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Interview with Paul Burton [10/4/2004]

Michael Willie:

Today is Monday, October 4th, 2004. This is the beginning of an interview with Paul Elwood Burton at the Erlanger HealthLink Plus Office, Chattanooga, Tennessee. Mr. Burton was born on [birth date redacted], and is now 81 years old. My name is Michael Willie and I will conduct this interview. Mr. Burton, could you state for the recording your name and its spelling, please?

Paul Burton:

Paul Elwood B-u-r-t-o-n.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And during which war did you serve, Mr. Burton?

Paul Burton:

World War II.

Michael Willie:

And in which branch of the service?

Paul Burton:

I was in the infantry.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And what was your highest rank?

Paul Burton:

Staff sergeant.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Where were you born, Mr. Burton?

Paul Burton:

I was born in Evensville, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Where?

Paul Burton:

Evensville, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Whereabouts is Evensville, Tennessee?

Paul Burton:

It's right above Dayton, right close to Dayton, Tennessee.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

And I was born way out in the country.

Michael Willie:

Out in the boonies?

Paul Burton:

Out in the boonies.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Tell me about your family. Did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I've got two brothers and two sisters.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And were they older or younger than you?

Paul Burton:

They are all younger.

Michael Willie:

They are all younger?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

You're the big boy. All right. Now, you were born in Evensville. Were you raised there also? Did you --

Paul Burton:

No. I was partly raised there, and then we moved to Sand Mountain for a little while, and then we come back to Ray County.

Michael Willie:

Ray County. Okay. So did you spend then your formative years or your growing-up years mostly in Ray County then?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. Most of my life was spent there, all but about six years.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Did you graduate high school before getting into the service?

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

Ninth grade.

Michael Willie:

Ninth grade. All right. And were you working after you got out of school?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I worked ever since I was ten years old.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. Right. What did your dad do?

Paul Burton:

He was a -- originally he was a lineman at Bell Telephone Company.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

And then he got into farming. He had farming in his blood, so he got to farming.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So I guess that made you a farmer too, then; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. Well, not much. It was while the kids were around.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, how did you end up getting into the service?

Paul Burton:

I was drafted.

Michael Willie:

You were drafted. You were cordially invited to join the service?

Paul Burton:

Cordially invited.

Michael Willie:

How old were you at that time?

Paul Burton:

19.

Michael Willie:

19. So that was then -- what? '42?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, '40s. '43.

Michael Willie:

'43 before your birthday. All right. Now, were you the first of your family to be drafted?

Paul Burton:

Yes.

Michael Willie:

Okay. How did you feel about going into --

Paul Burton:

The other two was in the Navy. They volunteered for it.

Michael Willie:

Oh, did they? Okay. How did you feel about going into the service?

Paul Burton:

Well, I felt honored about going in. It was -- you know, a country boy, it takes a while to get used to.

Michael Willie:

Right, right.

Paul Burton:

Pretty bad feeling for a little while.

Michael Willie:

Right. How did your parents feel about it?

Paul Burton:

Well, they felt the same way. They - you know, they was patriotic, but they hated to see me go.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Had you really been away from home --

Paul Burton:

Two weeks.

Michael Willie:

-- before? Okay.

Paul Burton:

I went and spent the visit to my uncle and aunt in Birmingham, Alabama, for two weeks.

Michael Willie:

All right. And you were still with family at that point too?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

So, I mean, this is really your first time --

Paul Burton:

It was rough.

Michael Willie:

So right. Okay. So when you're drafted, how did they do it? You get a letter that says, Report here in two weeks or a month? Or how does that --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You have to go down to the draft board and sign up and get a card, and then they call you whenever they get around to you.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. When you know you're being drafted, how much time do you have to put your things in order and get ready? Is it -

Paul Burton:

Not very long. I went to Fort Oglethorpe. I was inducted, and I had seven days back home.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

And then after that, I didn't back home until after the war was over.

Michael Willie:

Man alive. A long time. All right. So you were inducted, then, at Fort Oglethorpe?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. Where did you go for basic training?

Paul Burton:

It was called Camp Wheeler, Georgia, down at Macon.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you're really still -- I mean, it's far away from home, but it's not all of the way across the country; right? I mean, down in Macon is --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. It's all of the way across the country, but you can't come home.

Michael Willie:

Right, right.

Paul Burton:

My family come to see me one time all of the way down in a pickup truck, and I had had hand grenade practice, and there's 56 in our barracks, and every one of them had had it. But he picked me out and he wouldn't let me off. I tried to get off. He said -- I mean, they had come 200 miles or more in a pickup truck and...

Michael Willie:

And you still didn't get to see them?

Paul Burton:

His wife was living in Macon. I mean, he lived in Macon. He was home every night. That was rough.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. I'm sure it was. Well, let's talk about this. When you first get to Camp Wheeler, obviously like you said, you really hadn't been away from home. And were you in pretty good shape at that time?

Paul Burton:

Pardon me?

Michael Willie:

Were you in pretty good shape at that time?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah, I was in top-notch shape.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. So physically basic training is really not much of a trouble or problem.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

But what about taking orders from those - I mean, did you have any trouble?

Paul Burton:

No, I didn't have no problem with that.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So what are you actually doing in basic training? What are you actually learning in basic training?

Paul Burton:

Well, you learn -- you exercise a lot and you learn how to handle your weapons and how to clean them and tear them down and put them back together and run obstacle courses and take long hikes and take a lot of lectures.

Michael Willie:

Right. Like you said, physically you were in pretty good shape, so that's not a problem.

Paul Burton:

Oh, I was in top-notch shape. When I went into Fort Oglethorpe, one of the men sitting there, a Navy man, wanted me to go in the submarines. And, you know, a little country boy like me that scared me to death.

Michael Willie:

Yeah.

Paul Burton:

But then when I was laying in them foxholes and it was raining in my face, I wished I was there.

Michael Willie:

There's a lot of people said join the Navy because they didn't feel like walking all of that.

Paul Burton:

There was less people killed in proportion in the submarines than any other part.

Michael Willie:

Really? Yeah. But I get claustrophobia I couldn't do it. I couldn't -- I mean, honestly I get claustrophobia in an elevator.

Paul Burton:

No. If you're going to be on the ocean, I want to be on top of it.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. Right. All right. Now, at the time when you got into the service, were you single? You weren't married, were you?

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Did you have a girlfriend, though? Did you have anybody steady that you were writing to?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I had one, but nothing serious really.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Well, at least you got somebody to write to though.

Paul Burton:

Yeah, right.

Michael Willie:

I mean, somebody. Okay. How long does basic training actually last?

