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American hero from Bowman shares WWII recollections

Harry Turbiville

Near-death experiences, bullets whizzing by, atomic bombs dropping and Purple Hearts make for epic war stories. One World War II veteran from Bowman lived through all those events in a matter of months.

Retired farmer Harry Turbiville, 86, enlisted in the U.S. Army when he came of age at 18. It was his first time away from home for more than 24 hours, but his wife, Elsie, said he wanted to fight.

"He wanted to protect the United States," she said. "They said he should stay on the farm, but he said, 'No, I'm going to go fight for my country.'"

Harry was a combat engineer in the 96th Infantry Division. He helped build roads by driving a Caterpillar.

Harry said he was constructing roads on the island of Okinawa when his company was attacked by Japanese forces. An enemy soldier aimed and shot at him, catching him on the side of the head. Harry said the shot grazed him.

"I happened to duck just low enough," Harry said. "It was just like he took a butcher knife and took a wack at my head."

Harry was caught in the Battle of Okinawa, a battle that pursued for 82 days from April to June in 1945. Harry barely escaped with his life, he said he didn't quit.

"It was nothing real serious," he said. "It was close enough that I didn't want to get any closer."

Harry had another close call after the incident. He said he had parked his Caterpillar in a place he thought was safe. The next morning, he woke up to a surprise.

"A shell had dropped 30 or 40 feet from my tractor and it had blown all the fuel mechanisms," Harry said.

Harry couldn't recall what day the incidents happened, but he said it was within weeks of the United States dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was on Okinawa when the bombs were dropped.

Harry added they didn't hear or see the explosion. The only way the bombs affected him was by ending the war.

The war was over, but there was still work to be done. Harry said he had to stay in Okinawa for two months after the war to "clean up the mess they made."

"That was about the hardest thing I have done, but I just thought how I would like to have one of those Cats when I got home," he said.

Harry received the Purple Heart for his service in the war. He said he was happy to receive the honor.

The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers wounded or killed by enemy weaponry. Receiving the Purple Heart is an honor, said John J. Witmeyer Jr., Military Order of the Purple Heart national historian emeritus of Harahan, La.

"They don't give you a Purple Heart," Witmeyer said. "You have to earn it."

Looking back at his actions, Harry said he doesn't regret any decisions to join the army. The fact that he was protecting his country was enough for him.

"I know that I killed people," Harry said. "I'm not a bit ashamed that I went and fought it."