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Army remembers, honors Auburn WWII veteran
In a black-and-white photograph taken on some forgotten field in France during the Second World War, a weary young man in grimy mechanic's coveralls stands near the left wing of a Republic P-47 Thunderbolt fighter plane.
White markings on the fuselage reveal that this bird flew in the D-Day invasion over the beaches at Normandy. The Allies would have shot down any plane without the markings.
Soldier and mechanic Paul Victor Myers, the man in the photo, kept the behemoth P-47s going, muscling their 2000-horsepower, Pratt and Whitney, Double Wasp, 18-cylinder, two-row radial engine, the largest and most powerful aircraft engine ever developed in the United States up to that time, and the first piston-powered fighter to fly faster than 500 mph.
"It was my baby," said the Army veteran, now 98 and living quietly at Parkside Retirement Community in Auburn, in a room filled with photographs and mementos of his long and varied life.
The U.S. Army has not forgotten him. The new U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute Program recently honored Myers for his service, as part of a larger effort to show appreciation for its veterans.
His certificate notes his "outstanding service to the Nation as a United States Army Soldier. You are being recognized for your patriotism and continued support of the Army family. Your legacy is today's Army and the values soldiers exhibit as they stand in defense of our country around the world. Their efforts are a direct reflection of your service, and the United States Army and a grateful nation thank you."
Myers can thank his comrades at Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1741 in Auburn for submitting his name to the Army. Last July, 1741 Post Commander Bill Peloza opened a letter from the Army describing the program.
"We went through our cadre list and picked out all of the Army guys," said Peloza. "Mike Sepal, an Army vet and the junior vice commander, sent the list to the Department of the Army. It mailed out certificates to each of the U.S. Army veterans in our post that we had identified. Along with the certificate is a letter from the U.S. Army and a pin."
Myers, a member of Post 1741 since the fall of 1945, wears the pin on his Army jacket alongside the European - African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal Ribbon, the Army Good Conduct Medal Ribbon and the American Campaign Medal - WWII Ribbon.
"I'm proud of what we did," Myers said.
Myers was born on July 11, 1911 to Hamlin and Ida Myers in Tukwila, when the horse and buggy were still common sights. Myers had three sisters, France, Grace and Gladys. He graduated from Foster High School in 1930.
To scratch out a living during the Depression, Myers and his brother-in-law, Ed Garbrick, peddled fruits and vegetables in the streets, but could not make it work. Next they founded the East Valley Lumber Yard near the Pioneer Cemetery, eventually moving the business to the site of the present-day St. Vincent De Paul on Auburn Way North. They had just started to build the lumber company into a viable business when the war came.
Myers said a friend advised him to register before he was drafted so he could choose his branch of service. The Navy passed on him for health reasons, but the Army wasn't so picky. He signed up and the Army gave him six months to sell the business.
Instead of training him at Ft. Lewis as he had been told he would be, the Army shipped him off to the Jefferson Barracks in East St. Louis. After additional training in Texas, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the Queen Mary, then being used as a troop transport ship. In England he spent two years as a mechanic tending the planes the United States had contributed to the war effort before he was called to take part in the invasion of France.
"Our boat sank on the beach, so we marched through the surf," Myers recalled of D-Day. "Where I was at the Germans didn't show up; they were supposed to, but they didn't."
Myers described the infernal bursting of shells and the percussive punch of artillery, but added, "If I was ever shot at, I don't remember it."
He said that the command situation was so fluid he didn't know most of the time which Army he was attached to, but he believes it was the First Army, at least to start with.
"Things happened so fast and changed so fast that we didn't know from one week to another who we were with or anything, but we had to take orders from whoever the immediate commander was," Myers said.
He was there for the liberation of Paris.
"We got a lot of kisses from the girls," Myers recalled with a twinkle. "The GIs were very popular. Everywhere we went, the French people hugged us and partied with us. They mobbed us for two or three months."
His trek through the countryside and his duties kept him so busy, Myers said, that he was always at work until the day the Germans surrendered. That glorious news reached him while he was on the French-German border near the remains of the famous Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River.
"I was very happy. I had never had a day off from the day I went into the Army until then. Almost everybody else I knew of had had a furlough of some kind, but they never found the time to give me a day off," Myers said.
After his discharge from the Army on Sept. 24, 1945, Myers returned to Auburn. He married Gladys Agee in August 1945. The couple lived in Auburn, and he worked for Boeing and then for Armstrong Home Builders in Auburn, Westport, Wash., and Juneau, Alaska. He worked on the Alaskan Pipeline. In the mid 1970s, the couple moved back to Auburn.
Myers retired from construction but continued to travel and see the world until age 90. A picture hangs on his wall, showing him at 90 astride a camel before the pyramids in Egypt.
He said he has "had a good life," and looks back on his military service with pride.
"Nothing to be ashamed of," said Myers. "We freed the country of the Germans."