Paul Burton:

Three months.

Michael Willie:

Three months. Now, let me ask you this. During basic training you're obviously exposed to a lot of people from all over the country; right?

Paul Burton:

Right.

Michael Willie:

Is there any rift between the people from the North and the people from the South --

Paul Burton:

Not really.

Michael Willie:

-- kind of getting used to each other?

Paul Burton:

We'd kid a lot.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Like the Civil War and all of that kind of thing?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. I know. You're all on the same side, so I'm sure there was a lot --

Paul Burton:

No. We didn't have any trouble. There was 56 in our barracks and 50 of us was from the South.

Michael Willie:

All right.

Paul Burton:

We didn't have any problem.

Michael Willie:

So there was no --

Paul Burton:

We didn't really have a lot of problems out of boys up North.

Michael Willie:

Right. Keep your mouth shut if you know what's good for you; right? Or them. All right. So you're in basic training for about three months, then; right?

Paul Burton:

Right.

Michael Willie:

Did you get to see your family after that now?

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

You don't?

Paul Burton:

Just that one time when they come down.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man. That's something else. And they wouldn't -- I mean, did you even ask to --

Paul Burton:

Oh, no. There wasn't no way I was getting it. Huh-uh. They just didn't give leaves.

Michael Willie:

All right.

Paul Burton:

One boy went home because he said his mother was in bad shape, but we found out after -- and he even got an extension, and we found out later his momma wasn't even sick.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man.

Paul Burton:

But they got a doctor to sign some ways against it, and he got away from it.

Michael Willie:

Well, was there anybody from Ray County at that time or anybody close that you kind of were able to hook up with?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. But he was -- but I was in the 1st Division. I was in the 1st Battalion.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

And he was in the 12th. We was restricted for measles almost the whole time we was down there, and we never did know nobody had them.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. All right. Okay. So you're in for about three months. And where do you go from basic training now?

Paul Burton:

I went to Camp Patrick Henry, Virginia.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

We was there for a month because -- actually,____+ she's gone. She said -- well, she had it right about us going to ship out.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

So they held us up for a while.

Michael Willie:

All right. So what are you actually doing there in Camp Patrick Henry? I mean, anything?

Paul Burton:

In basic training?

Michael Willie:

Oh, in Camp Patrick Henry?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. We just -- we done a little exercising and a little bit of training but not much. Mostly exercising.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Right. You're just basically waiting to leave; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. Right.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Are you able to write your family with any of that information or tell them that you're going to leave.

Paul Burton:

No, you can't do that.

Michael Willie:

You can't do anything?

Paul Burton:

They'd censor your mail.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. Well, that's tough. So you're just stuck there and you really can't --

Paul Burton:

The way they censored it was a razor blade.

Michael Willie:

Right. Cut out the little pieces there; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. So is that frustrating for you?

Paul Burton:

Well --

Michael Willie:

You've got to worry about your family a little bit; right? Because you know they are worried about you.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. And even when we was overseas, you could only put "somewhere in France" or "somewhere in Germany" or "somewhere in England," wherever you was.

Michael Willie:

Right. Well, are you starting to get nervous at that time at all, just knowing that you're going to be shipping out into the war?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. Actually, I didn't -- I figured that I might live -- once I got in combat, I might live -- I'd be lucky if I lived one hour. That's about what I figured.

Michael Willie:

Man alive. So once you -- does that make it easier to do it if you really think you're --

Paul Burton:

No. It's about the hardest thing you ever could do.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

But, you know, we was fighting for our country and everybody else was fighting for our country and it had to be done and...

Michael Willie:

And you're all in there together; right? I mean, everybody made sacrifices?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. Back home the women couldn't get nylon hose.

Michael Willie:

Mayonnaise. I couldn't do without.

Paul Burton:

Sugar.

Michael Willie:

You're talking about giving up my mayonnaise. Those are fighting words as far as I'm concerned.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you're waiting at Camp Patrick Henry then for about a month --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- right? And then what?

Paul Burton:

Shipped out to Casablanca, North Africa.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, had you ever been on the ocean before?

Paul Burton:

No, I never had.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Did you have any trouble with seasickness?

Paul Burton:

Pardon me?

Michael Willie:

Did you get seasick on the ship?

Paul Burton:

No, not much. I've been fortunate on that. I never really got -- I was down in the engine --close to the engine room, and that diesel stuff made me a little bit nausea, but it wasn't the ocean.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Did anybody else get seasickness?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. This is a big adventure for you. You're crossing the ocean. I mean, you hadn't really been that far from home, and all of a sudden, you're going thousands of miles away.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You watch the United States just fade away because you figure that's the last time you're going to see it, and that's a bad feeling.

Michael Willie:

Man. I mean, how do you deal with that? You're right. I mean, thinking that this might be the last time I see the --

Paul Burton:

It's hard. But you go over there fighting for your family and the rest of people in America. So I mean, you say, Well, it has to be done.

Michael Willie:

All right. Okay. So you ship out to - did you say to Casablanca now? How long does it take you to get across the --

Paul Burton:

It took us 15 days.

Michael Willie:

15 days. Man alive. All right. Then - all right. Then you land in Casablanca?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. Did you guys actually get off there, or was this just a stopover?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, we got -- yeah, we got off. See, we wanted -- the war was over in Casablanca.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

I mean, the war was over in North Africa.

Michael Willie:

In North Africa, right.

Paul Burton:

So we went across African in boxcars.

Michael Willie:

And how far had they gotten into Italy at this time?

Paul Burton:

How far across?

Michael Willie:

No. How far had they gotten into Italy at this time?

Paul Burton:

Oh. Well, they was in Sicily.

Michael Willie:

They were in Sicily.

Paul Burton:

So we went across that little strait of water between Africa and Sicily.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

And I joined the 9th Division in Sicily.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Let me ask you this before you get too far in. In -- from Casablanca, do you automatically load in the boxcars then, or do you stay around there for any length of time?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, we stayed there about a week.

Michael Willie:

About a week. Were there any of the -- somebody was telling me about the -- I forget what they called them, but the people that come around and steal things from the American soldiers.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. They will kill you too if they get a chance.

Michael Willie:

Did you see any of that, any of those people?

Paul Burton:

No. I heard about some of it, but there wasn't anybody around me, immediately around me.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. And what was it like? What did it look like there in Casablanca?

Paul Burton:

Well, at that time it was dirty town. I mean, terrible, filthy. But I think in the peacetime I think it's kind of a tourist place.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Were you looking around for Humphrey Bogart?

Paul Burton:

I wasn't worried about him at that time.

