BATH - “We as soldiers observed and saw things no one will ever see again.”
Lambert Scouten, 94, of Corning, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 after attending Corning Free Academy. On June 6, 1944 -- D-Day -- he was among thousands of American infantry that landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, as part of the Allied campaign to liberate Western Europe from Nazi occupation.
Scouten was sent ashore following the initial wave of American soldiers that landed at Omaha. Those men suffered heavy casualties as German defenders fired at them from the cliffs overlooking the landing beaches.
“We landed where the GI’s landed first, we went in a little bit later than when they went in,” said Scouten.
Scouten, along with other local veterans such as Bill Hall (Army), Amalia Pellon (Army) and Gary Bledsoe (Army), residents of the Bath VA, all made it back home from their tours of duty. But many of their friends did not.
“I lost a lot of good friends in the war, I won’t ever see them again,” said Scouten.
Memorial Day is a day for paying tribute to those who didn't make it back.
The VA residents said they were grateful for Memorial Day because it remembers and honors the veteran community for its collective sacrifice, particularly those who have served and died in the service of the United States.
“It means a lot because of the celebration of it,” said Bledsoe.
“It honors all veterans, mainly the ones that passed away in war,” said Pellon, an Army veteran who served in a military hospital stateside. “It makes me cry personally.”
Scouten recalled the fearful months that followed as Allied forces pushed the Nazis out of France.
“Not too many things were pleasant in France,” he said.
Scouten said when Nazi Germany surrendered in April 1945, he was set to be shipped out to the Pacific Theatre to aid in the fight against the Japanese.
“When the war (in Europe) was over, we were on our way back. We were going to go to our homes for a three-day furlough and then go to Japan,” said Scouten. "But before we left, the war was over in Japan.”
Hall is an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War from 1967-1968 working in aircraft recovery and repair. Hall recalls a time when his helicopter was shot down by enemy fire.
“We were supposed to be recovering aircraft, picking them up, but then we were on the ground. Boy, that was a lot of fun,” he said ironically.
Hall said he was also a participant in the defense against the Tet Offensive, when tens of thousands of Vietcong and North Vietnamese troops launched a surprise attack on cities, towns and villages throughout South Vietnam on the Vietnamese New Year holiday, known as Tet, in 1968.
“That was a couple of bad days there,” said Hall. “The whole place just plain blew up.
“The bad guys were coming from everywhere."
Hall recalled the chaos and confusion during the battle, which changed the course of the Vietnam War.
“Things were happening so fast, and so furious; the initial thing was, ‘This is the end,’” he said. “But then -- you do your job. You do your job.”
Gary Bledsoe was also in the thick of things when the Tet Offensive erupted. Bledsoe was an Army helicopter medic in Vietnam as part of a medevac unit from 1966-1969.
“I was there when it started,” he said. “They were coming from everywhere. Underground. Above ground.”
Bledsoe treated many wounded soldiers during his time in Vietnam. So many, he said he couldn’t keep track.
“I can’t count them,” he said. “I put them on a helicopter, and made sure they got patched up so they could get back to the hospital.”