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World War II memories still vivid for 95-year-old vet
To the patter of drums and the blare of horns, the oom pa-pa of tubas and the thunderous roar of motorcycles, veterans with comrades at their sides made their way down Auburn’s Main Street Saturday to the approval of onlookers.
Some of the most frail among them, perhaps WWII veterans who could no longer walk Auburn’s Veterans Day Parade route, waved from cars and jeeps.
An image filled the eyes. Then the moment passed, the eye moved on.
It’s easy to forget that in their youths, as Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote of his Civil War generation, the hearts of the frailer service members “were touched with fire.”
Annie McDonald served 22 months as a nurse with the US Army, much of it in the European theater. Her service was one of the defining experiences of her long life.
McDonald, who as of Saturday, had reached 95 years, was content to sit in the passenger seat of a Jeep, a blanket over her legs to protect her from the bite of the November day.
After the Empire of Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, McDonald was one among a group nurses at King County Hospital in Seattle who decided join the US Army and help the nascent war effort.
McDonald, then 24, and her fellow nurses took time getting organized but finally they got their stuff together and made their way to King Street Station in Seattle before heading off for 15 months of toughening at Camp Carson, Colo.
“Training, training, training,” McDonald recalled.
The drill sergeant under the direction of a Col. Buckner — McDonald has forgotten first name— put the greenhorns through the same sort of hardships that troops undergo on the front lines.
“We had to crawl under gun fire, and if you raised your head, too bad for you. You don’t raise your head. We’d crawl on our bellies until we got over to a little ditch, and we had to fall in that ditch length wise. We couldn’t crawl in. From there on we had training and training.”
McDonald would go on to spend 26 months in the army, many in blood splattered battle hospitals in the European Theater, typically about a mile behind the front line.
“We had to move as the front line moved, and we moved a lot because the front line moved a lot. Finally we got to where we could stay in one place for a while, until the front line moved again and we kept moving. We called it leapfrogging over.
“We had somebody guarding our area overnight, and if he blew a whistle, we were supposed to go out in the foxholes, which were very shallow, but we just never had to do that,” McDonald said.
Battle, blood fuses in her memory, blurring the names of individual battles.
“When a litter was brought in with a guy on it, we didn’t know if we’d find a leg shot off or what was under that blanket. Other than that, it was just everyday calamities.”
Amid those scenes of carnage, one scene in particular scorched into her brain: a young man shot in the throat.
“The hardest thing I saw was a young, 21-year-old GI. He had a bullet through his neck, and it severed his spinal cord, and we couldn’t do a thing for him, just couldn’t do anything. That was the hardest thing to take,” McDonald said. “It was just terrible.”