Michael Willie:

You've got bigger fish to fry; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Now, so you stayed there for a little while, then you go ahead and take boxcars up to Italy. Do you know where you're going at that time?

Paul Burton:

No, you don't know where you're going.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. But you pretty much figure you're going up to the lines?

Paul Burton:

Well, you know you're going to the front lines, you're heading towards the front lines.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

And when we went over, they -- like I said, there was 5600 of us, and they told us we were replacements.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

So that's not really a good feeling.

Michael Willie:

Right. You are taking somebody's place who's had it; right?

Paul Burton:

Either killed, captured or wounded, right.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. So as you start moving up there, do you start getting more nervous or is the -- are the nerves there, you know, from the time you ship out?

Paul Burton:

Well, you know, when you go under combat, yeah, you're nervous all right. Anybody that says they are not -- anybody that says they are not afraid, there's something wrong with them.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Or they are lying.

Paul Burton:

Or they are lying, one, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you take the boxcars up. And when do you actually meet up with the -- who did you say you met up with?

Paul Burton:

9th Division.

Michael Willie:

The 9th Division.

Paul Burton:

Yeah, in Sicily.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

There's this body of water. I don't know what they call it there that runs the point of Africa and Sicily.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

And we went across that on LSTs. And talk about getting sick. I didn't, but them LSTs was loaded top heavy with trucks and stuff. And they get in this thing where they'd go back on their back end, up on their front end, and then they'd roll to the side and back to the other side, and they'd go back through the same procedure.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man.

Paul Burton:

It takes a good stomach to handle that.

Michael Willie:

Right. Are they the flat bottoms? The ones that -- I mean, I've heard --

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. They are landing craft is what they are.

Michael Willie:

Man alive.

Paul Burton:

I mean, they don't go all of the way up the beach, but that's the ones that had that big door out in front.

Michael Willie:

Right. I imagine the combination of just the waves and the movement along with your nerves probably didn't make it too easy at all.

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. This buddy of mine who lived in Athens, he just got so sick he couldn't hardly -- he was just throwing up his insides.

Michael Willie:

I've heard a lot of people say --

Paul Burton:

There was a little corporal who came around and told him he was on guard and he told that corporal where to go.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you hook up with the 9th Division in Sicily then; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, when you meet up with them, are they actually on the lines or are they behind the lines?

Paul Burton:

They was -- they was pulled back for replacements. We could hear the front lines. That's how close it was. And they run them across into the -- across the straits into Messina, Italy. So we was over there. But we was on an hour alert when that Anzio. And anyway, I said I always liked the Navy, but I loved them after that. The Navy pushed them back where they could get some stuff in there and we didn't have to go.

Michael Willie:

On Anzio?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. So yeah. And at that point, that was kind of --

Paul Burton:

They was pushed back to the water. I talked to a boy later that was there, and he said we was pushed all of the way back to the water. He said, I had one round of ammunition left. The Navy went in there with their big guns and pushed them back actually and got some supplies and stuff in where they could go. So we didn't have to go. So we was in Sicily for three months, and then we went to England for six months.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, what did you actually do in Sicily? What were you doing in Sicily?

Paul Burton:

We just done some more training and lectures and stuff like that. Went down to Palermo and met -- for a parade with General Patton.

Michael Willie:

Really?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

What was that like? A lot of people -- everybody had -- everybody had an opinion on Patton. Either they liked him or they hated him.

Paul Burton:

He was tough. Well, you'd like him as a warrior, but he was tough. I mean, he was rough.

Michael Willie:

Right. So you're basically just training and you're not --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, did you get --

Paul Burton:

He had the 3rd Armored Division and I was in the 3rd Army Division. I mean, so...

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now --

Paul Burton:

He walked right by and checked -- checked us over. Had them make the pearl handle .44s.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. And, see, people said that he was right there.

Paul Burton:

He was.

Michael Willie:

I mean, his men really respected him.

Paul Burton:

They said he -- when he got to the Rhine River -- I got reclassified and sent back before that. But when he got to the Rhine River, they said he didn't -- they didn't want to go because that was the final stand. That's what they thought it was. And so he swam across and come back, kicked the bank and come back and said, Let's go. Now, they told us that there was one German solider and said he was drunk and passed out, guarding a bridge. So they didn't have any problem at all there. By that time, they was out of anything to even fight with.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. Right after the Bulge.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. It was long before that. They didn't have our Air Force.

Michael Willie:

Now, you're training in Sicily. Are you -- are they telling you what you're training for? Are you training for the --

Paul Burton:

Yeah, they know.

Michael Willie:

-- mission to Europe?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, they tell you.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So --

Paul Burton:

They more or less told us in Fort Oglethorpe what we was going into.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So now while you're in Sicily, you're there training for like three months; right?

Paul Burton:

Uh-huh.

Michael Willie:

Did you get to do any touring? Any sightseeing?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. We went down to Palermo and places like that.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. So are you getting souvenirs or are you -- just, are you able to really enjoy looking around?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You could go anywhere you wanted to. They didn't -- they wasn't -- it wasn't like over there now. And even after the war was over, when it was over, it was over. We didn't have no problem -- I was in Frankfurt, Germany, when it was over. I was guarding for Eisenhower --

Michael Willie:

Yeah.

Paul Burton:

-- right after I got reclassified. And we'd go to town. You could do anything you wanted to. They was -- they was happy it was over with, the Germans were.

Michael Willie:

Right. Now, what were the Italians -- or the Sicilians, I guess, what were they like?

Paul Burton:

Well, they're -- they're -- one Sicilian put it this way. He said, We are the garbage can for Italy. We get what Italy don't want.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. But I mean, were they grateful to the Americans? Were they --

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you train in Sicily for a couple of months or a few months.

Paul Burton:

Three months.

Michael Willie:

Three months. And then you're sent where?

Paul Burton:

England.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. So at this point, is it -- what? Early '44?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. And where are you sent in England?

Paul Burton:

I was in Winchester.

Michael Willie:

Winchester.

Paul Burton:

That's 60 miles, I think, south of London.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Now, when you get into England, is the same kind of feeling with the -- with the civilians that they meet?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. They was a little bit resentful I think sometimes because there was so many of us there, but they were nice to us.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. And at this point, are you training for the push into --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And is that -- I mean, do you know --

Paul Burton:

We don't know that we're training for an invasion, but we know we're going over there.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So have they already -- have they already gone into Normandy at that point, or is it before D-Day?

Paul Burton:

No, no. After we were there about six months is when they went -- they hit Normandy and Omaha. We landed at Omaha.

