Profiles of Courage Sponsored by Rahal-Miller
World War II Combat Hero, Milton Mooneyham of Dellwood, Helped Rid the World of Adolph Hitler
92-year-old Vet still remembers war days like they were yesterday
It was just a fluke that kept US Army Pvt. Milton Mooneyham, of Dellwood, Florida, off the French Normandy beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944. But what the 22-year-old Greenwood School graduate (Class of 1941) would go through for the next 10 long and grueling months would more than make up for that blessing. Milton's 8th Infantry Division ("Pathfinder") was originally expected to be in the first wave to hit the deadly Omaha Beach on June 6, but it seemed that one of his officers had inadvertently told a lady spy too much, so the whole Division's landing was held up until July 4. The 8th Division would enter combat three days later on July 7 and help capture the French cities of Rennes (in August) and Brest (in September). Mooneyham's Company B then turned eastward toward the German border, joining in the heavy fighting in the Hurtgen Forest in November. They crossed the Roer River on Feb. 23, 1945, and crossed the Rhine into Rhineland in March. The war in Europe would end on May 8 (V-E Day), after the 8th Division, with the British Second Army, drove across the Elbe and penetrated to Schwerin. Pvt. Mooneyham had endured four major campaigns of the European Theater Operations (ETO): #1-Normandy, #2-Northern France, #3-Rhineland and #4-Central Europe. Units of the Division had taken 316,187 prisoners of war and sustained 13,293 battle casualties.
"We met up with the Russians, our allies, at the Baltic Sea," Mooneyham said in a Friday interview with the Jackson County TIMES at his Long Pond Road farmhouse, not far from where he was raised. (Schwerin is just a few miles south of where the Baltic Sea cuts into Germany's north.) Although he is now 92, Milton (b.Sept. 20, 1921) remembers everything. His biggest challenge lately is having to get along without his wife of 65 years, Louise, who passed away just two years ago last April. He's doing well; he visited the TIMES offices on Monday to be photographed with his medals. He was accompanied by someone who gives him the best loving care possible, his daughter, Hilda DeSercy, who lives near her dad on the old family homestead, a few miles east of downtown Dellwood (Kelly's gas station).
For years, Milton preferred not to talk about his war experiences. "I went through hell over there," he explained Friday. "I knew and realized what I had done and I just wanted to forget it. But I can talk about it now because-- it's for history. " Milton then leaned forward in his chair and said with a more serious nature, "This is not the America, today, for which I fought. Too many have forgotten that freedom is not free. We've lost too many of our freedoms, particularly that of speech and religion. In some places, you can't even talk about God like you could years ago. I'm still proud to be an American; it's the greatest country on earth, in history. But we've fallen from grace, and I pray to God every day that we are returned."
Mooneyham's 8th Division Pathfinders returned to the US on July 10, 1945, after about 266 days of combat. Milton was given a 30-day leave, during which time he was not allowed to tell anyone his future plans. That wasn't hard to do; Milton was quite unsure about them himself. His company commander, Capt. John R. "Wild Bill" Terry, had told his men to "not lose your spirit or heart for battle" during leave because WWII was not finished; there was still the South Pacific and Japan. But providence granted Milton another blessing. Just after his leave expired, the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (mid-August) and Japan surrendered. Milton supports President Truman's decision to drop the bombs. The 8th Infantry was due to be recalled and his training had not prepared him for the Pacific Theater.
With the war ended, Milton could get on with his life. "They offered me a position as Staff Sergeant to stay on," he said, "but I had had enough of the Army. I just wanted to go home." Actually, Milton had gotten married to Louise Jackson while on leave, so he asked for and received his discharge (Oct. 27, 1945) as soon as possible. The wedding was like something out of a movie: "Now a 30 days pass will run out quicker than you think," he explained. "So we had no time to lose. When we got to Donalsonville (Georgia didn't require a three-day waiting period in those days, it was quicker there), the judge (Judge Norwood) wasn't there. He was home with a bad cold, but his office called him and he understood our situation. He married us at his home on his front porch in his pajamas!" He and Louise had corresponded during the war; they never dated before he left. He didn't have a lot of time. He had been drafted and examined before he graduated from high school. They let him graduate, and then sent him to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri.
