WWII Soldier to visit his old battlefields
DECATUR – George Mills is sore from his accidental fall the previous day but his mind is as sharp as ever.
The World War II veteran, who just turned 98 last week, welcomes a visitor from his chair in his living room. A niece and nephew had left minutes ago after checking on him.
“I’m a World War II veteran, European theater of operations. Four battle stars,” he said.
This is a big year for him because he’ll return to Europe to see his old battlefields through a nonprofit organization called Forever Young Senior Veterans.
Born in Spencer, Tennessee, he grew up in Decatur. When World War II broke out, he and some friends joined the Army after they learned they were about to be drafted. At 21 he entered in May 1942 and was sent to Fort McClellan in Anniston.
“You think you’re superman and you’re ready to go in and see what you can do,” he recalled of his thoughts after his infantry training. “But when that ramp drops down, you start thinking. You’re afraid. But after so long – I knew all those boys (in the unit) – sooner or later you think it’s going to be me soon. Because you look at how many you’ve lost.
“So you just go in and do your job and forget about it. But everybody’s frightened. Don’t ever let them tell you they’re not.”
Mills became a member of Company E, 109th Infantry, 28th Infantry Division. The 28th landed in France about 20 days after D Day. He and his band of brothers proceeded to fight their way from the beach all the way to Paris, “every little town, every little cross road,” he said.
But on Dec. 18, 1944, his company got surrounded and captured by the Germans in a town called Fouhren, Luxembourg. The Soldiers were forced to march several days without food. Mills, who was a communications sergeant, and the other survivors were liberated by U.S. troops April 13, 1945. Mills was discharged from the Army in October 1945.
Thanks to Forever Young Senior Veterans, he plans to revisit Fouhren this September. The organization will take him to France in June.
“Well, if I could walk good, I’d love to go back and see how much change has been done,” Mills said. “But since my balance is bad, I can’t walk (without a cane), it doesn’t interest me so much. But the Betzer house (where he was captured), I’d love to go back there.”
For years he has exchanged Christmas cards through the mail with Elsie Betzer, who was 13 when he was captured. He never met her. He did meet her older brother, Adolf, who was 15 at the time. Elsie has since turned that house into a bread and breakfast.
Mills retired in 1983 after 23 years with the Traylor Music Company in Huntsville. The previous 23 years he worked with E.E. Forbes Piano Company in Decatur. His wife of 68 years, Charlie, died in December 2015.
This year Forever Young Senior Veterans is sending Mills and other World War II veterans to visit the battlefields where they fought in Europe.
The nonprofit plans a trip in June to Normandy for the 75th anniversary celebration of D Day. The 14 WWII veterans from throughout the country include four local men: Mills, Harold McMurran, Sherwin Callander and Major Wooten. They will depart for France on June 2.
In September the organization will send Mills, Jim Feezel and other veterans to Belgium for the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge. The trip is planned for September instead of the actual anniversary in December to avoid the winter weather. Mills will revisit Fouhren, Luxembourg, the town where he was captured in December 1944. The group will depart the U.S. on Sept. 6.
“These World War II veterans are getting to a point now they realize this is their last chance (to revisit their WWII battlefields),” Chris Batte, the Alabama coordinator for Forever Young Senior Veterans, said. “And we don’t have the money to take them all. It’s breaking our hearts. We’re struggling to honor every veteran that felt like they needed to go back.”
Forever Young Senior Veterans, based in Collierville, Tennessee, began in 2006. There has been an Alabama organization in Madison for two years. For more information, visit foreveryoungvets.org or call Batte at 931-409-3812, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“They’re doing nice things,” Mills said.