“Boys, the war is over. You can go home now.”
World War II Army veteran Paul Prewitt says those were the best words he ever heard during his 21/2 years in the European Theater.
The 99-year-old Prewitt will recount some of his WWII experiences when he joins other veterans at the fourth annual Celebrating Our Veterans from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 4751 N.C. 14 in Reidsville.
“We did this four years ago as a one-time event, but several veterans said they had such a good time, they asked us to do it again,” said Donna Atkins, the director of the church’s Family History Center, which sponsors the celebration.
“This event is for the veterans. They enjoy visiting with each other and sharing the stories of their experiences during their service years,” Atkins said. “We invite the public to attend so they, too, can learn how these men and women offered their lives for the freedom of our country.”
Raymond Uden of Eden was one of those veterans the first year the celebration was held.
“I wasn’t too eager to come but did for a friend,” Uden said. Now he looks forward to it each year.
“I enjoy the programs. I enjoy the fellowship and the people. And, I enjoy the food,” he said. “I was impressed by how the members of the church made us feel welcome.
“Since then I have encouraged others to come,” Uden said.
The opening ceremony will start with the presentation of colors by Morehead High School JROTC students, followed by music from veteran Johnny White, then Prewitt’s talk. After that, the veterans will meet with the public and share more WWII experiences. Many will have memorabilia from their service years on display.
The veterans will be treated to an indoor picnic of pinto beans, slaw, cornbread and a patriotic dessert after which a door prizes donated by Rockingham County merchants will be awarded.
Anyone who served in the military — active duty, Reserve or National Guard — is invited to attend and share in this special event. The public is also invited to join the veterans and learn of their service to our country, Atkins said.
In an interview last week, Prewitt said he worked for the government after graduating from Hoxie High School in 1939. He didn’t go to college because his family “didn’t have the $300 fee” to attend.
So, Prewitt traveled from his native Jonesboro, Ark., to look for work in Kansas City where took a civil service exam. In 1940, he was hired by the federal government as a file clerk for injury compensation claims department in the nation’s capital.
After the attack at Pearl Harbor, where his brother was one of the casualties, Prewitt was drafted in December 1941. Initially, he said he was not worried about being drafted because he had “read somewhere that you had to be at least 5-5 to get into the Army.” He was 5-foot-1.
A month later, he was sent from the draft board to Fort Meade, Md.
“Some Army officer looked at me and examined me and, you know, he didn’t say a thing about my height. He just gave me a uniform and sent me down to Fort Eustis, Va.”
After basic training at Fort Eustis in the spring of 1943, Prewitt was on his way overseas to French Morocco, Algiers and Libya. The American troops worked side by side with English regiments as they prepared invade Sicily, Italy.
From Africa, Prewitt, a technical sergeant, went to Naples, Italy, as part of the Rome/Arno Campaign. After Italy surrendered, the American forces invaded German-controlled France at Marseilles.
“There was not a whole lot of fighting down there in southern part of the country,” he said. “The boys up at Omaha Beach were the ones that caught the devil up there.”
Prewitt was part of a unit that supplied the front lines with ammunition and food. Often, they slept in their vehicles.
“I didn’t fire my rifle at the enemy during the whole war,” he said. “All we had to worry about was the German artillery trying to take out the supply trucks.
“The group I was with never got hit,” Prewitt said.
The troops fought their way north, going up the east side of France, and crossed the Rhine River at Mannheim, Germany, near the Switzerland border.
“We started fighting our way north towards Berlin,” Prewitt said. However, on arrival there, their colonel called them out into formation and informed them the Allied forces had won the nearly seven-year war and they could return to their homes.
The fighting ended May 9, and Prewitt and his fellow combat companions were “all very happy they were going to get to go home.” His unit was disbanded and he was sent back to the staging area at Marseilles where they “caught a boat to come home in September of 1945.”
The seven-day trip was “good because we were coming home,” Prewitt said. “When we went over, we went over on a troop ship, and there were thousands of troops on it going across.”
Only about 300 service personnel were on the Liberty ship when he returned home.
On arrival in New York, Prewitt said, “everyone was waving and hollering” at them as they traveled up the Hudson River to the staging areas. He was sent to St. Louis, where he finally was discharged Sept. 23, 1945.
Six weeks after being discharged, Prewitt was back at work in the government’s compensation bureau in Manhattan in New York City. He stayed there for two years before going back to Washington, retiring in February 1978.
Prewitt married New York native Mary Elizabeth Fiero in 1949 and they had one son, Paul Jr., who lives in Fredricksburg, Va. He has two sons.
After his wife’s death in 2004, Prewitt started thinking “it was too expensive to live up in Washington, and it got too crowded.” He wanted “to get out of the mess.”
While in Alexandria, Va., the Prewitts attended a Baptist church and befriended Susie Prior, organist at the church since 1990. Prior and the Prewitts became friends.
Prior had been to Eden, and when Prewitt talked about moving, she recommended it. Paul and Susie Prewitt moved to Eden, where they stay busy with many activities, in 2009. They attend First Baptist Churc,h where Susie teaches Sunday School. Prewitt especially enjoys attending various veterans programs.
“I go the programs to hear what they have to say and to see how many World War II veterans are there,” he said.