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Leighton McKeithen « North Carolina's WWII ExperienceNorth Carolina's WWII Experience

Leighton McKeithen

Hometown: Cameron, NC
Branch of Service: Army, 34th Infantry Division
Location of Service: Africa & Europe

Question: Well, tell me a little bit about where you grew up here in North Carolina and how you became involved with the army.

Leighton McKeithen: All right.  One of the fine things about World War II is we had everybody behind us.  Everybody was supporting us.  And I hurt for these fellows in more recent wars, who have not only been without much support at home, but they’ve also been received unkindly with the population there.  The Italians loved us so that all they wanted to do was just to get Mussolini out of the way, and we’d be getting along fine [LAUGHS].  And I am very fond of Italy.  I’ve been back 19 times since the war and hope to go some more.

Question: Tell me about Cameron, North Carolina, and how many of the young men in Cameron were involved in World War II.

Leighton McKeithen: Well, with Cameron itself is a small town, very small, a little village, population less than 300.  We had our own schools, and I finished Cameron High School at the age of 17 because we only had 11 grades.  And by that time, that was early ’42, the war was raging, and we were losing some in North Africa.  And they were calling for replacements, all they could get.  And I went to my draft board there in Carthage, which was the county seat, and told them I was ready to go.  And they said,

“Well, we have a group leaving Monday.”  And I think this was Friday, “Or there will not be another one until early fall.”  And I said, “Well, put me on the one Monday.”  And things really began to move [LAUGHS].  I came to Fort Bragg, wanting very much to be in the Air Force because everybody who was publicized was in the Air Force.  But it so happened that I was soon on the train heading for Alabama to be trained in the infantry.  And things went on from there.

Question: Tell me about where you trained.

Leighton McKeithen: I trained in Fort McClellan, Alabama, right off the town of Anniston.  I reckon it was a small city of Anniston, Alabama.  It was about the hottest place in the world, in the summer, and the coldest in the winter.  I think I got there in early August.

[CUT] [OFF MIC TECHNICAL DISCUSSION]

Question: Where you trained, and how do you describe the place that you trained and how it made you feel.

Leighton McKeithen: All right.  It was red clay, and we spent most of the time out of doors, to say the least.  And the weather, it was extremely hot in the summer.  And as I recall, we didn’t have much rained, so we just sun burned.  And then, as fall came on–we had a 16 week training cycle, which ended on Christmas Eve of ’43–but the fall and winter were very cold.  And most of this camp, I think, and I’m not sure I saw most of it, but the part that we were in, was framed buildings with transparent plastic sheeting on them, and then chicken wire, large gauged chicken wire, over that to hold it together.  And there was no heat, and there was no cooler except the weather.  And, sometimes, I might like to tell you about some of the fellows I trained with.

Question: Who did you train with, and what types of things were you learning?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, we were strictly from eastern North and South Carolina, and they were fine men.  I grew quite a bit just being with them and learning their ways.  And one of them, especially, 18 years old, had grown up in the South Carolina swamps and had never been to town.  And everything that he saw was something unusual.  I remember when there was a band playing out on the field one day, he said, “How in the world do they get music out of all of them little curly-Qs?”  [LAUGHS] He was thinking that the trumpets, and I guess the woodwinds.

He was very homesick.  He would lie in his bunk at night and sob and cry.  And we would say, “What’s the matter?”  “I’m homesick.  I am so homesick.”  One night he was walking up the dirt street in our area, and he was crying.  And the Colonel, full colonel, who is in charge of our area, said, “Soldier, what is the matter with you?”  And he said, “I’m homesick, Sir.”  Well, fortunately, he was speaking to the right one.  He brought him up to the company headquarters and said, “Give this boy a three day pass and send him home.”

And, I mean, he came back a changed person.  He was cooperative.  He was learning.  He was good marksman.  And then, when the time came for us to go overseas, which I may be getting ahead of myself, the ship that we were on had bunks five areas high.  I was, I think, on a third row, and he was right below me.  And he would lie there at night and talk about his girlfriend, and he just wanted to get the war over and get back home and live in those beautiful swamps.

And I am going to jump to the end of this story.  In combat, he was very, very good.  He was cool and calm and collected and totally fearless, which, of course, proved his own death; he was killed.  But he got the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award the country gives.