Some REAL War Stories
- Milton got to meet "Ike," the Supreme Allied Commander, while the 8th was in Ireland preparing for D-Day. He says he was very impressed with the future Republican President, Dwight David Eisenhower. "To see him was akin to seeing God to me at the time," he stated.
- On three occasions, Milton had the weapon he was carrying destroyed by gunfire or shrapnel. The only wound he received was a burn on his hip where the shrapnel hit him after being deflected by his rifle and passing through his cartridge belt. He says he kept one of the pieces of shrapnel for years.
- While in Central Europe, his company was visited and inspected by Gen. George S. Patton who told them: "Men, over in the states you were told not to fire until you see the white of their eyes. Well, over here, these guys may not have any white in their eyes. If you are in doubt, you shoot up the area and then advance. We can get more ammunition but we can't get more menâ€”they are much harder to come by!"
- The urban fighting was bad. "We were hunkered down in a basement once," Milton said. "The Germans were on one side of the street and we were on the other. One of the men had to kill a cat in the building because every time that cat would jump into a window, we would receive fire. Later, under the cover of night, we had to draw numbers out of a helmet to see who would go first. If you went first, that was good; you had more cover."
- The fighting in the countryside was bad. "We would be in a field at night and just the light from a cigarette would draw strafing fire or artillery if Bed- Check Charlie, we called him, was flying overhead. Other aircraft would drop propaganda leaflets on us and on the radio constantly was the Berlin Bitch (Axis Sally, Mildred Gillars, and others) who would say, 'Why don't you go home and quit fighting us; go home where your wife is with another man."
- Hitler hated all Jews, Milton said, but the Army knew this. Many of the Jewish American soldiers had to disguise their names so they weren't shot after a capture. The 8th, days before the war ended they liberated a concentration camp known as "Wobbelin" which had some 5,000 inmates. "Some were so starved," Milton said, "that they could move their eyeballsâ€”that's all. The Nazis had tried to bury some of them before we arrived so we found some who were half buried, but still aliveâ€”barely. At the time, I can remember thinking how fortunate we were to be Americans."
- "These are my credentials" became the motto of the 8th after the battle of Brest when the German General, Ramcke, surrendered to Brig. Gen. Canham and stated through his interpreter: "I am to surrender to you. Let me see your credentials." Canham looked at the German, pointed to his armed doughboys beside him and said, "These are my credentials."
Milton married Eva Louise Jackson in 1945. They both got jobs at FSH in Chattahoochee; she stayed on as a psychiatric aide, later retiring, but Milton soon began farming, where he prospered. He still rents out many acres today. Sadly, Louise died on April 19, 2011. They had two children: Milton M. Mooneyham Jr., of Marianna, himself a 1992 Gulf War Army veteran and retired assistant and interim superintendent with the Department of Juvenile Justice, and a daughter, Hilda, who also worked at and retired from FSH, as a mental health program analyst. Milton Sr. has six grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. Great grandson Jeff Brogmiez joined the Army on July 15, 2013, and is now stationed in Newport News, Va., with the Delta Company 31st Engineer Battalion. Milton was the first in his family to serve in the military. His two brothers Emmett and Lester, both deceased, were also drafted during WWII but only Milton saw combat.
Milton's faith is very strong. He is of the Holiness denomination and says he also really enjoyed being treated as someone very special at this month's Veteran's Day services at Eastside Baptist Church in Marianna. "He had an illness earlier this year," Hilda said, "and he had a rough time. We almost lost him, but he pulled through." Milton says he knows why: "God still has work for me to do. But I am ready if he calls. I long to hear the sweetest words you'll ever hearâ€”'Well done, my good and faithful servant...enter into the joy of your Lord."
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