Pine vet, stories of war not easy to tell
Roy Ott was stripped of his own clothes and outfitted as a soldier in the Army when he arrived at Camp Meade, Md., in 1943.
He was 18 and barely out of high school when he was drafted.
“I felt like taking it off and telling them to go somewhere,” said Ott, 85, of Pine.
He then spent three days on a passenger train, awaiting a transfer to Camp Grant, near Rockford, Ill. “I was thinking I could’ve been home for three days,” he said. “But I was in the same boat as everyone else.”
Americans will honor those who have protected the nation’s freedom today, Veterans Day. Former soldiers, such as Ott, might reflect more closely on their experiences.
For decades after the war, Ott held tight to his stories, but in recent years, he’s opened up. The memories are still vivid.
“I wonder how I got through it and back,” he said. “I guess praying and having faith. You become more religious when they start to shell you.
“You also pick up new words from the other fellows.”
In the early months of basic training, Ott was in awe of German prisoners who marched within sight of U.S. soldiers.
“When we marched, we didn’t know our left foot from our right foot,” he said with a laugh. “We’d look at them and wonder how they did it. They looked like sticks.”
To Ott, the Germans looked big, more than 6 feet tall with wide frames, while he stood about 5-foot, 8-inches tall and weighed 135 pounds.
“Their misery was over, and ours was just beginning,” he said.
He arrived on the beaches of France six days after the D-Day invasion.
“There were still parts of bodies everywhere,” he said. “They let me off where the water was up to my hips, and when you hit the beach, the sand was like talcum powder, sticking to my pants.”
He was appointed a medic based on his ability to drive a truck, but his responsibilities were at first limited to sorting medications. He remembers the lowly distinction given to him “pill roller,” by his fellow soldiers.
“But when you get into action, you’re a doctor,” he said. “They would do anything in the world for you.”
Ott returned the favor over and over again.
“There were so many hurt, and so many to take care of,” he said. “(Medics) didn’t carry guns, but I was always too busy to worry about it.”
As U.S soldiers advanced deeper into the French countryside, they were slowed by dirt hedgerows — 6 feet high and 4 feet thick — used to corral cattle.
Ott will never forget a soldier named Sprinkle from Sandusky, Ohio, who was 23 and fearless. He never wore a helmet, and would sprint to the top of the hedge-rows, tossing grenades at the Germans.
They later would share residence in an English hospital, when Sprinkle — then a Captain — collected $1,100 from other officers for the purchase of alcohol, which Ott says was gone in about two days.
As the outfit approached Saint-Lop, France, Ott rescued a preacher’s son from Nebraska who was hit by shrapnel. Ott also was struck in the stomach and spent his first stint in an aid station.
Doctors removed the larger pieces of shrapnel, but the smaller ones required surgery. After seeing patients’ intestines removed, then bandaged up, Ott took his chances and returned to battle. “I still don’t know where it is,” he said, gingerly sliding his hand down his left side.
On the Belgium border, a U.S scout lay injured and alone, 75 yards from the rest. Ott was assigned the duty of climbing a 6-foot fence to retrieve him.
“I’m not crawling over that,” he told his officers. “The sniper will see me for sure.”
So they improvised, connecting their rifles into a ladder, which he scampered over and found cover in the weeds. He got hold of the scout and rolled him behind a tree.
“Blood was everywhere,” he said. “He went out of his head and rolled out into the open. I had him with my legs and leaned out to grab him.”
The same sniper struck Ott through the right arm. He was placed in the middle of a three-tier medical truck, which took 12 hours to reach a hospital. But he never lost his wits, because as a medic, you have to be calm, he said.
“How in the hell are you still alive?” asked the first doctor who saw him.
After his second life-threatening injury, Ott figured he was going home, but on a cold English morning, he was again flown back to the front line.
Among the memorabilia Ott gathered overseas is an officer’s knife handed over by a German prisoner, as a sign of respect for Ott’s medic arm band.
He returned to his family in 1945, about 6 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier, bestowed with nearly a dozen military honors, including the Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
He married Betty, his wife of 62 years, and raised a family. He founded a dental supplies business, which he passed on to his son, Kenneth.
“It means so much to walk into a restaurant or a shop, and have people say ‘thank you’ “, he said.
“You feel like you did something worthwhile.”