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Local veterans share stories at GPC
GPC WWII symposium veterans stories

Residents and veterans who lived through the World War II-era, part of a generation rapidly fading away, relived their part in history on home front and battle theaters for a group of students and community members Wednesday.

The panel described a time living on rationed food, gasoline and nylon at home, gardens that supplemented food rationing, telegrams from the Department of War, trucks giving soldiers doughnuts on the field and segregation and racism in a Marine Corps leapfrogging across the Pacific Ocean.

Wednesday's discussion was organized and hosted by Georgia Perimeter College's Newton Campus and moderated by The News' General Manager Pat Cavanaugh.

"These are the people who made great sacrifices to save America and the world from fascism," said Chris Moser, the Georgia Perimeter communications professor who organized the event.

Johnie Tuck, who lived with her family in Covington during the war while her husband served in the Navy, and Grace Spradley, who lived in Oxford while her brother served, described lines for fresh produce and the hardship of having family and friends gone to fight.

"It was a terrible ordeal living and not knowing where your people were," Spradley said.

A nationwide rationing system, covering everything from meat to gasoline to cotton and nylon, was enforced with stamps that were required to purchase any item. Tuck said rationed nylon meant women's stockings were exceptionally rare.

"People would line up to get a pair of hose," she said.

Grady Spradley, who served in Europe, is Grace Spradley's husband. "We were both married at the time, but not to each other," Grace joked.

Grady Spradley said he remembered visiting family in South Georgia before he was deployed and bargaining with his father for stamps to buy gas to ride in their '41 Chevy.

James Jones, who lived in Atlanta during the war, and Tuck said getting letters to and from loved ones was difficult because the disruption of the war meant a stack of letters could arrive at once, but the censorship of letters they received at home meant they could not always get all the information they wanted.

Jones recalled his mother receiving telegrams from Western Union with news of her brother fighting in Europe. "These types of war telegrams were plentiful, unfortunately," Jones said.

Fred Wiley, whose parents owned a general store in Social Circle, landed in Normandy on the second day of the D-Day invasion. He served as a messenger, and while he was not fighting, he risked his life to deliver messages and lost an eye in service.

He described a grisly beach scene with fallen soldiers floating along the shore like logs and a hand lying in the sand. "That stuck with me," he said.

Grady Spradley was sent to Europe shortly after the Normandy invasion. "I landed on Omaha Beach," he declared. "Six months after." He was sent to Belgium and Holland after the Germans were dislodged.

One night, while he was staying with a Dutch family, he was woken up with flashlights and rifle barrels in his face, but no one spoke English. Spradley managed to convince the family's little girl to get his sergeant, who explained to the gunmen he was an American soldier.

"German paratroopers in American uniforms had landed in the town," he said. "They were checking every soldier to see if they were American."

Britton, who served as ambassador to Grenada in the 1970s and worked for the Department of Housing and Urban Development afterward, served in Marines and was stationed on Guadalcanal during the fighting there.

At the time, however, Britton said the Marine Corps was highly segregated and prejudiced. Initially, the Marine command had ordered that black service members be ranked below even the lowest ranked white Marine. That applied even if the black Marines were more skilled with weapons than their white counterparts.

"A lot of good white Marines lost their lives because of prejudice," Britton said.

While segregation of soldiers fighting for their country engendered bitterness, Britton commended the Marines for changing.

"I resented that I couldn't fight, but I didn't realize til many years later that I could have gotten my butt killed," he said. "When you're 18, you don't think you can get killed."