Richmond County Daily Journal
DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Reese Maxey remembers vividly his time serving in the United States Army during World War II.
He was drafted into service on Nov. 22, 1941 in Fort Bragg — only 15 days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Back then you were drafted into the Army and you served for about a year and you were out,” Maxey said during an interview in his Dobbins Heights home. “I was in the Army for about two weeks before everything changed. When Dec. 7 happened, we didn’t know how long we would be in service. We didn’t know what was happening, just that we had to stay to see this war through.”
It was then that Maxey made the trip from New York to Scotland on the Queen Mary ship. Maxey spent some time in England before he ended up in France.
“When I got there, it was then I really saw we were at war,” Maxey said. “Pearl Harbor was bad, I mean it really woke up America, but when I was in England I saw it getting bombed every night. The sirens were always going off and every light in the city would go out at night so the Germans wouldn’t have a target.”
Maxey stared off as he described his memories with surprising detail and accuracy.
“I may be old, but my memory is just as sharp now as it was then. It’s amazing how you get use to something (bombing) like that,” Maxey said. “I got used to it, and the people living there just continued about their lives as if they weren’t being bombed all the time.”
Maxey remembers getting used to a lot of things during his travels through Europe.
“During the winter time it got cold,” Maxey said. “Really cold. Heck you would be outside and ice would start forming on your nose. All we had was a sleeping bag and the back of a truck to sleep in, but you had no other choice. There was no where else to go.”
At the time Maxey didn’t laugh at his situation, but he chuckles about it now. It’s all he can do now as he reflects on his time during the war. It amazes him how easily someone can become desensitized to what they see and experience on a daily basis.
“We would walk through the woods in France and we would just hear guns shots firing off in different places,” Maxey said. “You would hear the bullets hitting the trees, zinging as they came into contact with them. It happened so often we just stopped getting on the ground anymore. We just kept walking and talking.”
Unlike now, many during those times didn’t know the breaking news immediately after it happened. There were a number of people who didn’t even know Pearl Harbor had happened until long after the event, Maxey said.
“You learned about what they wanted you to know,” Maxey said. “You didn’t know the war unless you were there. All you heard about were small updates here and there. I saw the crosses in France lined up everywhere. Unmarked graves of the people who died. There is nothing worse than a war. We all killed, not just the Germans.”
On June 16, 1944, Maxey landed on the beach in Normandy, France. It had been 10 days since the commencement of the Normandy landings, known as D-Day, which is cited as the turning point in World War II for the Allied powers.
“It was a good day,” Maxey said. “It was the day we could finally see an end to the war.”
Despite his circumstances, Maxey did have the experience of a lifetime during his service.
“I got to see things I never would have seen if I hadn’t been in the Army,” Maxey said. “I got to travel, and I got to spend a lot of time in Paris. Still to this day it is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and I remember it like the back of my hand.”
Maxey was also very happy to use some of the language skills he learned during school.
“You know, they teach you a language while you go to school and you think you’re never going to use it,” Maxey said. “I graduated from high school in 1938 and I took French while I was in school. Never thought it would be of use to me, little did I know three years later I would be using it as I traveled.”
During the time of World War II, French was the international language. Many people in Europe didn’t even speak English, so it required many Americans to learn another language just to converse with the people they came into contact with.
“You’d be surprised how quick you’ll learn a language when you have no one to talk to,” Maxey said.
Maxey’s initial one year in the Army turned into nearly four years as he served in Europe until the very end of the war, when the signing of the surrender document occurred in Japan on Sept 2, 1945.
“I remember coming back home,” Maxey said. “We got back in America on Sept. 12, and a group of us from the Army took a picture together.”
Maxey pulled out the old picture and pointed to himself.
“That’s me there,” Maxey said. “A lot younger there than I am now. Most of these men are probably dead now, but it was a good day to be back home. I finally left the Army on Sept. 18.”
Maxey has been living with his memories all his life, and he wouldn’t change it.
“I learned a lot from my experience there,” Maxey said. “I’m just glad I’ve held onto the memories of what happened while so many forget. It really is amazing how one day can change the course of your path.”