August 26, 2009 Edition

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Phone call elicits WWII memories

Bill and Carolyn Ellis (seated) look over Bill's scrapbook of World War II photos with their daughter, Winnie Tedder, and nephew, Frank Ellis of Pocahontas.
John Bland

Many years have passed, but a recent phone call from Belgium brought back many vivid World War II memories for veteran William R. "Bill" Ellis of Walnut Ridge. Ellis, one of a dwindling number of World War II veterans, will celebrate his 90th birthday on Thursday, Aug. 27.

Ellis told of the bittersweet memory of a 10-year-old boy and his mother whom he returned to their Belgium home place after the war. The mother and son had been displaced during the war, and Ellis and his division were responsible for returning them and others to their homes.

Ellis recalled that the boy asked him where he was from, and "I told him Arkansas."

The boy had asked, "Is it better than Texas or is Texas best? Is Missouri a better state than Arkansas?"

"I'd say Arkansas is the best place to be," Ellis told him, because it is not as hot as Texas or as cold as Missouri.

When they arrived at the address, they found that little remained of their home other than a concrete pad. The home and much of the town had been destroyed during the war.

Ellis and his fellow division members returned them and others home to similar situations. "That's all we could do," Ellis said.

Ellis believes the Belgian man who called him and his wife, Carolyn, could be that same 10-year-old boy who had asked him about Arkansas. He had found Ellis through the Internet. Communicating over the telephone with him was difficult, and the Ellises are hoping to receive a letter from him soon.

Bill and the former Carolyn Stone were married on April 9, 1944, and they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary earlier this year.

Having joined the army on May 12, 1942, Ellis was shipped overseas to Europe in May of 1944, the next month after their marriage. He spent about a year and eight months overseas, remaining in Europe six months after the war ended.

Ellis served in the first, third and ninth Armies, and his division was responsible for hauling supplies and people throughout Europe. "I was in every (European) country but three," said Ellis. They also went into Russia and transported prisoners of war back to Europe.

Ellis recalled many experiences and highlights during his World War II service. On three separate occasions, he met the famed General George Patton.

Once, Ellis' convoy was hauling gasoline to a particular battalion when they met up with General Patton, whose troops were desperately in need of fuel. Patton ordered the convoy to change directions and deliver the gasoline to him.

The sergeant in charge told General Patton he had written orders and that he had to follow them, even at the risk of losing his stars. Patton had his radio officer make contact with the appropriate officials and arranged for the fuel to be diverted to the sergeant's satisfaction.

Another time, Ellis' group of 32 men and 16 trucks had been on the go for nine days and nights (three 72-hour shifts), without taking their shoes off.

Patton saw Ellis and recognized him. They were in northern Europe near Poland and Patton said to Ellis, "What are you doing up here little ole short sergeant from Arkansas?"

Patton ordered that the men get a shower, a change of clothes and a good meal. Despite obstacles, "he (Patton) got it done," Ellis said. "We left our old clothes there, and got new ones."

Other memories Ellis shared included:

  • taking the first trucks across the English Channel, one week after D-Day.

  • being in the Battle of the Bulge.

  • helping to evacuate people out of the back of a hospital, while the Germans were coming in the front.

  • traveling often across Europe under "blackout" conditions at night due to the danger of enemy fire or bombing.

  • meeting up with his cousin, Wade James of Pocahontas, who was also in Belgium some 40 miles away.

  • hauling Hitler's gold and silver, which filled 10 trailers, from northern Germany to a vault in Frankfort, Germany, under the watch of guards with machine guns.

Ellis said he went to Fort Knox, Ky., for basic training and bakers school.

After basic training, he went to Ft. Campbell, Ky., which he helped to build. Then, he went to Camp Polk, La., where he cooked for officers for almost two years as part of the Ninth Armored Division. From there, he went overseas.

After the war, Bill and Carolyn lived at Light, where he farmed until his retirement. The Ellises have one daughter, Winnie Ellis Tedder, who is married to Eggie Tedder of Walnut Ridge, two granddaughters and three great-grandchildren.

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