, of course I was a truck driver that didnít concern me too much. All I had to do was be ready to load them on a truck and get them down the road, because I was a truck driver.
Q: Were there POWs?
I never saw any POWs because they were ahead of us in the fighting and if Germany captured anybody then they took them right then so I never was in contact with the POWs too much.
Q: Did you ever write and receive letters?
I guess you would say I wrote and received letters. My wife wrote to me everyday, and I answered them everyday in a week or if I had nothing else to do I would write her a letter and at that time we had free postage so it didnít cost anything to mail a letter. All we had to do was write free up in the corner of the envelope and they would ship the letter back home for us. So you couldnít tell anybody where you were but me and my wife was very ornery about that, I would say remember when we were so and so in the United States, the name of the town, well thatís it. So she knew where I was most of the time secretly. We would say remember that town?
Q: What was it like when you came home?
Of course I was glad to get home, I had been gone for two years, I was in the service three years altogether, but I hadnít been home and for two years I hadnít seen her since I come back. And I came back on 1st of December and I was discharged the 15th of December that year. So I didnít have very much service after I came back. And so, I had to go out and find a job, and so I came home and found a job, worked there for 3 or 4 years. My wife was a country farm girl and we bought a farm lived on that up until 1972. And in the meantime she and I built a house on this farm, but she didnít like the farmhouse we built, so there was a house in the back corner and we lived in that from í66 until I retired in 1985. I retired from all work in 1985, but I havenít done any public work since 1985.
Q: What effect if any did your involvement have on your life?
I think it brought me and my wife closer together when I got back out of the service. Because I am sure if I hadnít went into the service, we probably wouldnít of lasted 63 years of married life together because we just learned to love each other through these letters that her and I wrote. We told each other every thing was going on. So we were pretty close even during the war. She stayed with her parents while I was gone to service, and took care of them. After that, when I came back her and I went house skipping, we lived in four or five different places. First few years I went back and I went to work sewing these yarn and wool clothes and did yarn I was in the sizing section where we put glue on the thread so it would be stiff, and weave into the clothe. I worked there for a while and then she and I went to farming and we farmed a while. And then in 1955, I got a job with the state highway department with the state of Virginia. I had another one of my lucky breaks, my engineer called me to his office after about two years of working just general maintenance on the road, he said, ĎIíve been watching you, I got a special job coming up, do you want it, would you be interested in it?í And he made me in charge of all signs and road markings in Augusta County and Highland County and I did that for thirty years, and thereís when I retired from the state in 1985, after thirty years of service.