Now that veterans are finally getting some of the respect they deserve, there are some “wannabes” out there, according to Korean War combat veteran Fred Shively, sgt. 1st class: “These men claim to have been in war zones when they were sitting in the comfort of their warm homes. Or they pretend to have earned Bronze Stars for heroic actions.”
Those who have served in combat are often reluctant to speak of their experiences, and when they do, it is with modesty. Miami County native Donald Motter, 91, was in the third wave at Omaha Beach and at the Battle of the Bulge. Of the rules of war, he says simply, “I don’t think the Germans had any rules. We didn’t have any either. We were just trying to win a war.”
Motter’s unit had its first reunion in 1983 in Nashville, Tennessee. He reports that back then, they were delighted to be together and as soon as “we figured out who was who, we enjoyed swapping stories of days gone by and getting updated on the numbers of grandchildren. At our last reunion in 2010, only six of us were left, and I’m probably the only one still living.”
A 1942 graduate of Piqua High School, Motter volunteered for the draft and took his basic and advanced artillery training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. From there, it was on to a staging operation in Pennsylvania and then to New York, where he boarded the Queen Mary and sailed to Scotland.
From Scotland it was on to England, where he was stationed at Bude near the Cliffs of Dover. In addition to the regulation calisthenics, he and his unit spent 20 days out of every month for a year and a half practicing cliff climbing. They were “just following orders” and had no idea of when they might need the skill.
They had their answer on June 6, 1944, aboard an LST as part of the third wave of the assault on Omaha Beach. “We had to climb those cliffs at Point du Hoc carrying a carbine rifle — if we got by the pillboxes and bombs on the beach. It wasn’t fun. It was hectic. Lots of guys got killed. From there it was through the hedges in France where we saw the 101st Airborne that had been dropped behind German lines caught in trees with their parachutes, a disastrous situation. The Germans were firing on them, and they didn’t have a chance.”
As his unit headed through France and Belgium. Motter reports, “A and B companies were in the front. C Company was in reserve. I was in A Company. We were always on the front lines and we got to rest once in awhile.”
He pauses to consider commanders, “I saw Eisenhower at his headquarters. I liked him. A sharp general, he knew what he was doing. I didn’t think much of Patton: He was a blood-and guts-soldier, somebody else’s blood and guts.”
It was on to the Battle of the Bulge where “as the tank destroyer battalion, we had a forced march of 100 miles. Heavy snow, cold, frozen hands and feet with our own aircraft, P-38s, strafing us — not able to tell if we were friend or foe because of the bad weather and poor visibility.
“We lost a lot of men. There were four tanks in a platoon, and we’d lose maybe two a day. When we got to Germany, I was driving our company commander because the previous one and his driver had been killed. As we headed toward Berlin, the Germans were coming toward us with their hands up. We’d just tell ‘em to go on by.”
Motter left the military in November of 1945 as a second lieutenant and used his GI educational benefits to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Alabama. He worked for Atlantic-Richfield for four years and then went to work at Hobart in Troy, from which he retired in 1983.
While in college he dated his first love, Pat Baker, and they married in 1953. They had four children, and he says, “I have eight grandchildren and multiple great-grandchildren.” His wife passed in 2005.
Of today’s situation in the Middle East, Motter says, “It’s bad. I’m very concerned. I don’t see how we can sit back and do nothing. Unless we stop the radical Islamists, we’re in big trouble. Eventually, they’ll come here because they’re after us. And the Russians were never our friends. That pact that Roosevelt made with Stalin was a bad deal.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day this year, fully aware of those who are dying in conflicts in the Middle East, let us all remember those 30,000 Americans who perished in the Normandy invasion and at the Battle of the Bulge. And let us thank those like 2nd Lt. Donald M. Motter, U.S. Army, who remember their fallen comrades and who lived to return to the country for which they fought and tell their stories.
Vivian Blevins is a consultant for the Training Solutions Group Inc. who teaches courses in writing and literature for major telecom company employees. Reach her at (937) 778-3815 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Reach