War Stories

Area World War II veterans share
their battle stories

Nation marks 75th anniversary of end of World War II

November Cover

(November 2020) – On Sunday, Nov. 29, at 10 a.m. (weather permitting), Charles Purvis, a World War II veteran from Milton, Ky., plans to walk across the Milton-Madison Bridge with his family and friends to celebrate his 94th birthday. He had walked across the old bridge when he was young – before he was drafted into the U.S. Army.

At that time, the bridge was narrow – built in 1928-29 to accommodate Ford Model A and Model T cars. There was no sidewalk, just a small eight-inch berm. The bridge was only 20 feet wide in total. A toll of a nickel was collected at a small building in the middle of the bridge.
“I didn’t walk across too often because I didn’t have a nickel,” Purvis said. A whole carload could cross the bridge for 35 cents. After the war, the tolls were eliminated in 1947.
While November is annually known for Veteran’s Day celebrations, this year has a special meaning for those who served in World War II.

“Salute 75”

• A program to honor every veteran who has ever served, living or deceased, in peace time or war, along with a historical recap of World War II and local involvement. Featuring the Ladies For Liberty singing group. Presented by Morgan & Nay Funeral Centre.

• 6 p.m. on Nov. 7 at North Madison Christian Church, 1400 State Rd. 52, Madison, Ind.

• Free admission for veterans and one guest. Tickets $5 for non-military guests. Open seating. Tickets available the door, which open at 5 p.m.

• Information: (812) 265-5577

“This year we are celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the end of World War II,” said Jeff Thoke, board chairman of the Honor Flight Bluegrass. “World War II veterans changed the world. They were young – many less than 18 years old.”
Thoke met Purvis on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., last year. To explain the overwhelming patriotic response of those who rushed to join the military, Thoke said, “Pearl Harbor was bombed on a Monday. Everyone responded immediately. Now 75 years after the end of that war, we need to remember their courage and sacrifices.”
Thoke is passionately committed to honoring all veterans, and especially World War II veterans, in memory of his father, Robert Thoke, a World War II veteran who died in 1996.
In May 2019, Purvis joined a group of World War II veterans on the flight to Washington, D.C., organized by Honor Flight Bluegrass. “I had turned it down a few times,” Purvis said. “I realized I would turn 93 in November 2019, so I decided I better go. It was amazing. It was the best day of my life. Then Jeff Thoke invited me to ride with him in his 1942 World War II Jeep for the 2019 Regatta Parade in Madison.”
Honor Flight Bluegrass also sponsored the 2019 Operation Bravo Zulu (Thanks for a job well done), a World War II Reunion in Louisville last year. It was the largest gathering of World War II veterans in Kentucky history.
Purvis said he enjoyed those festivities with more than 115 other World War II veterans and their families.
Initially, it was Moris Purvis, not Charles, whose name was on the draft list in 1945. However, Charles knew his brother had a stuttering problem and would have a hard time in the military. Charles went to the draft board and had his name substituted on the draft list.
“I took his place. I made it over there and back. I don’t regret it,” he said. He went to basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., in 1945. He was able to hitchhike home on weekends because drivers did not hesitate to pick up a hitchhiker when it was a man in uniform. He was dropped off close to home and walked the rest of the way. “Then they put us on a boat to Okinawa. I had never been away from home before. You grow up in a hurry. I couldn’t walk home from there,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Thoke
From left, Bill McCubbin of Madison, Ind., and Herb Raderer of Louisville, Ky., pose in front of a B-25 after having taken a ride in it last year at Louisville’s Bowman Field.

Purvis served in the Pacific Theater for 13 months. He was a tank driver and gunner, assigned to the 711th Tank Battalion, Armored Division. “I got there late in the war, so I never saw any real action,” he said.
For the first six months, he was assigned to grave restoration: taking care of the cemeteries over there. Then he was transferred to the 8th Air Force to work on a 10-acre Army Supply Yard. Soon, the war was over. “I was really glad to come home. I had only been married for six months before the war. I was anxious to return to my mother, father and wife,” he said.
In addition to the Honor Flights, Thoke also organized a special opportunity last year for 14 veterans to fly on a B-25 bomber at Louisville’s Bowman Field. Herb Raderer of Louisville and William “Bill” McCubbin of Madison, Ind., were two of the veterans who had the opportunity to fly in that B-25. Each veteran brought a family member to fly with him. Although the two veterans had not met before, they shared a common war experience in the Pacific. Raderer was a combat engineer who opened the beaches for the invasion of Leyte.  McCubbin drove an amphibious landing craft during the invasion of Leyte. Both Raderer and McCubbin had also participated in previous Honor Flight Bluegrass trips.
McCubbin, 97, still remembers how excited he was to join the U.S. Naval Air Force after he graduated from high school in 1942. However, there was a draft quota to meet for his hometown of Campbellsville, Ky. Six students from his graduating class were drafted. McCubbin was assigned to fill one of those spots.
Instead of the Naval Air Force, he was assigned to the regular Navy in February 1943. “It was a very patriotic time. Joining the service was the thing to do,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Thoke
From left, Raymond Boldery of Milton, Ky., and Jeff Thoke of Bedford, Ky., pose at the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., during a recent Honor Flight.