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you actually did go into Omaha?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. They were 6 miles up when we - 7 miles I believe it was --

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

-- when we relieved them.

Michael Willie:

Okay. And you landed at Omaha Beach --

Paul Burton:

Uh-huh.

Michael Willie:

-- you're saying? Now, was there still remnants of -- I mean, could you see where they had gone in by the time you guys --

Paul Burton:

No. They pretty well had it cleaned up. They'd clean up stuff like that.

Michael Willie:

But it was still slow through there?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

Are you aware of that?

Paul Burton:

We could see where stuff was bombed out and shot up and stuff like that, but...

Michael Willie:

Okay. So you -

Paul Burton:

But we didn't see any dead bodies or nothing like that there because they already had them buried.

Michael Willie:

All right. I was going to say it was slow moving going back in through the hedge rows back in there.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

So when you pull in -- when you land on Omaha Beach then, where do you guys actually go? Take me from --

Paul Burton:

Well, we went in and got organized, and we landed D+6 I think it was, and D+14 we went into combat. So we had to, you know, get organized and all of that stuff.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Get everything ready. And 6, 7 miles back there, that's not a heck of a long way.

Paul Burton:

No, it ain't.

Michael Willie:

I mean, that's --

Paul Burton:

Not very far.

Michael Willie:

Right. I mean, you know now, that once you get in there you know you're heading right toward the --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

This is the closest you've been to --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. When we got -- we knew when we left England where we was going at that time. They wouldn't tell you much in advance, but...

Michael Willie:

Okay. But you had said --

Paul Burton:

A matter of fact, we trained out in Bromwich, England, actually for invasion.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Wow. Now, that's got to make it real; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. That don't make you feel too good.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. You had said earlier on that you figured you weren't going to last an hour --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- in battle; right? Now, this is the closest that you've been and you know you're going to be in the lines.

Paul Burton:

That's just how I felt. That's pessimistic, I guess.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. But I'm just saying: When you are that close and you know that you're organizing and it's about to be real, it's about to really happen, how do you feel about that?

Paul Burton:

Well, you're scared and nervous and all of that stuff. You know, you don't figure you're going to see home no more, so that's not a good feeling. But, you know, them others ain't either. So all of them didn't and I did.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. So you landed on --

Paul Burton:

And the Good Lord knew I was coming back. I didn't know that.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. Right. I mean, you can't.

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you land on Omaha Beach. You get everything organized, and then you start pushing back, just marching. Is that basically --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. We just marched up to the front lines.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. How long does it -- well, D+14. So I mean, it's about a week getting back there then?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. We was -- I think it was about -- 6, D+6 was when we landed. We went -- it was the 10th when we got on up, when we landed and got organized. And we went and relieved them on the 14th.

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. Wow.

Paul Burton:

So that wasn't too long.

Michael Willie:

Yeah. So it's -- all right.

Paul Burton:

Eight days.

Michael Willie:

Eight days. All right. All right. Now, when you're heading back there, I mean, can you hear the gunfire? As you're moving closer to the line --

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- can you hear the gunfire?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You can hear artillery and stuff like that. The closer you get, you get to hear the rifles popping and the machine guns.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

And that's not a good feeling either.

Michael Willie:

Right. And are you wondering how you're going to react? Do you even think in your mind, Am I going to be able to react?

Paul Burton:

No. You don't really know how you're going to act until you get into it.

Michael Willie:

Right. So talk about the first combat.

Paul Burton:

About 30 minutes after we got into combat, the boy that slept over me in England for six months, his name was Hogan. We called him Ben Hogan. He got his whole chin machine gunned off, like that. And they told me Hogan was hit and lead bullets flying everywhere and artillery busting all over the place. I went over there to him. He raised up like -- he was a machine gunner. He raised up on his elbow and looked at me and winked. If I live to be a million years, I'll never forget that.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man alive.

Paul Burton:

But there was two medics sitting there throwing iodine powder on him trying to dry the blood up. He didn't last long.

Michael Willie:

Oh, man. Just flying straight then in places where you have no idea; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. See, we was in a -- what we did was we went across a peninsula and secured it, and then we turned and went all of the way to the very end of it in them hedgerows up there. We were fighting in one field and the Germans were in the next field.

Michael Willie:

And can you see what you're shooting at? I mean, can you actually see people?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. I was in the infantry, but I was in the mortars.

Michael Willie:

Oh, okay.

Paul Burton:

60 mortars.

Michael Willie:

Yeah.

Paul Burton:

You know what they are, tubes. And, of course, I was a POC when I landed, and we got way on up in France where I -- we pulled back for replacements. And my first sergeant -- I mean, my lieutenant sergeant and I were out and he said, Boy, I want to talk to you. He said, Our artillery is shelling the Germans. And we sat down by the bank. He said, I want to promote you to staff sergeant. I want you take over the mortar station. I said, No, you ain't. He said, Well, listen. They're fixing to promote me to first sergeant. If I take 187, you can take 15. And my first supervision was in 15 guys in combat.

Michael Willie:

All right. Mortars had really any kind of heavy artillery.

Paul Burton:

Well, 60 millimeters and 80 millimeters. We was in the sixties which is the smaller ones.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. But you guys -- that makes you guys the targets; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. Oh, yeah. Because we're back maybe about a thousand yards back at most behind the infantry, so we're back where we catch more artillery and stuff than they do.

Michael Willie:

Right. Exactly.

Paul Burton:

So they were fighting on such close quarters there. They couldn't hardly use artillery on the infantry too much because they'd hit their own people.

Michael Willie:

Right, right.

Paul Burton:

But we was in a bad -- we was in a position where they were just -- we got hit pretty bad.

Michael Willie:

Just lobbing it.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Lobbing at it you; right?

Paul Burton:

Because they didn't like no way, particularly those mortars would get more than one person at a time.

Michael Willie:

Right, right.

Paul Burton:

You'd go and wipe out a whole machine gun nest or something like that at one time. I didn't actually shoot nobody pointblank, but...

Michael Willie:

Yeah. Did you guys have forward observers?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I was the first gunner up until the time -- I was the one that dropped them in there until I got promoted, and then I told them what to do. Them mortars will move either way or they'll move up and down. So you have to learn how to -- if you got up somebody up at the front line, in most cases, it was the first sergeant. You know, he'd tell me what to set it on --

Michael Willie:

Coordinates.

Paul Burton:

-- and how many to drop in there at that time. One time he said, I want you to set your watch. I want you to drop three shells per gun every three minutes. I said, We'll run out of ammunition pretty soon. He said, We'll get you some mortars. Them boys that night after things ___ down, they said, Boys loved them mortars because every time them Germans would raise them heads up, the mortars would start conking again.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, let's talk about this. After the first combat and after the first time you guys get into it and you say that guy got shot, is there a sense of like a baptism under fire or that feeling that you got through that?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You got through today.

