John Stanton couldn't be more humble about his service in the 7th Infantry Regiment during World War II.
"I'm no hero," he says. "I didn't do anything to be a hero."
From Casablanca to Anzio, Anzio to Rome, Rome to Marseilles and the drive through southern and eastern France, Staff Sergeant Stanton's story says otherwise.
He was born about three miles from the Russell home he built 55 years ago and lives in today. Graduating in 1939, Stanton simply said "there was no work" available in the area.
"I heard my folks talk about war," said Stanton, "but didn't really know what it was."
While Hitler invaded Poland that year, no one could have seen how the conflict would grow.
That started to change after he took a position with Bell Aircraft and had "different associations" that provided more information. Stanton was drafted into the U.S. Army while working at Bell in September, 1943.
Off to Florida he went for 17 weeks of training at Fort Blanding. Then a few days at home before he was told to report to Baltimore. "I got there one night and there were no signs of life. I just saw round circles lit. I finally saw a guy I didn't know and asked him about the lights. 'That's the boat you are going to get on in 15 minutes,'" the man said. "I knew I was going overseas."
After a week on the water, the ship carrying Stanton sailed into Casablanca and landed on his birthday in 1944, February 17.
A train trip across the northern part of Africa ensued as the fighting had since shifted to Italy. Stanton was loaded on another ship and taken to Naples. They landed "at just dark. I had never seen lights like that before. The harbor was full of boats laying on their side."
His ship became another among those number. After they disembarked, Stanton said "evidently there was an (enemy) airplane up there. The Air Corps was shooting (and) laid it (the enemy plane) right in the center of our ship and sunk it in the harbor."
A near miss.
But Stanton didn't even really know where he was.
Stanton and his men were thrown right into combat, moving via truck inland. Eventually, the men were told to run and find a foxhole. "I was scared to death," he said. "I didn't know what country we were in." After they bailed, his truck was hit by Axis artillery fire.
Another near miss.
Outside of Anzio, an officer needed machine gunners and mortarmen. No one volunteered for the machine gun post so the officer lined them up and counted them off. "That's how I happened to join the machine gunners," he said.
The fighting at Anzio was particularly intense.
"We laid right under the bullets, sitting there for a long time," he explained. "You don't know anything about orders back there. They didn't tell you nothing." He spoke about how he specifically remembered the mortar shells. "We came to the edge of Mussolini Canal. They came in on you so fast."
He recalled looking up at Monte Cassino, the monastery that the Allies thought was an observation post for the Germans. "I sat just outside (the) base of the hill from the monastery," he said, "with 3,000 airplanes over it." As the Allies bombed the monastery, Stanton explained that he and his men would count the airplanes that came back unscathed and those that were damaged.
After the Allies broke out of Anzio, Stanton thought they had pushed 40 miles into Italy. He was surprised to learn that "we were four miles in. Three out of every five men died."
Stanton said that 18 men of the 198 they had started with made it out of Anzio unscathed. "That was right on Anzio, man to man. I was trained and I was following what I was trained."
Moving up the Italian coast to Cisterna, the situation didn't relent, and the fear of the unknown was strong. "You don't know what the hell is out there," he said. "It was a hell of a day. One guy (was) sitting there writing a letter. They blewed his head off. It sickened me."
After Cisterna, Stanton's unit was assigned to scout Rome. "We were going to see if Rome was a free city," he said. "(The leadership) didn't want to blast domes off of the churches."
The venture into Rome provided a respite from the constant combat Stanton experienced since landing in Italy. "Those people were really nice," he said. "They told us the Germans had left."
With Italy in Allied control, that left the conquered expanse of Nazi-controlled Europe standing before the Allies. The more famous Operation Overlord D-Day invasion in western France was well underway before Operation Dragoon sought to establish a beach head in Southern France in August.
After a week of training, which included, Stanton said, 27 mile marches every other day at varying times, Stanton was one of over 175,000 men who stormed the beaches of southern France.
Unlike Operation Overlord in June, Dragoon faced much less resistance.
"There was a little bit of shooting," said Stanton of the invasion. "(They) put a bullet through the leather of my shoe." While he couldn't recall specifically where he landed, Stanton said he remembers seeing Marseilles to the left.
Stanton was part of the push up the Rhone River, near the border with Switzerland and Germany. In was during this time that Stanton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for actions taken in Noroy Le Bourg, over 350 miles from Marseilles.
