World War II was the most widespread war in history. Those veterans served at a time when post-traumatic stress disorder was just known as "shell shock." The treatments, therapies and medications that exist today weren't available then.The men who lived through the Battle of the Bulge had nothing to help them cope with what one Sierra Vista resident calls "hell on Earth."
Fred Drew was a member of the 101st Airborne. You've probably heard of them - they're the "band of brothers" made famous in books and movies - heroes who parachuted into enemy territory with their weapons and supplies strapped to their bodies. But these humble members of "The Greatest Generation" disagree with the recognition, especially the use of the word "hero."
Nearly 70 years later, Honor Flight Southern Arizona was able to take Drew on the trip of a lifetime.
"I told them I'm no hero," Drew said. "I just did what they told me to do. The ones who are heroes are the ones who didn't come home. That's my impression of it, anyhow."
Drew was just 22 when he entered the U.S. Army in 1943.
He was a Maine farm boy who found himself flying in a B-17 over Europe.
Loaded down with his supplies and his parachute, he boarded a glider and hoped for the best.
"They turned us loose and told us when we were over the drop area, and then we went down," he said. "And I landed wrong and I cartwheeled and put a curvature in my back. But the medics taped me up and I stayed with the outfit. They needed me because I was a demolition man and an expert rifleman."
Drew was with the 101st at Bastogne and found himself in the Battle of the Bulge in the middle of December. The conditions were not ideal. The cold weather and lack of supplies meant many men had only minimal cold-weather clothing.
"We were stuck in that ice fog for 9 days," Drew said. "And I'll tell you that was hell on Earth. Oh, that was cold. And we were stuck in those stinkin' foxholes for 9 days."
Drew said his colonel favored the snipers in his unit - Bravo company.
"'Guys,' he says, "When this fog is lifted, we're getting out of here come hell or high water!' and that's what we did," Drew said. "We made the push. We had dug in in foxholes - I say stinkin' foxholes - we lost 31 thousand boys in that Battle of the Bulge. But we made it."
Drew said his colonel had a few words of advice on the battlefield.
"We went out there and he says 'You see those tanks, that slit in that tank?' He says, 'You put a bullet through that slit and don't you miss,' and we said, "Sir, we don't miss.' And he said "That's what I said - don't miss!'" Drew recalls. "We took out 11 tanks, 11 tiger tanks, and then we made room for Patton to come in, and he did the rest.
Drew said when he finally got out of the war zone after 152 days in combat, words couldn't describe how he felt.
"I don't know. Release, that's all. Release from hell… I just thought I had an angel on my shoulder. But I remember everything."
To find out how you can help, visit www.honorflightsaz.org.
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