Michael Willie:

Yeah.

Paul Burton:

And then you'd hoped you'd get through tomorrow.

Michael Willie:

Right. Okay.

Paul Burton:

If you lived through night. They didn't do much shelling except for that. They had to have their rest too. Sometimes they'd have somebody fire one shell every once in a while. It usually went way on past us but trying to keep you away, I guess. If they could sleep and keep us awake, then they had it made.

Michael Willie:

Right. Exactly. I mean, that's what you're looking for, just trying to keep you -- one eye open.

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. And then keep you upset, not knowing -- you know, keep you tensed up, not knowing --

Michael Willie:

Exactly.

Paul Burton:

-- when that shell was coming or where it was going to land.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Hold on one second. (Pause in recording)

Michael Willie:

Okay. What was that again?

Paul Burton:

I said, one of the hardest thing is to see your buddy killed every day.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

I've seen 30, 40 probably killed in one day.

Michael Willie:

And, I mean, can you get --

Paul Burton:

I didn't actually see them killed because I usually was in the foxhole. But you go around and get their -- the first sergeant maybe go around and get their one dog tag and their personal stuff, put it in the bag, and then they leave one dog tag with them to go to the grave.

Michael Willie:

And can you -- can you get used to that? I mean, how do you --

Paul Burton:

No, you don't get used to it. You just -- one time, I guess a little testimony. We was - me and a buddy of mine was laying in a foxhole and the Germans were shelling. They give us orders to move out. They quit shelling. They give us orders to move out. They didn't quit. They just stopped. And we got up and snapped our card belts on, and they started shelling again. He went back to -- next to the bank where I was and I went where he was. We was laying side by side. A shell landed on an apple tree on my side, and a piece of shrapnel big enough to cut his spine in two come across my spine and cut his spine too. And then a whole bunch of pieces went in his shoulder. And we carried ammunition, more ammunition, in a canvass bag like a saddlebag. And a whole bunch of little pieces went in that mortar ammunition bag and I didn't get a scratch.

Michael Willie:

Man alive.

Paul Burton:

That shows you: The Good Lord took out a big piece and he got a little piece, and the shell actually landed on my side in an apple tree.

Michael Willie:

And do you think about that at the time? I mean, do you think --

Paul Burton:

He's laying there with his feet crossed hollering, Help me. Nothing I could do except holler and scream my head off for medics. And those medics had their hands full because there was a lot of other people at that time getting the same thing.

Michael Willie:

Now, when you lose a lot of friends like that or whatever, just lose people with whom you're acquainted, do you tend to not want to make friends with anybody, not get close with --

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

-- anybody after that?

Paul Burton:

No. It denerves you bad when -- that's one of the things that ties your nerves up. See, I asked the first sergeant to go back -- I was RD Force, the Black Forest up in Germany. And we went in and landed with -- started off with the 187th Company. And when I asked him to go back for a break, I left six original people on the front lines, so that kind of tears you down. And when I got back to the hospital, they reclassified me. This colonel, whatever he was, he said, There ain't nothing wrong with you except you've just been up there too long. He said, I'm going to reclassify you. He said, They might have to take some of your rank. And I said, They have that whole sleeve. But they didn't have to. I wound up in Eisenhower's outfit back in Versailles, France. Then we went from there when the war was over up to Frankfurt.

Michael Willie:

Well, let's talk about this before we move too far. You had talked about it's really stressful. I mean, day after day after day moving out there and just -- I mean, you obviously - you see people killed or you just know that people are getting killed. Is there any time when you feel like you can rest, when you can kind of get away?

Paul Burton:

Well, see, I was looking -- I wasn't a Christian then. I have been for a long time. But I was looking at the law of average, and every day we was getting less people. They'd keep coming in. I mean, we had replacements. But every day more and more of the people I started off with is missing, killed, captured, or wounded. Most of them -- or a few got captured, but few did. And you figure the law of average is coming down on you, besides all of that other stuff going on.

Michael Willie:

So you figure you're --

Paul Burton:

It just tore my nerves all to pieces. I'm still not over it. Never will. The man at the VA said, You never will be over it. You can't get over it.

Michael Willie:

You can't.

Paul Burton:

No, you don't.

Michael Willie:

You can't just shut it off.

Paul Burton:

You don't. You can't get over it.

Michael Willie:

So --

Paul Burton:

I used to -- when I first -- the first few years after I got out, every once in a while at night, I'd wake up and I'd jump up like I was under an artillery barrage. I'd wind up being on the floor. I scared my wife to death one time. She doesn't know what's going on.

Michael Willie:

Right. And you know something about it is: That happened to a lot of people.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Nobody wanted to tell anybody about it.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

You know, because they thought they were the only ones who were going through it.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

They did. I mean, especially that generation a proud -- I mean, it's just: People didn't want anybody else to know --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- they were going through it.

Paul Burton:

Wouldn't tell the world about it because there's 11 million people, I think, in there. And, of course, not that many have combat but a lot of them.

Michael Willie:

Well, not even people -- I mean, I've talked to guys in the Navy who never even saw combat.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

There were accidents on deck --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- and going through the very same thing or just afraid.

Paul Burton:

They may not have seen combat, but they may have had people around them -- torpedoes buzzing around them and stuff like that.

Michael Willie:

Right. Or just being afraid.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

They were so scared --

Paul Burton:

Just being afraid that there was going to be something happen.

Michael Willie:

-- kamikazes or torpedoes and just scared to death, couldn't sleep, when they get home.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

And they are just rattled, having the same nightmares.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

I mean, it is. It's devastating what war does to you.

Paul Burton:

Well, them guys in that war now are doing that too. I turn on the news. They are having all kinds of problems.

Michael Willie:

It is. It's not natural.

Paul Burton:

No, it's not. It's not natural.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you say you guys work up through there. Now, when you're in the Black Forest --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Now, is this during the Bulge?

Paul Burton:

It's the same Black Forest and all of that, but I left the 27 September and it was on into the winter a little bit more when the Battle of the Bulge hit.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

I worked with a guy for several years that his feet got froze during Battle of the Bulge.

Michael Willie:

A lot of people's feet got froze. I mean, it was cold.

Paul Burton:

Yeah, it was rough up there. I was fortunate to get out before the real cold weather hit.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now, you left in September 1944. For what reason? I mean, how did you actually get out?