And I have been back through there a number of times, although that’s beginning–it’s near Clemson College.  That’s where it’s near.  And the area is becoming much more populated, and there is some memorials to him.  And just two winters ago, my wife and I went down there to be sure that they were still honoring him and appreciating him.  You know, we had a great time.

And we went to his little country church on Sunday, and the minister asked if–well, he welcomed me and asked if I would like to say something.  And I would say, I said, “Well, I would like all who—you and would like to talk about Ferman [ph] Smith to stay after church.”  And about 30 people stayed, and we just had a ball.  But one of them said I helped dig his grave.  Another one said I was a pallbearer.  And, actually, I was back in Davidson College by that time, and I contacted the family and expressed my sympathy.  And they asked me to come down and do the funeral.

Well, I couldn’t cut class.  I could not go.  But being a Congressional Medal of Honor winner, several politicians and well known people were there.  They sent me snapshots of it and so forth.

Question: So, tell me, after training, where did you go?  Where were you going?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, we went to Camp Patrick Henry, which was literally built in the water.  And all the buildings and all the walks were above water.  And we were doing nothing except waiting to go, and I guess mid-January, we went down to the docks in Hampton Roads, and we boarded ship.  And I’ll never forget those dear ladies, elderly ladies, with big porcelain pots of coffee pouring in and just crying their eyes out.  They felt so sorry for us children going over to fight the war.  And bless their hearts, they were wonderful.

And they, of course, left deep impressions on us.  The next morning, we were loaded and ready to go.  We pulled out from Hampton Roads, and one of my comrades and I were standing on the deck there, and he said, “Don’t that make you mad?”  And I said, “What Mabe?”  “The red eyes [ph] you see in the good ol’ USA for the last time.”  And I said, “Mabe if I thought I was seeing the good ol’ USA for the last time, I would jump overboard and swim back.”  And he said, “I know I’m seeing it.”  And I remember very vividly the day he was killed.  He seemed to have an intuition or something that he was not coming back, and he didn’t.

Question: Tell me about the trip to North Africa, what was that like?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, the trip to North Africa was hard to take because I…I may still be that way, but I was so susceptible to sea sickness that I didn’t get any desirable food the whole time.  But I would wait until the chow line was out, and then I’d race down, and I’d get grapefruit and banana and oranges, and I’d back up on the deck.  And that’s what I lived on.

But we made the trip very quickly.  It seemed like it was ten days or less.  But, as I mentioned, a cousin of mine who grew up in the same area that I did was in command of the ship.  And the man who was in charge of our little group said, “Mack [ph], he wants to see you.  He heard you were on board.”  I said, “There is too much brass down there.  I don’t want to go down there.”  I was a buck private.  He said, “Well, he sent for you.”  So, I went and the conference room was just full of high officers, and I didn’t know whether to slink around or to walk in and salute or–but anyway, as we drew near to Casablanca, he called me, and we went up into the crow’s nest, I guess they called it, and he told me goodbye.  And of course, I joined the others, and we got off.  He came back to Cameron, told my folks where I was, which was really not supposed to be told, but news didn’t affect Cameron much anyway [LAUGHS].

Question: What were you doing in North Africa?  What did the 34th Infantry Division do?

Leighton McKeithen: The 34th had already regrouped, and they were ready to go to Sicily, and I honestly don’t remember that little space in there.  But anyway, we loaded on the ship at—oh, I guess it was–I don’t know.  It was one of the port cities of North Africa.  And we went, and we landed in–I guess we landed–my first experience was an air raid in just south of Naples.  And, of course, even Naples was not being populated much then.  But, anyway, what transportation was necessary took us over to the area of Monte Cassino, which was one of the very, very greatest losses of men that there could possibly have been.

And I joined them just as they were pulling out of Monte Cassino.  Of course, I, being a buck private and not knowing what was going on, they were pulling out to go back into the ocean, and I mean the Mediterranean, and do another invasion of Italy to try to relieve the pressure of Cassino.  And so, that was my first actual meeting with the enemy.

Question: And describe that for us, what was that meeting like?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, of course, I guess we all, and especially I, had seen movies of war and so forth.  And I guess I thought we were going to jump off the boat and start shooting at each other [LAUGHS].  It wasn’t far from that.

