Melton honored by Legion

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Special to the TImes-journal

Editor’s Note: Honoree John H. Melton, U.S. Army, was chosen by The American Legion Post 20 as the July Veteran of the Month.

Strange as it may sound, a flood along Ocmulgee Creek separating Dallas and Perry Counties in 1939, prompted John H. Melton to enlist in the Army. The flood ruined all the crops and the Meltons had water running through the windows of their home.

Melton was born in Perryville, but the family moved shortly thereafter to a 125 acre farm on the Perry-Dallas County line along Ocmulgee Creek. He was the oldest boy and the third child among four sisters and three brothers born to John M. and Betty Melton.

As was the practice in those days, Melton curtailed education at Suttle in the 11th grade to help out on the farm.

Shortly after the flood, Melton worked on a paving project on Highway 14. The work was good, but the pay at a dollar a day was lousy. Melton was accustomed to hard work since his father insisted on hard work, honesty and integrity.

One morning on the way to work, Melton mentioned to a work companion that they should join the Army. The companions response was &8220;why not?&8221; The next morning instead of going to work they came to Selma, and placed their names on the dotted line at the Army recruiting office.

Basic training is a prerequisite in the Army, and Melton received his at Fort Benning, Georgia with the 29th Infantry Regiment.

After basic was mercifully over, Melton remained at Fort Benning and was assigned to the Medical Corps. Combat medics are trained to be life savers. A wise old Army medic once said, &8220;it’s a little like plumbing, you learn to stop the leaks and place a patch on the holes.&8221;

In January, 1941 Melton was transferred to Camp Wheeler, Ga., near Macon to operate an aid station for an infantry training center. It wasn’t all work at Camp Wheeler. Melton had enough spare time to begin a courtship with Gladys Nell Sisson, a lovely young lady from Bonaire, Ga.

The fondness over time began to blossom into love and talk of marriage. They were well aware of Melton’s situation, but love conquers all, even war.

When Melton was ordered to Fort McClelland, Ala., for reassignment in May, 1943, they decided to face the war as husband and wife. They were married on May 1, 1943. Arrangements were made for Nell to stay with her mother until the issue of war was over.

Melton’s new assignment was the 2nd Battalion, 271 Infantry Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division forming at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. The 69th I.D. was known as the &8220;Fighting 69th.&8221;

While at Camp Shelby, they picked up another nickname for the nearly 13 months spent in the Desoto National Forest on bivouac. Deriving a portion of their name from Commanding General Bolte, they became known as the &8220;Three B’s&8221; or as translated &8220;Bolte’s Bivouacking B*****ds.&8221;

Life on bivouac was hard, but it toughened the 69th for what lay ahead. There were no cushy barracks or well stocked mess halls on the battlefields of Europe, only tents and bombed out buildings.

After beginning to believe they would never leave Camp Shelby, orders came on October 31, 1944 to ship out for destinations unknown. The news was bitter sweet for Melton who wanted to do more than bivouac in Mississippi, but Nell was less than three months from delivering their first child.

Camp Kilmer, New Jersey was their destination by train. There was little time to enjoy the sights of New York City only 20 miles up the railroad tracks.

On November 15, 1944 they took another short train ride to the ferry.

The ferry took them to the Melton Ericcson for transport across the Atlantic. The fighting 69th arrived in England 12 days later.

The next month or so was spent in a drafty old barracks in Winchester, England. There was London, of course, and driving on the wrong side of the road for amusement and recreation, but not much else. Christmas and New Year’s came and went while at Winchester adjusting to the bitter European winter of 1944-1945.

Shortly after New Year’s, orders came to make the cross channel trip from Southampton on January 20, 1945. They were dropped off on the French coast of Normandy near Le Harve, France. While Melton was crossing the channel, back home, Nell was in labor and giving birth to their first daughter. Dianne, the first born, would not be seen by Melton until war’s end.

The 69th began a journey through the frozen French countryside by rail car from Le Harve. After several temporary stops along the way, they finally made it through France and into Belgium.

Half frozen and wondering if they would ever thaw out enough to fight, on February 11, 1945 they were ordered to relieve the 99th Infantry Division and hold defensive positions within the Siegfried Line.

The Siegfried line or &8220;West Wall&8221; was a German defensive line consisting of fortified bunkers, tunnels and tank traps stretching from the Netherlands to Switzerland some 392 miles.

On February 27th, the 69th was called upon to launch attacks on three towns along the Siegfried Line. They made quick work of it and had secured the area in about 24 hours. However, it did not come without casualties. Even Melton’s medic section suffered their first when a large well liked medic of Polish decent was cut down and two other medics injured.

Stray bullets and shrapnel make no distinction between armed and unarmed soldiers during the heat of battle. And, in Melton’s opinion, the red crosses of the medics just gave the Krauts a better target to shoot at.

Continuing on the offensive, the 69th chased the Germans eastward toward the Rhine. The Germans would stop and throw up stiff resistance periodically before eventually falling back. On March 8th, the 69th took Blankenheim, Germany, the alleged headquarters of German Field Marshall Von Rundstedt during the Battle of the Bulge.

March 28th they crossed the Rhine on a long tactical pontoon bridge. Still engaging stiff pockets of resistance, the 69th continued its push into the heart of the Third Reich. They found Kassel in total ruins, complements of the Air Corps, where they relieved the 80th Infantry Division.

There was little time for sleep or hygiene as they moved forward without allowing the Germans time enough to regroup.

Tired, cold and hungry, the press onward was quickened by the inhumane revelations of Nazi atrocities by liberated slave laborers.

The surge came to a screeching halt on the outskirts of Wiessenfels. A determined effort ensued for the town. The fighting was fierce and intense with German civilians and soldiers firing at American forces.

Armor units were brought in to assist the ground troops. In desperate need of an aid station, Melton was sent to search for a suitable building. He strolled down a cleared street, unarmed and alone, kicking in doors looking for accommodations.

Much to his surprise behind the last door he kicked in stood a German officer and four storm troopers still armed. Startled and alarmed, he jumped back and yelled out hande hoch (hands high), being about the only words he knew in German. Luckily, the fight was out of them and Melton marched his prisoners &045; still armed and himself unarmed &045;back down the street until relieved by friendly armed Infantry.

The battles continued capturing Leipzig after heavy house to house fighting and then Eilenburg on the east bank of the Mulde River. On April 25th, 1945, while patrolling between the Elbe and Mulde Rivers, elements of the 69th made contact with Russian troops near Riesa and Torgau. The &8220;Fighting 69th&8221; remained near Naunhof, Germany patrolling and policing the area until V-E Day. Afterwards, they were assigned occupational duties until relieved of duty and returned home on September 13, 1945.

The &8220;Fighting 69th had 86 days of combat to its credit. They had fought in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns.

Melton says, &8220;there is nothing good about war, but one thing I am extremely proud of is having the privilege of knowing and serving with the medics of the 2nd Battalion.&8221;

After all these years, many of the men still call or write frequently to keep in touch.

Old Sarge, as he is affectionately called, was 24 years old during the war and they were all considerably younger.

Melton doesn&8217;t think much about war these days. As he points out, medics see the very worst war has to offer and afterwards spend most of their life trying to forget it. He returned home and claimed his wife, Nell, and the daughter he had not seen. Later, after finding permanent employment with Tissier Hardware, the Meltons welcomed another daughter, Judy, to the family.

Now retired from public work, Melton from Tissier and Nell from Peoples Bank, they spend their time counting their blessings and caring for each other.

James G. Smith s a

Legionnaire with

The American Legion Post 20