By AMANDA LOVIZA VICKERY
Glasgow Daily Times
Ferrell Arterburn had an opportunity to duck away from World War II, but more than 60 years later, he is thankful he gave almost three years of his life to the war. His sacrifice was one of many, made by many young men and many of his friends.
“I wasn’t no better than they were, and I felt that,” Arterburn said. “I would have felt like I was laying down on the job.”
A Monroe County native, Arterburn was working at an airplane plant in Baltimore when he received the letter that told him to return to his hometown to be drafted. It was 1943, and Arterburn was 23 years old and married. He was the first married man to be drafted out of Monroe County, Arterburn said. His plant requested the U.S. Army not draft Arterburn, but by the time Arterburn received a letter from the Army that told him he could stay home, he had already gone through his initial medical examinations for the service.
“I said, ‘no, I’m just going to go on and get done with it,’” Arterburn said. “I’m glad I did, now.”
Arterburn was inducted into the U. S. Army on April 13, 1943, he still recalls. He was assigned the 6th Armored Division in the 3rd Army. After training in Louisiana, Kentucky and California, Arterburn shipped out to England in January 1944.
“I stayed in England until D-Day,” Arterburn said.
Arterburn landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy about four days after D-Day, he said. It took that long for there to be enough space on the beach for he and other soldiers to go ashore in the armored vehicles, known as half-tracks, they were assigned to operate. As they stormed the beach, they could see the destruction that had already been wreaked.
“There’s no telling how many American soldiers, dead American soldiers, were floating in the water,” Arterburn said.
Germans were shooting at them the whole time they moved up the beach, Arterburn said, so they just had to fight their way as far inland as possible. The days surrounding his landing at the beach were some of the hardest days of fighting, he said, but Brest was his first major battle.
The Battle for Brest, which started at the beginning of August, 1944, was one of the most intense battles of WWII.
“We got whipped,” Arterburn said. “Lost a lot of men.”
From Brest, the 6th Armored Division continued to fight its way through France. At Saint-Lo, Arterburn said they saw true destruction.
“There was nothing standing, not a building standing,” Arterburn said. “Our own planes dropped bombs on our own men. Killed about 2,000 men.”
The 6th Armored Division reached Bastogne to play a key role in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944. Snow was mid-thigh, Arterburn said, and the two sides kept pushing each other back and forth, trading turns sleeping in the fox holes every other night.
Bastogne was almost hand-to-hand combat, Arterburn said, but as a half-track driver he did not have to do that. Arterburn spent the whole war driving his half-track No. 70, which got riddled with so many bullets it had cracks and bumps in its armored shell.
As part of the duty of a half-track driver, Arterburn had to keep watch over the vehicle, which stored ammunition for other soldiers, while his men fought. The other soldiers would jump out to face a conflict, and Arterburn would be left by himself, he said. Even at night, he could not lower his guard even to sleep.
“I’ve stayed up as much as three weeks without a wink of sleep,” Arterburn said.