As his buddies fell by the wayside, under an incredible fusillade of German artillery, Pfc. Garland Gable, fresh from the cotton fields of Arkansas, stayed the course, dashing through the carnage with never a thought of giving up.
Suddenly, he was aware of being hit — in a left hand finger.
The other day, in the living room of his home near the Conway Country Club, Gable smiled sheepishly at the recollection. When he was summoned to serve his country, he responded willingly, and in a matter of days he was off to Camp Robinson at North Little Rock. Additional training at other military posts and he was ready for his great adventure.
When Gable arrived in Europe to take part in the horrors of World War II, he soon found himself journeying though battlefield after battlefield. Luckily, he had escaped serious injury despite the fact that he was in the thick of the fray. Although he was banged up in the fighting, he felt no inclination to dwell on medals of distinction like the Purple Heart -- though he certainly was deserving of one or more.
"I didn’t even think of things like that," he said without bluster.
The former G.I. said candidly, "I didn’t know much. I had little knowledge of the world, even less about the people I was fighting."
He knew only that he was supposed to kill the enemy: Nazi Germans.
Gable was a member of the celebrated "Fighting 69th" infantry
division that fought its way through the heart of Europe, through France, Belgium and Germany. He was an integral part of all of it. He remembers with uncanny ability events of 65 years ago. For example, the battle for Leipzig during the Americans’ drive across Europe.
German troops were holed up in Napoleon’s Tower, a fortification with incredibly thick walls. The Germans felt confident that the Americans could not take it. They rejected commands to surrender the monument of their beloved city.
The memorial was a huge stone edifice visible for miles, surrounded with walls estimated to be from 10 to 20 feet thick. The storm troopers had orders to hold it at all costs.
"It seemed futile since shells literally bounced off its walls," Gable recalled. "The fighting was heavy on both sides. The bodies around the tower got to be so many that a truce was called to gather the dead."
Yet, Leipzig capitulated the next day under unceasing assaults by the Yanks. It was said that the Napoleon Memorial was the smallest target in the war to receive so much artillery pounding, since six battalions were used to capture it.
When his interviewer remarked that Gable enjoys a marvelous ability at recall, he shook his head in mild disagreement and cleared the air.
"I got out of the Army suffering shell shock," Gable said. "I suffered dementia and I was treated at one [Veterans Administration] hospital after another. I became a hundred percent service connected disabled."
But Gable, 86, appears normal — because for the most part he is. He is a willing helpmate. His yard work has made his home a virtual showplace. He is lucid and only at times has trouble articulating, which is not so different from other people his age. He finds no fault with anyone.
"I was drafted when I was just a kid of 18, and I went into the Army willingly," Gable said. "I did what was asked of me. I didn’t want to be a hero and I didn’t worry about medals, even though I got about a dozen. I just wanted to do what I had to do and then come home. I didn’t think about rank. I was a private first class for the almost four years I served."
Asked if he thinks often of the war, Gable replied, "Oh, yes. Ask my wife."
Martha Gable simply smiled weakly, shaking her head slowly as if to give complete confirmation to her husband’s frailty.
"I’m shell shocked. I was then and I am now," Garland Gable said, adding: "You don’t know about shell shock? Well, sir, how about you jump out of your body and your heart races 90 miles an hour. And sometimes you scream and you fall out of bed. And that’s just part of being shell-shocked."
Undoubtedly the afternoon near Leipzig when a German tank, its machine gun blazing, followed Gable across an open field had much to do with feelings of his despair. Miraculously, he escaped.
On May 8, 1945, Adolph Hitler’s mad dream came to an end. Gable and his buddies in the 69th celebrated appropriately
After the war, Gable was at loose ends for a time until he decided to go into the ministry. He served the Baptist church for some 37 years, getting married in the interim.
On Memorial Day, Gable turns his thoughts to years ago when the "greatest generation" was linked in an enormous undertaking nourished by a glorious national tradition. He said the war was like a dream.
"We didn’t worry about getting shot or getting killed," Gable said. "We seemed to be cold all the time, though. We worried about freezing to death. I remember going for 29 days without a bath or shower. When people asked me if we stank, I laughed and said, ‘No, it was too cold.’ We had a job to do and we did it the best way we knew how."
And their best was exceedingly good. During one three-month stretch of fighting, Gable recalled, the 69th pushed 400 miles through 500 towns and captured 35,000 prisoners of war.