Shortly after graduating from high school in 1943, Atlanta native Charles E. Commins received a letter from the U.S. Army.
It said: “Welcome. Report for duty,” said Commins, who has lived in DeKalb County since 1941 and in his current Doraville home since 1963.
After his initial training on heavy weapons and as a radio operator, Commins was assigned to the 60th Regiment, 9th Division, company E.
Commins was wounded twice during World War II. The first time was from “shrapnel from our own artillery [that] got me.
“It fell short,” Commins said. “I got it in the hip.”
Commins was sent via a ship to England where he remained in a hospital for approximately a month as doctors worked unsuccessfully to remove the shrapnel.
“They didn’t get it out,” Commins said. “They just sewed me up.
“I tell people I got ‘scrapnel,’” Commins said. “That’s what your artillery shells were made from–scrap metal. I got ‘scrapnel’ in the butt.”
After being patched up, Commins returned to the front lines, still with the shrapnel in his hip.
“It was hurting. And I told the captain one day, ‘I need something done with this shrapnel in me. I need to go to the hospital.
“The captain’s reply was, ‘Don’t think about it. Get back up on the front,’” Commins said. “So I got back up there.”
Commins’ company proceeded to Givet, a small French town on the Meuse River. Once there, they crossed the river in boats, and climbed a hill.
“As you climbed up the hill, the Germans were up on top throwing grenades down at you, firing down at you,” Commins said.
When Commins could not communicate with troops on the other side of the river with his radio, he decided to make his report in person.
“So I slid on my butt all the way back down [the hill], got in the river, took all my clothes off, except my shorts, and swam across,” Commins said. “That river had to be about 200 yards [wide]. I remember [the Germans] firing at me when I was going under.
“When I got on the other side, some Americans said, ‘Friend or foe?’ I said, ‘Hell, get me to the major so I can report to him what’s happening over there.”
After his report, military leaders said, “Well, get some clothes on this fellow and let’s send him back,” Commins said. But this time, he was on a boat.
In September 1944, Commins’ company crossed over into Germany where it held its position near the city of Monschau for several days. During that time, the Germans were firing shells over the American troops into Monschau.
“They were shelling the hell out of the city,” Commins said. “We weren’t even in the city.”
Later, the American troops advanced to Hürtgen Forest where some of the fiercest fighting in the war occurred, he said. After holding position in foxholes for three days, Commins’ company decided to advance. The Germans returned the favor.
During the fighting, Commins’ entered a hut, where he found an American military radio. For the next hour, Commins directed the artillery’s firing, bringing the shelling closer to the front lines.
“A couple of days later I was talking to a fellow who went through that area after the Germans had fallen back,” Commins said. “They said bodies were piled up back there from all of our artillery.”
A few days later, during a skirmish over a German pillbox, a miniature fort used to fortify trenches, Commins was hit with shrapnel in his chest from a German 88 mm gun.
Commins was sent back to England in October 1944 to remove the shrapnel. Doctors also removed the old shrapnel from his hip.
That was the last fighting Commins saw before being discharged when the war was over.
“That was a lot of fun,” Commins said about the war. “It was a fun time until you got shot at all the time. Then it’s not so much fun. I wouldn’t want to do it again though.”
For his efforts, Commins was awarded the Bronze Star, Silver Star, Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, combat infantry badge, a Presidential Unit citation, and a good conduct award. In May Commins received the French Legion of Honor Award, France’s highest decoration.
All veterans will be celebrated in upcoming events around the county. The annual DeKalb County Veterans Day program will be on Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. on the Decatur Square, 101 E. Court Square.
This year’s theme is “Still Serving: Veterans in Our Communities.” The program will also feature remarks from special guest speaker Command Sgt. Major James Nelson Jr., senior enlisted advisor of the Georgia National Guard. In the event of inclement weather, the program will be held in the Maloof Auditorium, 1300 Commerce Drive in Decatur.
Dunwoody will honor local military men and women in a ceremony at Brook Run Park on Nov. 11 at 2 p.m., to pay homage to all those who have served or are currently serving in all branches of the U.S. military.