NO WORDS FOR WAR: World War II veteran shares his story of being drafted
Published 2:00 am Saturday, November 14, 2015
Some things can’t be put into words.
So, for the most part, America’s Greatest Generation went silent.
They had no words for war.
Even at age 94, Max Thrash pauses and then stumbles on his words as he remembers lying on the beach of Normandy, twice wounded. He remembers hearing men screaming in pain and calling for mercy and for mama.
“You don’t die in a war; you get killed,” Thrash said.
Lying there on the blood-soaked sand, he thought he would be killed. And, had it not been for a tank rut in the sand, Thrash said he would have been killed.
“I was hit in the ankle as soon as we hit the beach on D-Day,” he said. “A tank had made a sharp turn and cut a deep rut in the sand. I crawled into that rut but I got hit again on the hip. I lay there for hours before I got pulled out and onto a boat. We got about 500 yards out in the water and the boat was blown out from under us.”
Thrash was badly injured but he swam back to the blood-soaked beach to writher in pain and wait, hope and pray to make it out of there.
After an hour or more, he was loaded onto a boat and ferried through bloody water and floating bodies back to the ship to be hoisted aboard.
“They had ropes under my arms and I was being pulled onto the ship, but an enemy plane came over and the soldiers let go of the ropes and dropped me back in the water,” Thrash said.
After treading water for a long while, Thrash was dropped a lifeline and was hoisted onto the ship.
“I was a lucky man that day,” he said. “But there were a lot of soldiers that weren’t so lucky.”
More than 5,500 Allied soldiers lost their lives on D-Day, about 2,500 were Americans.
“You could have walked ten miles on dead bodies,” Thrash said, pausing in remembrance of the horror of D-Day. “Nobody should ever have to see death and dying like that.”
For years after, the horrors of war still haunted Thrash. He didn’t want to remember.
The memories of a war can tear at a man’s heart and soul.
World War II was one that Thrash was drafted into. He was a country boy from Pike County who had never been too far from home. But, his country needed him and he wanted to do his part, whatever his part was in that war across the ocean.
“I was 21 years old and I knew how to shoot a gun but, at basic training in Texas I was assigned to be a cook,” Thrash said. “But, my orders got mixed up and instead of being a cook, I got to be a number-one machine gunner. That meant I got to pull the trigger. I could fire 700 rounds a minute. That was fast shooting for a squirrel hunter.”
Thrash said he had hopes of going home before he was shipped overseas but the orders came and he was on a ship to North Africa to a participate in a war that he could not even begin to imagine.
Sicily put a bad taste for war in Thrash’s mouth.
“We were fighting the Germans from up on a cliff that dropped about 50 feet or more. I was set up with my machine gun with my left shoulder right at edge of the cliff,” Thrash said. “A mortar shell landed right by left leg but it was a dud and it didn’t go off. I picked the dud up and threw it off the cliff. Sorry ammo is the only reason I’m here today.”
Thrash said more than 700 enemy troops were killed that day.
“They had bunched up like a drove of cows around an old house and we mowed them down,” Thrash said. “We didn’t have any choice. It was to kill them or to be killed. We wanted to get to go home.”
But there were more battles to be fought with more pain and suffering. There was a time when a battle raged for 14 days in the cold and snowy mountains.
“We never took off our shoes or changed our socks. My socks frozen to my feet and I had to cut them off with a razor blade,” he said. “I saw my best friend die in Sicily.”
And, it was in Sicily that Thrash’s farm-boy upbringing paid dividends.
“We were moving into an open area lined with haystacks,” he said. “Things were so quiet you could hear yourself breathing. I had an officer on both sides of me and I told them something was wrong. You don’t put haystacks on scaffolds.”
Thrash was right. The haystacks came down and the machines guns opened fire. There was no time to think of farm and home. The war was raging.
“Over there, you didn’t think about going home because you knew you weren’t going, so you had to put home out of your mind until you couldn’t keep it off,” he said.
But, when a soldier is lying wounded on a beach with death all around him or in a hospital in foreign world, it’s thoughts of home that fill his mind.
Thrash was treated for his injuries in a hospital in England and, for the first time since he was lying in blood and sand on Normandy beach, he thought through his pain to home.
“My ankle was flopping around like an egg beater,” he said. “My hip might have been hurting bad but the nerves in my foot wouldn’t let me know that. About two o’clock in the morning, a nurse, Miss Carson, came in and told me they were coming to get me to take my leg off but not to let them do that. So, I wouldn’t sign for them to cut off my leg. If it hadn’t been for Miss Carson, I would have lost my leg. I’ve always wished I could see her and thank her.”
When he was healed enough to come back to the states, Thrash finished out his military service in Colorado as a cook, just as he had begun his military service. Sandwiched between those times, he was a number one machine gunner in a war across the ocean.
Thrash came home from Colorado on the train and then caught a bus from Montgomery to Brundidge. Nobody was at the bus station to meet him.
“My family knew I was coming home but they didn’t know when,” he said. “J.B. Bowden was going squirrel hunting and he saw me and gave me a ride home.”
For Max Thrash, it was a long time between his basic training and his homecoming. And, it would be a much longer time before the Purple Heart recipient told any stories of the war he fought.
But he has not told all of his stories of war. He can’t do that, not just yet.