Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Sipsey veteran recalls horrors of WWII

The year after bombs rained down on Pearl Harbor, Hansel Pendley turned 18 years old. World War II was raging, and his draft notice came in the mail. 

He spent most of the next four years of his life in North Africa, Italy, and France. Pendley came home
Mr. Pendley and his brother just before
 the soldier shipped out to North Africa.
with a bad ankle and a few scars that have faded with time. He considers himself lucky in that regard. 

But there were other scars you can’t see with your eyes, and he’s dealt with those for most of his 94 years.

After receiving his draft notice, Pendley left for weeks of training at Fort McClellan in Anniston. After finishing his infantry training, he boarded the USS Anniston and headed for North Africa.

There were 10,000 infantrymen on that carrier, according to Pendley. The ship’s course zig-zagged to make it harder for German submarines to zero in on them. He was part of the Third Division and would serve as replacements for the First Division which was already fighting in North Africa.

Pendley caught malaria while fighting in North Africa. When the campaign was over there, the Army sent his regiment to Anzio, Italy. They dug in on Anzio beach, which is south of Rome. The Germans were dug in near the Mussolini Canal, according to Pendley.

“We weren’t strong enough to push them out of the Horseshoe Mountains, and they weren’t strong enough to push us back into the water,” Pendley said. They spent months in this standoff waiting for reinforcements.

“We were in storm cellar type foxholes because the aerial artillery bursts would rain down on us,” he said. “An open foxhole wouldn’t save you.”

The U.S. forces had some artillery but no armor to provide support for the forces on the beachhead. The decorated war hero Audie Murphy was in Pendley’s regiment, though the two never met. 

“Most of the old country boys were tough as rawhide. We weren’t interested in no battle stars, medals, or glory,” Pendley said. “All we had on our minds was survival and getting back home.”   

They were stranded on that beach for five months. Eventually, the troops were reinforced with ammunition and replacements. Their forces attacked the Germans. It took 14 days to move from the beachhead into Rome.

After eating cold C-Rations in trenches on the beach for months, the bread he found at a little bakery in Rome was the best smelling sourdough bread he’d ever smelled, according to Pendley.

“When we liberated Rome, we thought we’d get a break. Instead, they sent us to Naples, Italy for more training. It was some kind of a hushy-hush invasion,” Pendley said.

Their next stop was Southern France. “That was a bloody battle,” he remembered. They fought their way through France all the way to the Rhine River.

His official records show that he left the Army as a private first class, although he served as a platoon leader. Platoon leaders hold the rank of sergeant. “They didn’t keep too good records back then so even though I was a platoon leader, my records showed I was a Pfc.,” he said.

Pendley spent 15 months in combat. “I’ve only got a bad ankle and a few scars,” he said. There were mental scars. “Some of us held our cool when we came home, but there were others who had nervous breakdowns,” he said. “Back then they called it battle fatigue, and shell shock,” he remembered. Now the condition is called post-traumatic stress disorder. “I come from a highly religious family, and I did a lot of prayin’,” he said. “I felt like my mother’s prayers is what brought me through it."

Another factor that Pendley believes helped him survive was that he didn’t leave a wife at home to worry about when he went to war. “I was single,” he said.

He didn’t get married until 1948, a few years after he left the Army. His wife’s name was Mildred Drummonds. “Somehow when we got married, it seemed like her and me just hit it off some way, and that helped me put it (the PTSD) on the back burner,” he said.

He was working in Jasper after the war when a book salesman approached Pendley and offered to sell him a book about his infantry outfit during WWII. “I almost hit him,” Pendley remembered. “I was still nervous from the shell shock,” he said. He thought, “You want to sell me something to remind me of it, and I’m doing the best I can to forget it,” he said.

After the war, he got into carpentry and was a cabinet builder for a while, but he enjoyed auto paint and bodywork. 

He worked with General Motors vehicles for 36 years. The Corvette came out in 1953, and he learned how to work on fiberglass sports cars. He became a Corvette specialist and did that for 14 years at Edwards Chevrolet in Birmingham.

He struggled after his wife died in 1995. He started attending group therapy at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Birmingham each Thursday with other veterans. Many of the veterans in his group are Vietnam veterans. The group talks, swaps jokes and tries to lift each other up, according to Pendley.

“In a sense, I’m proud that I did what I did, but then I just thank God I survived it,” he said.

There were rough parts, and some of the things they saw were sad, according to Pendley.  “Way later they returned some of the bodies of soldiers back home. But some of the ones we saw were blown to hamburger meat,” he remembered.  “I doubt they even found their dog tags.” That’s the part you don’t even want to think about, according to Pendley.

His two sons were married and had families of their own before they learned what Pendley went through overseas. “I worked hard to put it behind me,” he said.

These days, the quick-witted Pendley looks as though he could still fit into his WWII Army uniform. Getting on his schedule is a challenge. Even at 94, he still drives, plays his guitar and does autobody work for his friends. 

He is a member of Pisgah Missionary Baptist Church and the American Legion. He is one of the oldest living WWII veterans in Walker County.

12 comments:

  1. I don't see how anyone could go through that un-scared. probably none did.

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  2. My father could not or would not talk about his war time experiences. Nor did he ever seek help for the scars he undoubtely carried.
    I am so glad to hear that Mr Pendley coped and is coping well.

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  3. This was a wonderful interview. I wonder how you were able to get him to be so open. Few war veterans are.

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  4. Such a brave man! His experiences in book form would be a meaningful way to pass this on to others.

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  5. I appreciate the interview. It is well written and presented. In my lifetime, his was the greatest generation. My brothers, uncles and cousins were there. I appreciate Pendley's service so very much. He and his peers DID save America for what we have today. This is the greatest country in the world. We fuss and fume, but when the chips are down we become AMERICANS ALL!

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  6. I think many veterans were not able to talk about what they'd experienced.

    Love,
    Janie

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  7. Wonderfull and interesting

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  8. The world would be a better place if there were no wars and no reasons to go to war.
    I salute this gentleman for the brave work he did for freedom and for and his strong constitution in all this. His story is told without embellishments and without bitterness.

    A very noble and brave soldier and he deserves to be recognize for his valiant service, to his country and for his sacrifices.

    Hugs, Julia

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  9. The Greatest Generation, indeed. Thank you for introducing us to this remarkable patriot.

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  10. This country could use more Mr. Pedleys!! God bless him.

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  11. Great story! God bless our veterans. I love and appreciate them so much.
    Lisa

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  12. This is a wonderful story and I am so glad he opened up to you, you listened and you shared the story with us. When you talk to h8m next time give him a handshake from me. My dad was in WW2 and was part of the liberation of Holland and my mom, as you know, was a German who lived theoug( the horrors. I am glad he had the ability to thrive despite the PTSD and that he found a group who he could talk with. No one knows unless they experienced it.

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