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Posted: November 13, 2011 12:30 a.m.

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Never giving up: a soldier's story

The loss of an eye didn't slow down this soldier


Fred Wiley lost an eye in World War II, but it didn't stop him from serving until the war's end. He now operates a general store in Social Circle.

Fred Wiley, a born-and-raised Social Circle native, knows a little something about loss. During his service in World War II, the 87-year-old lost an eye during a German ambush, though the Army kept him in service for the rest of the war. He lost his wife and his son to separate car crashes over the years.

But he certainly hasn't lost all. He has two surviving daughters - along with 11 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and three step great-grandchildren. He runs his father's general store, Claude T. Wiley Company, now in its 92nd year in business. And he has maintained a deep love for his country.

Wiley was drafted by the Army in July 1943 and finished basic training at Camp Wheeler near Macon. By January 1944, he was on an ocean liner for Great Britain, though the ship headed south first to dodge and throw off German submarines that harried and sunk ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

At the end of May, Wiley was preparing to load onto transport vessels for the invasion of France. His group landed on June 7, 1944, the second day of the invasion.

"We didn't know what to expect," he said. "That first day, there was a good chance you weren't coming back at all."

By the time Wiley and his group landed, Allied forces had secured the beach and the bank, but he could hear the fighting nearby. His job was to run messages from the battalion command to the forward companies.

While marching through Normandy about eight weeks later, his group stopped for the night. Some men dug a trench to sleep in, but others, including Wiley, spotted a barn nearby and spent the night there in the hay.

But a small platoon of Germans snuck up on them at dawn and opened fire on the group, sending bullets over the trenches where he would have slept. One American stepped outside to give himself up.

"He slipped out to surrender and the Germans shot him down," Wiley said. The rest of them escaped out the other side of the barn, but an explosion hit them about 100 yards away. Wiley said that while it was a small explosion, about the size of a hand grenade or a rifle-fired grenade, something small lodged in his left eye.

At an aid station later on, Wiley did not seek out a doctor because the wound did not hurt, "I just couldn't see out of that eye." He got a bandage to cover the eye and moved on. Eventually, though, a doctor checked him out and found the eye was infected.

"‘You need to be evacuated,' he told me," Wiley said. They flew him to England, where his eye was removed. There, a dentist fashioned his first prosthetic out of plastic.

Once he recovered from the surgery and was fitted with his prosthetic, the Army trained him to serve in the military police and shipped him to France, where he was stationed around the country guarding prisoners and conducting street patrols.

During his police duty, Wiley, a Good Conduct Medal awardee, snuck away from camp "once or twice," at night near Le Mans. "They didn't catch me," he said, chuckling at the memory. Why did he leave camp? "They were French girls, school teachers. Sisters."

Meanwhile, his family, having heard that he lost an eye, asked their senator to try to bring Wiley home. He was summoned to a hospital near the Belgian line and thought he may be going home, but was lost in the crush of injured after the Germans launched a major offensive later called the Battle of the Bulge.

"It was overflowing with injured," he said. After that, he continued military police duties around France until the war ended.

After discharge in February 1946, Wiley returned to Social Circle to work in his father's general store. He returned to college under the federal G.I. Bill, which paid tuition for returning veterans but came back after two quarters.

Instead, he got a job as a postal clerk and helped with the general store until his father passed in 1967. "I thought we would sell out in six months, but it's still here," he said. He and his sister ran the store until Wiley retired from the Post Office in 1980 and he took over full time.

Business was good until about 1987, but since "it has been going down continually," he said. "It's dropped like a rock in the last few years."


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