But at least we got our landing craft to very shallow water.  I don’t even remember getting wet.  But we landed, and the 3rd Division–and the 3rd Division was a great division.  In fact, the 3rd Division, I guess, is still fighting in our current war.  But the 3rd Division had terrible, terrible casualties.  It was said that they left 2,000 dead.  But, anyway, a nice heavy smokescreen was laid down by ships, I guess, out in the water.  And so, we entered without many—we did have a few, but not many, casualties–and I was among the fortunate to–well, I need first to say this.

We attacked all the way to the Alban Hills.  The Alban Hills are, I guess, about 15, maybe 20, miles from the coast.  And we were going very well, as far as I could see.  We weren’t engaged in any real close fire, but our commanding general decided that our lines were too thin, that we had gone too far and we didn’t have enough to protect ourselves plus the supply lines, both food and ammunition.  And so, he told us to pull back, and I think the enemy must have been listening, too, because they helped us move back [LAUGHS] just as hard as they could.

They didn’t lack much at pushing us back into the Mediterranean, but we did get an area, just an area of seven square miles.  And, again, I was fortunate.  I was among the group who were digging in on the bank of the Mussolini Canal.  Mussolini did some good things.  He had taken those Pontine Marshes and had them drained, and farmhouses were built, and it was a right prosperous farming area going on there.

But some of our less fortunate brothers had nothing except flat land, and they could not even raise their heads in the daytime.  They and we, we’d use the nighttimes for our fighting.  But being among the luckier ones, we could dig our dugouts right up against the water and leave a few on the line in the daytime, and the rest of us could sunbathe or wash or sleep.  But that didn’t last very long.

Question: What was combat like?

[CUT]

Leighton McKeithen: Combat, you want to hear in my experiences or not, do you?

Question: Yes.  What was combat like?

Leighton McKeithen: Combat was fearful.  And I don’t mean I was a hero, but I never got real excited.  I guess I was scared like everybody else, but things seemed to fall in place.  But out in front of what we call the firing line were some farmhouses, and all of them except one—and it was about to fall down itself–had been bombed and strafed and so forth, and we used one of those piles of rubble at night to simply listen to whether the enemy was coming in.  And, of course, the enemy was out there scouting around, too.

And with the Americans and the Germans, we had just about every square inch of the Anzio beachhead [COUGHING].  Oh, that was lined with mines.  And, in fact, the engineers would come up some nights and sow more mines, and we would see some of them get legs blown off or something, just planting a mine here and stepping back on one there.  But out in front of us was—where we were—my immediate group—was where a bridge had been blown away over the Mussolini Canal.  And so, at night, that was often our starting point.  And we had strung some wires to hold to if we went along, and we could get out to the rubble.

And there was a culvert under the road about 100 yards more beyond our rubble pile.  And the machine gunner would come out at night and fire a few rounds, and he would duck back in his culvert and come out maybe a half-hour later and fire some more.  And it was fortunate that, as I recall, didn’t any of get killed in the rubble.

But some of my closest friends decided that we were going to do something that was very foolhardy.  They said–there were three of them, Charles and Charles and Micks [ph]–and so, they got all gung-ho and were going out there to annihilate the German machine gunner.  Well, they must have known how crazy it was because we, who were not up there, thought it was very crazy.  But anyway, they got out there, and they tripped a wire that the machine gunner had strung out to protect him.  And that wire threw a flare up into the air.  Those flares could light up everything like daylight.  And of course, all the machine gunner had to do was just mow them down.

And the next morning, I asked the captain–or I told the captain–I wanted to go out and see if I could find the fellows, and they might still be alive.  He said, “Mack,” being McKeithen, everybody called me Mack.  He said, “Do you know how dangerous that is?”  And I said, “Well, I don’t really worry about that.”  There was an esprit de corps, I guess, that we really tried to look after each other.  And he said, “Well, it’s your choice, if you want to go.”  And my all-time favorite first lieutenant said, “I’m going with you.”  And I said, “No, you’re not.”  I said, “They’ll say that you’re an officer, and they’ll kill us both.”  And he said, “Well, I’ll go out with you as far as the old ruins of the farmhouse.”  And he said, “I’ll sit in the ditch there, and you can go ahead.”

