Dale Milligan remembers the snow at St. Vith.

He was so cold.

Before the snow, the young, U.S. Army machine gunner and other soldiers were in position when they were told to move back. So they did.

But later, they were moved back to an area just a few miles from the German frontline during the Battle of the Bulge.

World War II had devastated cities and nations, leaving horrific suffering and millions of deaths in its wake. Young Americans like Milligan were part of an effort to stop brutal regimes seeking global domination.

At 93 years old, Milligan remembers a time that so many people now only read about.

Milligan was 19 years old and just two days away from getting his Fremont High School diploma when he was drafted. He remembers the running and marching of basic training and the 10- and 25-mile hikes at Camp Stewart, Georgia.

It wasn’t tough to tell which soldiers came from the city and which were from farms.

“The city boys couldn’t carry their packs and before the hike was over, they were stragglers and the truck had to come pick them up,” he said.

As part of the 789th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Milligan was trained to use a machine gun. He and other soldiers then were sent to Okefenokee Swamp for training, later learning they were supposed to replace the 492nd Bomb Group in New Guinea.

They’d be sent to South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia for more training.

He remembers the infiltration course.

“You’d have to go under barbed wire and a bunch of guns were firing live bullets over you. You had to make sure to keep your head and your rear end down,” he said.

The soldiers later were taken to a large church where a colonel told them they had two choices.

“We could go to the islands and be replacements for the 492nd or go overseas in Europe,” he said.

Actually, there wasn’t a choice. The men were being sent to Europe — but they were happy about that choice and cheered.

They hadn’t liked the swamps.

The men were sent to England via ship. There, Milligan and other soldiers would use a turret with four, .50 caliber machine guns.

“You had to have two people — I and my assistant and he had to make sure the motor kept running. Once the motor quit running, then you wouldn’t be able to operate it,” Milligan said.

Milligan and his assistant learned how to operate it, firing all four machine guns at once at the same time with 650 rounds a minute per gun.

They’d end up training about 100 officers on it.

After that, Milligan was transferred to London. The Germans were still shooting their Buzz Bombs at the city.

It was 1944 by then and Milligan and other men were in an open field.

“I was just coming in from chow and all of a sudden I went down,” he said.

A piece of shrapnel had lodged close to the bone in his lower left leg. Thinking Milligan had a broken leg, medics came and put on a splint.

“The splint hurt worse than the shrapnel. They put it on so tight,” he said.

Milligan was taken to a hospital before the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. After the invasion, many wounded soldiers were brought to the hospital.

“I couldn’t just lie there in my bed and be helpless,” he said. “I told the nurse that if there was anything I could do to help I would do it.”

“Maybe you can help clean up some of the guys,” the nurse said.

Milligan remembers the wounded.

“Some of them were pretty riddled, because of the machine gun fire,” he said.

He helped wash the soldiers and keep them comfortable. It was sad to see the shape some of them were in, he said.

Milligan was at the hospital for about two weeks, then sent back to his outfit. They went from one location to another then later put on a landing craft and sent to France.

He and other soldiers were sent to different locations. They went through France and into Belgium. At one point, he and another soldier then were sent to England to show the Allies how to use an M51 machine gun.

“I don’t like tea today,” he said, smiling.

After two weeks, they returned to their outfit and were sent to St. Vith.

It was winter.

At one point, Milligan and other soldiers were atop a mountain.

“A lot of shooting was going on,” he said.

Milligan looked up and saw a man coming down in a parachute, who landed at their position. He was a Nazi SS trooper. The man looked scared with five or six American guns pointed at him.

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“We captured him,” Milligan said.

The prisoner later was taken away.

Milligan remembers January 1945. There was 3 feet of snow and he was cold. Like other soldiers, he wore a wool-lined coat. The only heat came from gallon buckets of gasoline into which the men would throw a match to make a fire.

One time, Milligan got too close to the fire, which set his coat ablaze.

He laid in the snow to put out the fire.

“I didn’t have much of a coat left,” he said.

Milligan and the other soldiers would be transferred to other locations.

Eventually, he’d end up in Germany, where he and other soldiers guarded the Rhine River Bridge.

The war in Europe ended, but the men anticipated being sent to Japan. He prepared to be on a ship headed to the Pacific when the war in that part of the world came to a close.

Milligan and other soldiers were on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic when a storm with 120 mph winds began. At first, he was in the bow of the ship, but Milligan then took his duffel bag and went to the middle of the vessel, where he could eat and sleep better.

He got out of the service in January 1946. Milligan went to auctioneers school in Mason City, Iowa. He then worked with a man who was raising funds for a polio drive.

Milligan served as an auctioneer at pie and cake socials at different schools raising $15,000 for the polio fund.

He later escorted bodies of fallen World War II servicemen back to their hometowns for burial. He remembered the mother who wanted him to come and stay with her family.

“She said I looked so much like her son,” he said. “I complied.”

Milligan married his first wife, Joyce, in 1948 and they had three children.

He was in the enlisted reserve when the Korean War broke out and he was sent to retrain soldiers on the .40 mm machine gun.

The Milligans were married eight years, but divorced. He remarried. He and his second wife, Jo, moved to Colorado, where they lived 32 years. They moved to Washington, where they lived 19 years. Jo, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease died about nine years ago, he said.

For many of his working years, Milligan was a traveling salesman.

And although he’d been drafted to serve in World War II just two days before his graduation, Milligan did end up getting his high school diploma years ago.

“The principal took it out and gave it to my mother,” he said.


News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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