Paul Burton:

Well, I didn't get out of the service. I mean, I just --

Michael Willie:

Yeah. No, that's what I'm saying. How did you --

Paul Burton:

I just went and talked to my first sergeant and asked him could I go back for a break. You know, I didn't expect -- I figured I'd be back up there. But when I went back, they sent me to the 108th General Hospital in Paris and I laid around there for a few days. And this guy examined me and he said, Well, the only thing wrong with you, you've been up there too long. He said, We're going to reclassify you and put you in noncombat. He said, They might have to take some of your stripes. I said, They can have them all if they want. But once I got back, I was guarding the Eisenhower headquarters. And I had like 15 guys under me there at one time. Two times, I guess. And I'm glad to have them stripes. There's some advantage to it.

Michael Willie:

All right. So where is Eisenhower's headquarters again at that time?

Paul Burton:

Well, it was in Versailles, France. That's 10 miles out of Paris. That's where they signed the World War I Peace Treaty.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

They call it Versailles. And he -- he was set up in a humongous, big hotel, and part of the time, I was air raid warden at a police station out there in Versailles. And there wasn't much going on. They didn't have no planes much left, so I didn't have much to do. And then after that, they put me and another boy guarding the war room, which you had to be at least above sergeant. You got to be a sergeant or -- there was some description. So they had two on it, but we didn't have -- that's the best part I guess I ever had in there because there was two of us on it, but only one of us had to be there at a time. So they would call, holler out and tell us to go haul out for lunch and stuff saying we shouldn't ____ and me and this boy would be sitting there shining our shoes. So when one of us got out there, we'd go down to the officer's mess and eat and then the other would go down to the officer's mess and eat. And we took a little ribbing over that.

Michael Willie:

That's all right. You paid some dues, though.

Paul Burton:

They said, them two privileged characters don't have to -- they don't have to fall out like we do. They got it made. They go out there, and whichever one of us was the hungriest, we'd go eat first. And we relieved each other just whenever we felt like it. It didn't have to be on no certain time.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

And they -- we got in with that mess sergeant down there. So the war room, what it is is maps -- like this building here, this room here. It's maps for the whole European theater of operation around there. It's not hardly what it sounds like. So you had a list on a wall who could go in there and when they could go in. And we had to check their IDs and make sure it was the right people going in there at the right time.

Michael Willie:

So did you actually get to meet Eisenhower?

Paul Burton:

I never did actually meet him personally. I was right around there where he was, but I never did meet him personally. When the Battle of the Bulge was on, we had a colonel that was almost a spitting image of Eisenhower. So he had to take Eisenhower's place for a while. I mean, when he was moving around there, people thought he was Eisenhower because he looked so much like him. And I don't imagine he felt too good about that but -- because he never knew when they'd would slip back there and get you out, but they didn't. We didn't have any problem.

Michael Willie:

So this is obviously good duty. But at that time, are you -- are you experiencing at that time kind of like the shakes? Are you still having the -- are you having --

Paul Burton:

Well, I guess I felt so relieved at that time. You know, I could do my job as far as that goes. As a matter of fact, I had -- when we got to Frankfurt, I had 15 guys under me there as the guard, guard boy. So I wasn't at the point I couldn't do my job. I just --

Michael Willie:

No.

Paul Burton:

-- felt like sometimes your insides are going to tire out.

Michael Willie:

That's what I mean.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

You've been through -- the thing is: They can program you and train you, and then you get in there and you have to get used to it.

Paul Burton:

Right.

Michael Willie:

You kind of have to get used to it. You can't just flip that off.

Paul Burton:

No, you can't.

Michael Willie:

You can't flip that switch off.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

That's what I am wondering. At that time, are you -- is it --

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. I was in bad shape, but I could do my job. It wasn't an outward thing. It was inward. And you feel like -- even today sometimes -- not today particularly but I have days now when I feel like I'm going to fly apart inside, but you have to control it.

Michael Willie:

Now, do you remember when you found out that the European war was over, that Germany had surrendered?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, they told us.

Michael Willie:

Where were you at that time?

Paul Burton:

I was still back in Versailles, France, when that happened.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. And what does that mean for you, when you hear that Germany has --

Paul Burton:

Oh, boy. Hurray.

Michael Willie:

All right. But is there any thought for you that you might end up having to go out to the Pacific or...?

Paul Burton:

No, I wasn't, but some of them did, but I was in noncombat, so I wasn't likely to have to go.

Michael Willie:

All right. So when Germany surrenders, then how soon after that do you end up going into Frankfurt?

Paul Burton:

How soon after what?

Michael Willie:

After Germany surrendered. How soon after the surrender did you go into Frankfurt?

Paul Burton:

Shortly after that.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. And what are you actually doing in Frankfurt?

Paul Burton:

We was guarding, just guarding all over the place. We was guarding warehouses and all kinds of government buildings and all of that stuff, anything pertaining to the government.

Michael Willie:

Are you in contact at all with any German civilians --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- at that time?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

What are they like?

Paul Burton:

Well, they are just great. They was glad -- they were just tickled to death it was over with. I felt sorry when we go out -- we'd go out to Frankfurt and I'd see them Germans sitting around there, probably been shooting at me or shooting somebody, and sitting there with a little pack on their back and didn't know probably whether their family was alive or not. And, you know, when it was over, it was over. When it was over for us, it was over for them.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. And everybody is just grateful it's over.

Paul Burton:

Yeah, yeah. Even the Germans. I mean, if anything, they was better to us than the English people. They was tickled to death it was over with.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

They didn't like it no better than we did.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Right.

Paul Burton:

The SS troops did, but even they wasn't no problem after it was over. I mean, you know, when they declared -- or signed the peace treaty, well, that was it.

Michael Willie:

I don't think they hated the Americans.

Paul Burton:

They are not.

Michael Willie:

I don't think the Americans hated them.

Paul Burton:

No.

Michael Willie:

They were doing their job.

Paul Burton:

They were thrilled to death to get liberated. They was the last ones -- the last ones to be liberated.

Michael Willie:

Right. And in a lot of cases, they were just glad it was the Americans and not the Russians.

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah, they were tickled to death.

Michael Willie:

All right. So how long did you have to stay in Frankfurt?

Paul Burton:

I guess I was there about a year.

Michael Willie:

About a year. All right. And did they set up like --

Paul Burton:

I don't remember exactly, but I know got out in '45, so I went in '43.

Michael Willie:

Did they set up USO shows --

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah.

Michael Willie:

-- and things like that going on?

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. They had USO shows. We had an Allied club out there in Frankfurt, a great big place. And they'd have people like John (Barnow) and sometime not too many of them, but he did come over one time. But I think that's when I was in France. We was only 10 miles out of Paris.