Well, I had a piece of denim that came from somewhere–I don’t know where–and made a red cross, and I held that up so they could see I wasn’t armed at all and got out there, and there was no human to be seen, but there were broken bandages, broken open bandages all around, which gave me some hope that they had survived.  And that was–it was not unnatural for the Germans to bandage up our people in the war.  And I was, of course, in the war for another 18 months.  We had several cases of the enemy bandaging up our wounded.  But anyway, I can look back and see heads watching me and, of course, out here were more heads watching me.  But I came back, and Lieutenant Packard [ph] went back with me, and we went in the lines and…

Question: Why was it important for you to go look for your friends?

Leighton McKeithen: You know, the only thing I know is because we were just a band of people who were taking care of each other.  And later on, and of course we had many, many casualties over the months, but they even got to where they treated me as somebody special because I had not been wounded.  I can tell you sometime later, if you would like, about the time I lost my hearing.  But I guess I’ve told you enough about fighting.

Question: How long were you in Italy, and then what happened after that?  Where did you go?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, see, the war in Italy kept right on.  Italy, the Apennine Mountains run all the way from the boot to the Po Valley.  And we fought in some just impossible places.  Here I go jumping through the years again, but we had a reunion of all the troops that had fought with and for each other in Italy, held at Cassino, which was the terrible, terrible part of the war, and it was hosted by the Germans.  And some of the most fun we had was sitting at the little sidewalk cafes because, see, they had built back, and some of the old German officers said, “Ah, you Americans were sitting ducks.”  They said, “We had the high ground, and you all were coming after us, and we were just mowing you down.”  And I said, “Well, you are sure correct in that.”  [LAUGHS] But we were very, very careful to care for each other.

Question: How did you get injured?

Leighton McKeithen: On the second day of June, 1944, we were on low land, and the enemy was on high land at a little Italian town named Lanuvio.  L A N U V I O.  And we were down in a much lower area, in a rock quarry.  And on the night of June the 1st, we got about 40 replacements in.  We had had–it’s the first replacements we had had since we had broke off the Anzio beachhead, and we attacked at morning, the morning of the second day of June.  And those young fellows didn’t know how to do–they didn’t know what to do, and they just lost their lives the first day in combat.  I have some pictures of the graves–I mean, not the graves, the bodies that were strewn over the ground.

And my close friend, Lieutenant Packard, from East Bridgewater, Massachusetts, he always lead the way.  I said to him several times, “You ought to be farther back guiding us.”  And he said, “No, I’m paid to be the leader, and I’m leading.”  And I admired him very much, but knew that he wouldn’t last long.  But the Germans stopped us just cold.  And they–we had to call tanks.  We called a group of tanks.  Well, they were fully armored; they pulled up right beside us and just sat there.  And Packard spotted an enemy machine gun, and he told the man in the tank, “There he is,” and they got a direct hit on him, and his helmet went about 40 feet in the air.  And Packard looked over at me and said, “Well, we got that one.”  And just as he said that, pow, another one got him.  I visited his home and several others after the war.

[CUT] [OFF MIC TECHNICAL DISCUSSION]

Leighton McKeithen: I would like to tell you one little thing that I missed, but it was another marker, I guess, our first encounter with shells that burst in the air.  When we broke off the beachhead, my particular company was going to cut Highway 7, which had been used by the enemy to bring up ammunition and food and so forth.  And so, they were protecting that road at all costs.  And we were going across this green field, pasture land, and they started dropping in shells on us.  Of course, those shells detonated when they hit the ground, but they also started throwing shells that were so timed as to burst in the air.  So, you didn’t know whether to lie flat and escape the front detonate [ph] or to stand vertical and hope to miss the shrapnel from the burst.  So that was the reason we had so few fellows left on the night of the 1st of June that we had to get some replacements in.

But I thought if I’m going through the war having to lie flat and stand straight–but that’s the only time in all my war experience that we had both point detonating and air burst.

Question: So, how did you end up getting injured?

Leighton McKeithen: We just had terrible casualties.  Not just the new fellows, but some of us older fellows, too.  As dark came upon us, the captain, whom I loved dearly–he still lives in–oh, what’s the college?  William and Mary in Virginia.  But anyway, he said, “You all put out what security you have, and we’ll attack at daylight.”

Well, that wasn’t a very good feeling.  But he said, “Mack, how many men do I have left?”  And he remembers to this day, he said, “Mack told me 28 men.”  And I said, “Well, if you had to–how did you remember that.”  And he said, “That was very necessary because where we had 101, we now had 28.”  But anyway, as heaven would have it, when we attacked the next morning, the enemy had withdrawn.  They had had heavy casualties, too.

