"Honoring the aging warriors of WWII" (April 4, 2014)
On May 19, 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte established the ‘Ordre National de la Legion d’honneur’ (National Order of the Legion of Honor), better known as the Legion of Honor. Presented for extraordinary civilian and military contributions to the fatherland, the Legion of Honor is France’s highest distinction.
A young man born in the poorest section of Atlanta, a locality known as Cabbage Town, received the Legion of Honor at the Georgia State Capitol Thursday. His name is Bud Sosebee.
A book as thick as Webster’s Dictionary would be required to celebrate Sosebee’s civilian accomplishments, be it his three ollege degrees, service as Rockdale County Commissioner for 12 years, shaking hands with two American Presidents or phoning an American astronaut acquaintance. Add success in business, a pilot’s license, an accomplished scuba diver, a musician and gifted artist, then one may appreciate Sosebee’s humble claim, “I’ve had the perfect life.”
As a youth he walked to school with no shoes. Odd jobs kept Sosebee busy working for pennies. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec 7, 1941, 14-year-old Sosebee thought he’d struck gold. “I sold newspapers for a nickel and kept two cents. Shoot, Pearl Harbor was a bonanza for me!” At 15 he was hauling one hundred pound blocks of ice on his back to keep neighborhood ‘iceboxes’ cold, but the hard labor took a toll on his feet. “They were flatter than pancakes,” he said, smiling. Talking his way into the Army, flat feet and all, the poor kid from Cabbage Town was going to war at age 16.
r training, Sosebee recalled leaky tents, muddy foxholes, and inclement weather. “I hated every day of it,” he stated. Sosebee applied and was accepted for flight school. “That didn’t last long,” he said. “Too many guys wanted to fly, so I was sent back into the infantry. I was not a happy camper.”
In short order, Staff Sergeant Sosebee traveled by train to New York to board a troop ship for South Hampton, England. Once in England he attended school. “I learned how to rescue people from bombed out buildings in London.”
Sosebee witnessed V-1 buzz bombs flying overhead en route to various targets. “When a British Spitfire ran out of ammo he’d fly alongside the V-1 to position a wing tip under one of the V-1’s stubby wings then flip it over. That sent its gyro out of sync causing it to crash harmlessly.”
Next port-of-call: LeHavre, France with the Fighting 69th. Near LeHavre, Sosebee stumbled upon two black boxes (launch equipment for the V-1 buzz-bombs). A 2nd Lt. asked Sosebee for one of the black boxes. A few minutes later the lieutenant’s black box detonated and blew off one of his fingers. Sosebee said, “Thank the Lord, my black box wasn’t booby-trapped.”
He continued, “I want to say something about the French people. They had suffered a war and occupation by the Germans before we ever set foot on French soil. The French Underground saved hundreds of our downed airmen and the French Resistance did a fantastic job behind the lines destroying the German transportation system and their lines of communication. They made the road to victory a safer highway.”
Advancing in subzero weather, the Fighting 69th discovered mile after mile of concrete anti-tank pyramids called ‘dragon’s teeth’ at Aachen. “It was part of the infamous Siegfried Line,” Sosebee stated. “It didn’t matter. The weather was so cold we couldn’t maneuver, but neither could the Germans.”
Eventually machines and men thawed; then the Americans flanked the dragon’s teeth and pushed to the Rhine River. Bivouacked in a home in Heidelberg, Sosebee buried his head in an electrical engineering course during lulls in combat. “It was a correspondence course,” he stated. “I was having trouble with Kirchhoff’s Law, but the home’s owner taught at a local university and showed me how to do it. I have fond memories for that town and its people.”
After Heidelberg, the Fighting 69th became historical participants in the battle for the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. Sosebee said, “I’ve never seen so much firepower in my life. We had them out-gunned and out-supplied. The Germans were beat, and they knew it.”
Next stop: Kassel. “We were in Kassel when all of a sudden a Red Cross donut truck drove up right there in a combat zone. The truck stopped, they pulled down the sides, and within a few minutes we’re chompin’ on donuts and sippin’ hot Joe.” Then Sosebee heard something familiar and ominous; a German fighter diving to strafe the road. “Thankfully a P-51 Mustang came out of nowhere with all its guns blazing and chased the German away,” Sosebee stated. “The P-51 came back for another pass, but one of our men fired on it with a .50 caliber machine gun. I screamed, ‘That’s one of ours!’ then he stopped shooting and moaned, ‘Oh’.”
Traveling in the colonel’s jeep and manning a SCR 300 radio, Sosebee and company entered Leipzig. He said, “The Germans were holed up in a thick stone building. Our artillery wasn’t helpful, so I told the colonel, ‘Tell those Germans we have cans of gasoline and we’re goin’ to burn them out,’ so that’s what they did. The Germans surrendered. Neither side lost one soldier.”
Sosebee’s last battle was Eilenburg. Sosebee said, “Our artillery leveled Eilenburg then one our tanks pulled up and stopped next to us. I was going to warn the tank crew that Germans gunners were up ahead, but suddenly I heard this terrible explosion. We’d been hit by a Panzerfaust antitank weapon. Two guys were down, the colonel was limping, and my left arm was bleeding. The tank took off. Luckily, the colonel and I only had slight flesh wounds so we both stayed in the fight to witness the end of the war.”
“The next day we were en route to meet up with the Russians but ran into another thick concrete fortification. We all thought, ‘Shoot, not again,’ but luckily the Germans surrendered before a shot was fired.” The soldiers watched as an immaculately dressed German lieutenant approached the American lines. The German officer walked up to an American lieutenant and stated in perfect English, “We would like to surrender.” When asked where he had learned to speak English, the German lieutenant replied, “Well, I’m an American. I was in Germany visiting when the war broke out. Since I spoke German and English I was recruited into the German army.” Then he requested a piece of American chewing gum, but his commanding officer, a German major, strutted from the fortification and scolded the lieutenant. The major argued that he should receive the first piece of gum. Sosebee recalled, “We were all laughing. German and American boys laughing together; yeah, we knew the war was over.”
Sosebee’s unit continued to the Elbe River where they met up with the Russians. “That was quite an experience,” he stated. The clickety-clack of a Russian tank caught their attention. “We saw the hatch pop open and, well, there she was, a Russian woman tank commander. They had an entire brigade of women tankers.”
Among several campaign ribbons, Sosebee received two Bronze Stars for heroic action in Europe. His war was over.
Retired from the American dream, Bud Sosebee works untiringly on his pet project: The Walk of Heroes War Memorial at Black Shoals Park. He explained, “I did not like how our Vietnam veterans were treated when they returned, so The Walk of Heroes is my way of expressing ‘welcome home’.”
Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or aveteransstory.us.