While in France, Stanton had procured a stock of vegetables as well as some bullion cubes. Against protocol, and with the risk of revealing his position to the Germans, Stanton lit a fire and began to make a mulligan stew in his helmet. As he was cooking the stew, a messenger from the captain came and asked what the fire was for, reinforcing the prohibition on fires.
Stanton told the messenger he was making stew. The messenger came back with a return message the captain wants the first cup.
After his helmet was empty, and with Stanton not having been able to eat any of it yet with all the others he was feeding, someone scrounged a kettle and Stanton and the men ate well that night.
When the men moved out, it would have been a shame to leave behind a perfectly good kettle so Stanton strapped it to his back.
A firefight ensued as the men dove into fox holes.
He wasn't hit, but when the firefight subsided, Stanton looked at the kettle, which, while his body was in the fox hole, sat above ground level.
It had seven bullet holes in it.
Yet another near miss.
Stanton's time on the combat line continued.
"I had been in there 200 and some days and never had a rest camp," said Stanton, of the two-day camps off of the line that afforded the opportunity for a shower, new uniform and a brief break. He said he was angry when someone else received a rest. When he protested that he had been on the line since Anzio, he was given a rest, as well. "I never did really want to go and then have to go back in (to combat). Anyway, I went on it."
While he was on his rest, he found himself in the hospital with "belly issues and feet pain." The two-day rest turned into a 30-day hospital stay. "I had a bug in my large intestine," he said.
He had been practicing shooting across the Rhine River for an eventual assault in Germany.
Now he would never get to go.
His paperwork now read "ZI" in big letters. When he asked what that meant, he was told "You're going back to the United States."
His trip back included a stop in Paris, with other men who were being sent home. "All the group there was having a party," he said.
But the party was short-lived.
An officer "put us in a weapons carrier, took us to a junkyard and handed us each a rifle (and) 100 rounds of ammunition, five to six grenades (and) a sweater. (They) told us to get into a truck. We rode and rode and rode," he explained. An officer then came up to him and said "Stanton, this is your station... Here I am supposed to get going home. Now I'm (sitting) here in the snow up to my neck."
He was stationed at a road crossing to defend against Germans turning the boards on road signs which gave distances to the various towns.
"That's the last I remember. The next thing I remember, (I am) back in a town, sitting near a kitchen sink (and) had my feet in a bucket."
Apparently, his feet and frozen and he had passed out in the cold.
The cause of Stanton's hurried posting?
The last major German offensive the Battle of the Bulge.
Once the Bulge offensive was stymied, "I started training guys on machine guns," he said. "I couldn't walk much."
He served in that capacity until the end of the war.
But his joy at the end of the war was quickly stymied.
"There were hundreds of troops all together," Stanton said of receiving the word that the Germans had surrendered. "It was really good."
But he and his men were then told that they were going to Calcutta, India.
The war in the Pacific was still raging.
"I was sick," Stanton said of when he received that news. "I could have committed suicide. I just couldn't sleep.
"Finally, we got an order (and were) told to relax. Eisenhower had an order out (that his unit had not received that soldiers) couldn't go from two theatres to a third."
With his service in Africa, then Europe, Stanton's war was over.
When he returned home, he was given a package a fruitcake. "The mailman stopped. The fruitcake had been mailed in 1943 (and) sent to me in Florida" during basic training. "It shipped out with me to Africa" but didn't catch him. It also followed him through Europe and all the way home again, finally meeting him at his home near Lander. "That damn fruitcake," Stanton said laughing. "It had been wrapped three different times. It was harder than a rock."
When he returned to Warren County, Stanton procured employment in Jamestown before accepting a position at a milk plant in Akeley. Wanting to work for himself, Stanton went into business with his brother Ronald and founded Stanton Brothers, a construction firm. Stanton said he and his brother built 150-200 homes and barns in the area before he retired at the age of 70.
"I had a good living and my wife was wonderful," Stanton said, of his wife Marilyn, who passed away in 2011 after 65 years of marriage.
After his experience in combat, Stanton said he has pondered how he came out alive.
"I run it through my mind, how do you be afraid of a flying shell?" he said. "I never debated it. I believed it. I believe it to this day. I had a number of bullet holes through my coat and pants."