But they did cause some bigger artillery to fall in on us.  And my friend, Lieutenant Packard, who had just been killed and, I’m sure, died instantly, but they started throwing them in right on where he and I had been.  And the German 88s were very effective artillery that they could just throw right in on you.  And they fell all around me, and the litter-bearers were carrying the wounded off.  And all of the sudden, it threw me four or five feet, the concussion of it.  And I called medics just like everybody else called medics when they’re injured, and they said, “We’ll come get you.”  I said, “I think I can walk.”

And so, we went back down where the aid station was, and the doctor said, “Soldier, what’s wrong?”  And I said, “I don’t know, but I can’t hear.”  And he said, “Well, why did you come off the field?”  I said, “Because I was hurting.”  And so, there were all these weapons lying around from fellows who had been killed, and I picked up a rifle, and he said, “Throw that rifle down.  You are the last man to come off alive, and you are not going back up.”  And I said, “Thanks.”

But through the years, my hearing has been an expensive thing.  I have had three different sets of surgery, and I finally had to give it up.

[END OF PART 1]

[BEGINNING OF PART 2]

Question: Well, tell us about working with the 100th Infantry Battalion.

Leighton McKeithen: Well, first contact that I had with Nisei, I mentioned that we were on the [LAUGHS].  We were on the banks of the Mussolini Canal, and the Nisei were dug in down at the bottom of the bank.  And at night, they would strum their ukuleles and sing.  And we had field telephones that we would take out there to report back if the enemy was seen coming in.  But we could also request music, and they would strum their ukuleles and sing.  And, oh, they were fine men.

Question: Who made up this particular division?

Leighton McKeithen: Let’s see, the Nisei from California, and their families were incarcerated in what do you call them?  Anyway, they were fenced in.  And it was as though these young fellows were fighting to show their loyalty to America, and they did a beautiful job.  But the 100th Battalion prospered so and did such wonderful fighting that they sent more over, and they worked up to a regimental size.  And Mark Clark, the general, said, “Well, I want them.”  And so, he pulled the 442nd regiment out and attached it to Fifth Army.  He said, “I’ll tell them what to do.”  [LAUGHS]

And I became a friend with General Clark after the war, and he was president of the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina.  But I said, “You knew a good thing when you saw it.  You took over those Nisei.”

Question: What was it like to be part of the army that liberated Rome?

Leighton McKeithen: First, Rome was not going to be an open city.  The enemy was going to hold Rome, and we had to take it away from them.  Well, thank goodness they realized that was a foolish thing for them to do.  So, they began pulling out.  And, of course, we were disorganized, thinking that we were going to have to fight, and they were pulling out so we couldn’t fight them.  But we went in, primarily, on old railroad rocks.

Of course, they had taken the rails to melt into bullets and so forth.  But the disorganization also consisted of trucks of all kind.  And in the dark, you’d just jump on a truck to walk on the rocks.  And when we got into the City of Rome, we just scattered out.  Nobody knew where anybody else was.  And General Clark came along in his jeep, and the Germans fired on him.  Wow, here he just goes back.  I never saw a jeep run so fast.

But for four days, I was not with my company.  And when I finally caught up with them, they said, “Well, there is one more came in which said there were a lot of them out.”  But we finally got together on up to Civitavecchia, it is the port of Rome, where the heavy stuff comes in and goes out.  And then we fought right on up the coastline to Livorno, and that was also another port.  And we took Livorno.

And I think I am correct in saying we were still yet to get to Pisa.  I believe Livorno was south of Pisa.  But anyway, we didn’t do a lot of organized fighting at night.  But somebody had the idea that Pisa was probably held by the Germans.  So, we went in at night and prayed every step of the way.  And when–by daylight, we were in the suburbs of Pisa, and you could see the Leaning Tower and all of that.  But they had not–they had deserted Pisa.  We soon saw why, because it was flat, they had nothing to hide behind.

Question: Where were you and your unit when you heard that the war had ended?

Leighton McKeithen: Oh, [LAUGHS] I was lying down in the grass, sleeping [LAUGHS].  That was the funniest surrender you can imagine.  The Germans were just as happy the war was over as we were, but we just kept directing them back toward the rear, and they were fully mechanized, fully armored and armed.  And, for instance, the 34th Division captured the German 34th Division [LAUGHS].