Michael Willie:

Did you go into Paris?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. Yeah, I've been on the Eiffel Tower. When I got home, I went up the Empire State Building. There's one thing I regretted: While I was in London sometime, I didn't go up Big Ben. But you could only go up the first flight on the Eiffel Tower. They wouldn't let you go up farther up than that.

Michael Willie:

But that's something. A little country boy.

Paul Burton:

That's right. A little country boy from Tennessee over there going up the Eiffel Tower. The Tower of Eiffel, they call it.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. I mean, seriously --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. After it was over with, you know, I enjoyed a lot of it. I seen a lot of scenery I never would have seen before.

Michael Willie:

It is. It's a shame you had to do it under those circumstances, though.

Paul Burton:

Uh-huh, bad circumstances.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. All right. Now, did you --

Paul Burton:

You know, if I had had a lot of money, I'd like to make the round -- pretty much the round I made now.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. A lot of people say that.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

See what it's like.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. It would be fun to go, you know, into Africa and go across Africa and see the difference and maybe even go to Sicily. But Sicily at that time was a real poor place. They still had old trucks over there with charcoal burning, operating on charcoal. They're great big old things.

Michael Willie:

They got to be.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Did you buy any souvenirs for your family to take home?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I sent some little stuff home. I sent my sister an accordion from Germany, but it didn't -- it got here. It was so beat up. It wasn't any good. And I packed it pretty good. I mean, they handled that stuff pretty rough.

Michael Willie:

All right. So now, you say you end up staying quite a while before you're able to actually get home. How many points did you have?

Paul Burton:

I don't remember how many I had. You come home on points. And a Purple Heart was five points, and I think every battle star was so many points. I don't know how they counted it.

Michael Willie:

Well, if you were married, you got points, and if you had kids, you got points.

Paul Burton:

I think so. I know one boy from Birmingham was a real close friend of mine. And when we shipped out, he lacked one point having enough, and he had a baby at home he had never seen. When Sentimental Journey come out, I'll never forget that. He say, I want to see my wife and baby. I think of old Joe Brown every time I hear that song.

Michael Willie:

All right. But you end up -- when did you end up finally able to get home? Do you remember what month it was?

Paul Burton:

It was 17 February. It's down on that piece of paper. I think 17th day of February.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

No, no. That's when I went in. November. I got home in November.

Michael Willie:

November of '45?

Paul Burton:

Yes, just before Christmas. They'd start shooting firecrackers around me, and I'd have to take off.

Michael Willie:

Really? I mean, that's --

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You wouldn't think that would make a difference, but it does.

Michael Willie:

Now, where did you ship out from in Europe?

Paul Burton:

Over there? Normandy.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Le Havre?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, somewhere. Le Havre, I think.

Michael Willie:

That had to be a lot different trip going home.

Paul Burton:

Oh, yeah. Different story coming back.

Michael Willie:

Nerves are gone.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. You knew unless you had an accident or the Good Lord was taking you away from here you was going home after the war is over. I mean, it was a wonderful feeling.

Michael Willie:

All right. How long did it take you to get back from the States?

Paul Burton:

From the time we left Germany?

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

It wasn't very long. I don't remember how long. Maybe a couple of weeks.

Michael Willie:

All right. All right.

Paul Burton:

It was seven days. It was seven days coming back. We come back on the Queen Elizabeth, I think it was, whatever ship we came back on. And the Queen Mary left four days after we did, and we landed in New York at the same time.

Michael Willie:

Wow. But do you remember? Did you actually -- do you remember the first time you saw the American coast?

Paul Burton:

Coming back? Oh, yeah. There were grown men on there just boohooing when they seen the Statue of Liberty in New York. See, we landed at night. So New York was all lit up. And after I went across Africa to Sicily, the first lights I seen after that was when we come to Spain. And see, Spain was neutral. And they had -- one of the cities we come by pretty close to right across from the Rock of Gibraltar, that was the prettiest lights I'd ever seen in my life until I got home and come around Lookout Mountain and seen the ones here.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you get back. You land in New York. And then are you ready for discharge right then, or do you have to go home first?

Paul Burton:

No. Yeah, we went across the river to Fort Knox. I got discharged at Fort Knox.

Michael Willie:

Fort Dix?

Paul Burton:

Pardon me?

Michael Willie:

Fort Dix or Fort Knox?

Paul Burton:

Fort Knox.

Michael Willie:

Fort Knox. And at that time you're totally discharged and you're out of the --

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Is there any thought that you might want to --

Paul Burton:

They used to give us a little -- they'd give everybody then a little yellow duck, a duck head. They call it the ruptured duck.

Michael Willie:

All right.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. They tried to get you to stay in, you know, reup. And I did. The old Army guy sitting there talking to me, he said -- you know, he told me how crazy I was. So I went up and the guys are talking. I asked him to see my form that I filled up and I tore it up. Boy, it made him mad, but I wished several times I had stayed in.

Michael Willie:

Really?

Paul Burton:

I was just two stripes from as far as you could go, staff sergeant. Just got three up and one down and there's only two more to go to make you top sergeant.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

So...

Michael Willie:

Okay. All right. But you go ahead and take your discharge?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

And then do you remember coming home?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

When you got in?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. See, my people had moved from Rhea County to Hixson, and when I come home, I didn't even know where I lived. I had this taxi driver in the middle of the night out there riding around in that old Hixson town which wasn't much to it at that time. Two grocery stores and a Post Office and a doctor's office is about all there is to it. We finally wound up -- I seen my aunt's name on the mailbox, and I stopped and got them up at 4:00, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning. So my aunt used to tell my mama, she said, I got to see him before you did.

Michael Willie:

That's got to be nice.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. They are all gone now. All of my aunts and my mother and daddy and all of my aunts and uncles are all gone. Everybody.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, you said you had two brothers in the Navy; right?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, they still live here. One lives at Lakeshore and one lives in Red Bank. And I've got two sisters. And one of them -- well, my sister actually lives in Chattanooga, but it's out there close to the brickyard, so I might say Red Bank. And my other sister is in that -- back in North Gate in that retirement place. So we're all here about 30 minutes from each other.

Michael Willie:

Now, were your brothers back at that time?

Paul Burton:

No, I got home just in time -- no. My younger brother was still in high school when I got back.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

He was in the Reserves first and did that for a while and then volunteered for the Navy. But I got to talk to my brother next to me. He was in California, and I called him, and he was fixing to ship over, and just barely got home in time to talk to him on the phone.

Michael Willie:

Really?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. But neither one of them was in combat.

