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Clinton Twp. man lucky to never use rifle during WWII

| Wednesday, May 26, 2004

JEFFERSON -- Glenn Walker didn't want to be drafted into the military so he enlisted.

"I didn't want to be infantry," the 82-year-old Walker said while sitting in the Saxonburg American Legion. At the age of 20, shortly after his graduation from Butler High School, Walker signed up for the Army Air Corps.

Walker was inducted into the military in 1942 and taken away from the only world he's ever known. The farthest from home he had ever been was Erie.

The Clinton Township man was sent to Middletown, Pa., and Virginia for basic training before being sent to England. He was assigned to the 211th Chemical Maintenance Company, where he became a corporal. The function of a chemical maintenance company was to repair chemical warfare weapons and protective equipment and appliances, and assist in salvage work and decontamination of contaminated clothing.

The fear of chemical weapons was a real threat and the United States took great strides to make sure it was prepared in case of a chemical or biological attack.

In World War I, both sides experimented with chemical weapons and, by the end of the war, both sides were using artillery shells filled with mustard gas. It's estimated that Russian forces alone suffered about 60,000 fatalities due to chemical warfare.

This prompted the United States to prepare its forces to use and defend against chemical warfare when it became increasingly evident that the United States would be drawn into World War II. Research before and during the war led to the development of highly lethal nerve agents, including Tabun. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. Germany developed a large quantity of this compound between 1942 and 1945. However, no major power used chemical warfare in the European Theater. It has been speculated that Germany didn't use Tabun because officials feared massive retaliation, including the possibility of attacks against their cities.

Russia seized the plant where most of the Tabun was made at the end of the war and the agent was added to Russia's arsenal.

Walker boarded a boat to England and got his first taste of the hostility and precautions American forces had to take.

"At that time subs were very active," Walker said.

Because of that threat, the ship he was on zig-zagged across the ocean during a nine-day trip from New York to Liverpool, England.

When they arrived in England, it still wasn't clear if Walker's company would need to be used for its original purpose.

"They didn't know what was going to happen," Walker said about the possibility of chemical weapons being used.

After 11 months of training, on June 25, Walker's company was sent to Utah Beach on the coast of France, about two weeks after the D-Day invasion.

He said his company stayed several days behind the first wave of troops.

It soon became evident that the Germans weren't using chemical weapons and Walker's main job was that of an electrician. Much of his work consisted of repairing 4.2-inch mortars and keeping generators running. The 4.2-inch M2 mortar was a rifled muzzle-loading weapon designed for high-angle fire.

He said 10 percent of his outfit was sent to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, but he said he believes he was saved by his electrical knowledge.

"My officer called me in and wanted to know what I knew about electricity," he said. "That saved my butt."

The Battle of the Bulge, which began on Dec, 16, 1944, was Hitler's last-ditch effort to launch a major offensive to break apart and defeat the allied forces in Europe. The German dictator believed the bond between the British, U.S. and Russian forces was weak, and that he had enough troops left to launch a surprise attack on the Western front through the Belgian Ardennes Forest.

More than a million men, more than the battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, fought in the battle which lasted until Jan. 28, 1945. That group included 500,000 German, 600,000 American, and 55,000 British troops. At the end of the battle there were 100,000 Germans killed, wounded or captured, 81,000 American casualties including 19,000 killed, and 1,400 British casualties, including 200 killed.

The rest of Walker's company traveled all over Europe He said although there were a number of close calls, he was lucky enough to never have seen combat.

"I never fired my rifle once," Walker said.

The unit did pick up a number of German POWs. One of them even cut Walker's hair, which Walker said he paid the man for.

"I gave him a candy bar or something," he said.

Walker said he received plenty of support and letters from home and laughed that one Christmas he received 22 packages, which he shared with the rest of the men.

When the war ended Walker was shipped home on the Queen Mary. He arrived on Dec. 2, 1945.

Walker said the war was a good experience and he was able to see parts of the world he wouldn't have otherwise been able to see, but it's not something he'd do again.

"We had good times and bad," he said, "but I wouldn't want to go back." Additional Information:

Service record

Name: Glenn Walker.

Age: 82.

Hometown: Clinton Township.

Branch of service: Army.

Military unit: 211th Chemical Maintenance Company.

Induction: November 1942.

Discharge: Dec. 2, 1945.

Medals: None.

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