Question: And where were you at this time?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, goodness me.  We had reached the Po Valley, which meant that we had fought for–what?  A year-and-a-half in the mountains.  And I have been back 19 times, and my wife says, “How in the world did you all fight in those?”  [LAUGHS] I said, “Very foolishly.”  But when we got to the Po Valley, it was over.  Of course, they blew out–they blew everything that they could, all the bridges that our engineers laid down pontoon bridges, and we walked across.

Question: What did it take to have such a sustained effort, where you are literally moving up Europe, day after day after day for over a year and a half?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, it’s just because that’s what you had to do.  And all this time you were forming brotherhoods.  This little man up in Virginia–what’s the town up there we all go to for…?

Question: Williamsburg?

Leighton McKeithen: Williamsburg!  Thank you.  I have a lot of loss of memories, but, what did you ask?

Question: What did it take to keep that sustained effort day after day after day?

Leighton McKeithen: It took the kind of charisma that that little colonel up there in Williamsburg had.  He had a way with men that–we would be stopped, and almost refusing to fight because we were losing ground.  I can see him now; he had already gotten into regimental headquarters, here he comes up the mountain, and he says, “What’s this I hear about Charlie Companies that are refusing to move?”  And we said, “Well, what do you want us to do?”  [LAUGHS]  He said, “Come on.”

Well, we took that mountain, the next mountain and the next mountain.  I loved that man.  He has written me into his book.  [LAUGHS]  But he is three older than I am, and he can’t hear and he can’t see.  We took him to–I have two memorial services a year and he was so eager to go, we went 300 miles out of the way to take him to where the old war college used to be; I cannot remember.

Question: When you came back to North Carolina, you spent some time visiting with family members of some of the members of your unit who were lost over there.  Why was that important?

Leighton McKeithen: That was one of the most decisive things that I have ever done.  First I jumped right back into college, and that was a foolhardy move.  A semester later, I think, is the best I can put it together, I said I’ve got to get out of here because I had too big a change too quickly, so I pulled out for a semester, and I went to visit homes of fellas who were killed.

The Charlotte Observer had on the front page, on the right, had the names of those whose bodies were being returned that day, and when they came through with Ferman [ph] Smith, my friend from the swamps of South Carolina, I called and expressed my sympathy, and I believe I told you they wanted me to come conduct the funeral, but I couldn’t.  So I spent four months I guess visiting in the homes.  Went to Tullahoma, Tennessee to visit in the home of one of the fellas who was killed his first day in battle down at the rock quarry.  I had written his dear mother and we exchanged Christmas cards and so forth and she said, “I had hoped to see you, but I am getting old and I am not going to see you.”  And I said “Yes, you are.”  I got in the car four o’clock next morning and drove however far, 500 miles I reckon, to Tullahoma, Tennessee, and I got there just as they were finishing their evening meal, and sat down and emptied the bowls for them [LAUGHS] and stayed overnight.  They got their high school annual out, and there he was; he was a high school football star, and oh, they were just so, so grateful to me for coming.

Another very significant one was down in Conyers, Georgia, I went to see the mother of my company commander who was killed four days before the war was over, and his mother–I said, “I guess you thought the war was over when you got the telegram.”  She said, “We were celebrating and looking for Wayne to come home, and then we got the telegram from the war department.”  And I have visited, oh, 15 or maybe 20 homes, but they were so grateful, it was worth it, worth not having anything except uniform to wear, because in those days, the stores weren’t well-stocked.

Question: How do you think World War II affected you?

Leighton McKeithen: You have asked a question very important to me, and I have tried to decide, did I gain or did I lose?  I had some experiences that told me what the bonds of friendship can be among fellas you’re killing or you’re dying with and so forth, or I know a lot more profanity than I used to know.  I showed myself that I was a stronger man than I thought I was, but what did I gain by that?

Perhaps the greatest thing was in visiting those homes, because I saw gratitude in those people whose sorrow had broken their hearts and yet they thanked me and hugged me and all of that for caring enough to come, and I guess there was a little bit of profit in it.  [LAUGHS]

Question: What do you want young children to know about why World War II is important?

Leighton McKeithen: Well, I don’t know.  I’ve been asked to write my experiences down, but I don’t want them to have to read those terrible things.  I do wish they had more of a sense of debtorship toward, not toward me but toward a country that fought for itself with high principles, and that’s about all.

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