Michael Willie:

All right. So you get back. Now, what were you looking forward to most when you got back? Were you looking forward to a meal? I mean, I know it's good to see everybody, but were you looking forward to any kind of food, anything in particular?

Paul Burton:

Well, yeah. Good ol' southern cooking which I hadn't had since I left.

Michael Willie:

So the first day back or the first few days back, did you get that meal?

Paul Burton:

I got everything I wanted as far as eating.

Michael Willie:

Okay. What did you do the first couple of days and weeks when you got back? Did you go to work or did you take some time?

Paul Burton:

Yeah, I went to work. See, we had a 52/20, they called it. It was 52 weeks and you get $20 a week. And I signed up for it. But I don't even know if I signed up or not. I never did draw none of it. I went to work. And I went to work over here across the river. What is that called? American Lava. And I worked about three weeks, and I was taking home $18. And finally my little peanut brain said, Now, this don't make sense. I mean, I can sit here on my mama's front porch and draw $20 not even get out of bed if I don't want to. So I quit, and then I went from there to where my daddy worked in the chair factory for a little while, and then I went to work for Chevrolet garage. I went from there to Detroit. I worked eight months. I got through up there and come back and went to work for DuPont for seven years and ten months. Then I went to work for Addressograph Multigraph Corporation installing and servicing printing equipment, in-house printing equipment. Pretty much in-house, some print shops had it. Dalton was full of it, them carpet mills.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

I worked in Dalton 20 years.

Michael Willie:

Really?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Did you retire from there?

Paul Burton:

Yep. Pardon me?

Michael Willie:

Did you retire from there?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

Okay. Now --

Paul Burton:

Well, they kind of retired me a little bit early. I had manager that didn't like me, and they kind of retired me a little bit early. He tried to get me to quit and I wouldn't do it. So he finally did let me go. But he let me go 16th of June in '86. So everything went from there on up until -- if I would have walked out, I would have had nothing. One of the boys said, Don't you quit. I said, I ain't going to quit. But he rode me like a horse. But he got transferred from regional manager back to district manager in Atlanta. I think curbed his lip. So he didn't like Christian people.

Michael Willie:

Right.

Paul Burton:

So when he let me go, everything -- I had everything coming except long-term disability up until about the first of January, and that's the first time I had ever been on -- signed up for unemployment my whole life. So I drawed unemployment and drawed that. I had an old Chevrolet pickup truck, and a guy helped me restore it and didn't get quite through with it but...

Michael Willie:

Now, did you ever -- after you got out of the service, did you ever get in touch with anybody that you had served with?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. The guy I told you was living in Athens. Actually, I went and spent a weekend with his family before he come home.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. Really?

Paul Burton:

Yeah. I had never seen them before. But I went up there and spent the weekend with them. And his sister and me went out to eat and I think maybe went to a movie or something. And I went back and spent the weekend with them. They were super people. And he was too. He was the best friend I guess I had ever had in my life at that time. And he come back and made Post Master -- I mean, he got the job of Post Master in Athens. And he died of a heart attack a few years after that. His wife told me, said, I think it's just pressure. She said, You wouldn't believe what pressure a Post Master is under.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, did --

Paul Burton:

And then another boy, that boy I told you that Sentimental Journey tore him up?

Michael Willie:

Joe Brown, did you say?

Paul Burton:

Joe Brown. You know, you heard that song Sentimental Journey. Well, it is kind of -- if you got an ocean between you and home, it will kind of tear you up. But he had called me one time. I was getting ready to go to church. He called me direct out of the motel. So he said he didn't have time to come out. He had to be back -- he was living in Indiana at that time. So we went down and met him. And the lights all went out and we had to visit with him on the roof. But I enjoyed that because he was real close, me and him was.

Michael Willie:

Is it odd to see somebody after you get out?

Paul Burton:

Well, I don't know if it's odd. It is a thrill. I mean, you're tickled to death to see somebody you had been -- he never was in combat. He got some of his points by driving. See, combat zone went back so far, like 40 miles, I think. And he drove some trucks up into the combat zone, so he got points for that.

Michael Willie:

For being in the combat --

Paul Burton:

And he lacked one point having enough when we shipped. Of course, that put him on the next list, but...

Michael Willie:

All right. Now --

Paul Burton:

There was a guy in my Sunday school class told us -- and he said he was in the service, but I put a uniform on. I bought me a khaki -- which was actually dress back then. And I put my stuff on it and had that combat badge on it, the combat infantry badge. He told me that was the highest rank you could get in the Army. No. Everybody in combat had one of them. You've seen that old -- you know what they look like?

Michael Willie:

Yeah, yeah.

Paul Burton:

Combat badge?

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, did you end up getting married?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

When did you get married?

Paul Burton:

I got married about -- I think about two years after I got back probably.

Michael Willie:

Okay.

Paul Burton:

I was married to her for 47 years, and she died of cancer in '91.

Michael Willie:

Died in '91. Did you have any children?

Paul Burton:

No. She couldn't have any kids. She had an operation. She had to have an operation.

Michael Willie:

All right. Now, tough question. Out of the time you spent in the service -- and you spent some hard times in the service -- what do you think is the most valuable lesson that you took out of it? Or what do you think shaped the rest -- the way you lived the rest of your life from your experience in the service?

Paul Burton:

I don't know. That is a hard question.

Michael Willie:

Yeah, it is.

Paul Burton:

I guess, you know, it taught me to - helped me some through all of the hard times. You kind of learn to take life as it comes along, take one day at a time.

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh. And do you think your philosophy, your religion really came from your experience?

Paul Burton:

My religion?

Michael Willie:

Uh-huh.

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

You said you weren't really a Christian when you went in.

Paul Burton:

Well, I really wasn't. I went up one time -- a lot of people don't believe this, but I used to be bashful. I told my Sunday schoolteacher that one time. He said, I believe it because I was too at one time. As a matter of fact, Ralph Emery was real bashful at one time.

Michael Willie:

Really?

Paul Burton:

Yeah.

Michael Willie:

I find that hard to believe.

Paul Burton:

Yeah. He said he was on TV one time. You know, he started out being a disk jockey, I think, didn't he? I mean, in the news world. And yeah, he said he was real bashful. And I had inferiority complex. I felt like everybody in the world is better than me.

Michael Willie:

Right. It's tough.

Paul Burton:

It takes a long time to get over that, but I got over it. I got over it to the point where nobody is better than me. On the other hand, I'm not no better than no other person either.

Michael Willie:

Right, right. Everybody's got their own mix.

Paul Burton:

That's right. I mean, you know...

 
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  October 26, 2011
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