His older brother, Hank, had already been drafted. Hank McCubbin had been sent to Africa to serve in the field artillery unit. Parents of service personnel received a star to display in their front window for each family member serving during the war. The McCubbin family proudly displayed two stars. 
The U.S. Navy trained McCubbin to be a boatswain, pronounced “bosun.” It was his responsibility to drive a 36-foot LCVP (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel), known as the Higgins Boat. These boats delivered the infantry to the shore during an invasion. In 1944, he was sent to the South Pacific Theater aboard the USS Sumter (APA-52). The 500-foot-long ship had the capacity to carry 1,492 troops and 91 officers, plus 1,300 tons of cargo. It was an attack transport vessel loaded with 32 landing craft.
McCubbin was involved in five battles. He landed Marines in the invasions of Kwajalein during Operation Flintlock, Saipan, during Operation Forager, Peleliu, during Operation Stalemate, and both Leyte and Luzon during Operation King Two.
Thirty-six solders huddled down in the LCVP as the amphibious craft headed for the shoreline of a Pacific Island during an invasion. McCubbin, the boat driver, was the only one standing up. “Anyone who tells you he was not frightened has never seen any action,” McCubbin said.
The bow of the LCVP drops down, and the troops wade through the water to the shore. They are the first troops to face the enemy. After the troops left the landing craft, the LCVP was used to return wounded soldiers to nearby hospital ship.
The Saipan invasion was very bloody, McCubbin remembers. His own ship, the USS Sumter, was staffed with seven doctors and other medical personnel to serve as a backup to the hospital ship. The hardest task, according to McCubbin, was to recover the dog tags of soldiers killed during an invasion. 
As a result of his battle experience, in 1945 McCubbin was recruited to enter a naval officer training program. He was sent back to United States to attend engineering classes at Princeton University, Bowling Green University and the University of Illinois. He was headed for the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Md., when the war ended. He chose to leave the Navy to complete his education at the University of Louisville.
“It didn’t make my parents very happy that I left the Navy for a civilian career, but it made me happy,” McCubbin said. Finishing his education at the Naval Academy would have required an additional four-year commitment to the Navy.
For his wartime service, McCubbin received the Philippine Liberation Medal with two stars, the Asia Pacific Medal with four stars, the American Area Medal and the World War II Victory Medal. “People today can’t comprehend fighting that way, but at the time, no one gave it a thought. When you are 18, you are not fully mature, even though you can vote. It was just the thing to do; it was patriotism,” he said. “I didn’t do anything different than thousands of others. There was a whole gang of us. I wasn’t a lone ranger.”
“Every day is a special day with veterans,” said Thoke.
Raymond “Doc” Boldery of Milton, Ky., is another World War II veteran whom Thoke first met during an Honor Flight Bluegrass trip to Washington, D.C. Boldery had served in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. 
Boldery, now 96, became animated as he described his introduction to the realities of the war in Europe during World War II.
“We had breakfast in England and then flew to France. There, we were loaded onto cattle trucks. We were driven toward the front lines. As we got closer, we could see flashes of artillery. We unloaded and started walking toward the battle. We walked, fighting our way through Belgium and Luxemburg to the Siegfried Line.”

Purvis - McCubbin - Boldery

It was the battle between Germany and France. The Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine, was known as the Siegfried Line campaign – the Western European campaign of World War II.
“We nearly froze to death,” Boldery continued. “We slept on the ground in the snow. It was 30 degrees below zero. No one had insulated boots or clothing. Many men froze to death. Eventually, I was taken back to France. I finally got warmed up. I was in the parachute infantry. In France, we had two practice jumps.”
They flew over Germany and parachuted down, loaded with 90 pounds of equipment that was needed in the battle. “I was lucky – me and one other boy landed in a clearing. Others were not so lucky and landed in trees or fences. We walked across Germany, fighting and carrying all that equipment. My feet and legs froze. We took one village after another. The last one was Munster, Germany. Then the war was over. I was tickled to death. Oh my goodness, I will get to see my Mother and Dad,” he remembered.
He was shipped home on the Ile de France. He still remembers the rough voyage with 30-foot waves. Boldery earned the Bronze Star and a Presidential Citation for his service.
Born and raised in Trimble County, Boldery said his nickname has always been “Doc” because he was named after a doctor. After the war, he met Lucille Brandon in Versailles, Ind. She was just 16 when they were married. “I robbed the cradle. Now we’ve been married for 74 years.”
They still live in their first house, located on a farm in Milton. Two years ago, he lost his eyesight. Now bedridden with additional health issues, “Doc” depends on Lucille as his main caregiver. 
Looking back, he reflected, “A lot of people didn’t make it home – they were either killed or froze to death. Many times, I thought I was a goner.”
A large wooden sign at the entrance to his driveway proudly proclaims: “Boldery Lane – Spring Creek Valley Farms –Doc, Lucille, Sherry. Battle of the Bulge Veteran.”
The children of World War II veterans grew up hearing war stories from their parents and other relatives.  Grandchildren of World War II veterans grew up knowing that grandfathers, great uncles, grandmothers, great aunts had served in “the war.” Great-grandchildren of those veterans barely remember meeting those heroes of the 1940s.
Many others never met their family members of that “Greatest Generation.” In spite of all of the harrowing experiences veterans faced overseas, back then, there was no such thing as PTSD. Veterans just returned home and went to work. Just as Purvis, Raderer, McCubbin and Boldery have told their stories, many other local veterans are also willing to share their stories. Just ask them.
Although three Honor Flight Bluegrass flights were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, Thoke said he is still keeping a waiting list for future trips when flights become available.

• For more information, contact Jeff Thoke at www.HonorFlightBluegrass.org. Priority is given to veterans from World War II, then Korea and then Vietnam, in that order.

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