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World War II stories
~a memoir~
by Billy Tom (Bubba) Lusk




“Daddy, what did you do in World War II?”

"I came to fight" was my plan. I didn’t know God’s plan.

Fifty-six years later I still don't know all of God's plan, but I've come to realize God has a plan and it's the best plan.

I don't understand why I was spared, but God knows. And since I've done little of note in my life other than sire four wonderful children, it must be something they or their children will do for God and humanity.

I don't know why I was given such a marvelous and wonderful wife, but God knows – and it was a part of the master plan.

She blessed us with four children who as individuals are the best there could be, each in his or her own way – we wouldn't change a thing – each of them is an overachiever in his/her own way and for this we are thankful on a daily basis.

Back to World War II.

Honestly, children, I did "Go To Fight" -- it's just that I never got into the battle. I was "in the service," but I might as well have stayed home. I would have been totally humiliated to have had to do that – World War II was a popular war.

Now, I didn't know what I was asking for.

I've taken tasks and jobs about which I knew little or nothing.

When I was a little lad, mother, Nora, took me and my two sisters, Claudine and my twin sister, Ernestine, on a plane ride – a tri-motor Ford selling rides and using the Cleveland, Mississippi, airfield. From that day my ambition was to be a pilot. My paperback magazines were all about World War I pilots and their escapades and dog fights. What I didn't know at that time was that my stomach was not of the same persuasion.

When Pearl Harbor happened I was 16, and when I went to Mississippi State I began my curriculum in Aeronautical Engineering – that was the summer of 1942. I went on through fall of '42.

In the spring of '43 I attended Delta State Teachers College and took several courses relating to flight – one was meteorology.

I was drafted shortly after turning 18 (April 20, 1943) and entered the service in June of 1943. I had the choice of all the services and chose the Army because I didn't want to fight on the water. Without understanding what was happening I was sent to Camp Hood, Texas, for infantry basic. I'm not certain of the dividing line score, but what was happening was that those with AGCT (Army General Classification Scores) 125 and more (not certain about the number) were scheduled to complete infantry basic and then be sent to a college for some amount of time.

My score was 137, so with the ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) group I went to Camp Hood.

Because "I came to fight," I asked how I could change the course I was set upon. I was advised that the Air Corp (then a part of the Army and not Air Force as it is today) had priority. I applied and was accepted and sent to Amarillo Air Base and put through their physical and mental tests and examinations. I passed everything and had scores high enough to qualify for training as pilot, navigator, or bombardier. I was certain I now had it worked out according to my plan – I was going to become a fighter pilot.

I was sent on a troop train to Minter Field just outside Bakersfield, California, and put in a group known as ACTP (Air Crew Trainee Pool). It was at this time I received fair warning that I might not be the best candidate for fighter pilot. One day I thumbed a ride with an instructor pilot (we were allowed to do this). BT-13s were the training planes at the base and little did I know he was going up to practice acrobatics.

He did and I did and was I ever glad to get me and my stomach back on the mother earth; however, I did not even think about changing my plan. (Those of you not of the “Good War-Popular War-All Out War Effort-generation” will probably not understand very much of this narration.)

I'm not saying you should, nor am I saying we were correct. Now, in these late 1990s, I'm finally seeing one of the many facets of "Our War" which was not available at the time.

Many of the war stories which waited 50 or more years to be told and written because they were too painful and personal to be written prior to now reveal some of the horror which accompanies every war.

Some of the scars are barely scabbed over and still subject to being made raw again. Even today my feeling is much the same as it was in the ‘40s, and that is that someone else was doing my job.

Of the people in the front line (Army, Navy, Marine, Coast Guard, Merchant Marine) the percentage loss was horrendous.

At the peak there were approximately 14 million service people. I've read that as of now they are dying at the rate of about 1500 per day. Such a small percentage came into the zone of high risk. But I didn't know all this back then – just that "I had come to fight!"

My plan to become a fighter pilot hit an insurmountable snag one day when it was decided that all men in the Air Force air crew program who had not reached a certain level of training and who had had infantry basic were needed in the infantry and would be immediately sent thereto.

One night I was sleeping in a steam-heated barracks, being treated like something between an enlisted man and an officer, sleeping on beds (I think we actually had sheets), and the very next night bus-loads of us had been moved from Minter Field to the Hunter Liggett Military Reservation up by Paso Robles in the mountains and were sleeping in tents on the ground with only two wool blankets for cover.

Water in my steel helmet froze at night – quite a change in one day’s time.

The 71st Light Infantry Division had just come off mountain maneuvers. We were put into the 14th Infantry Regiment of the 71st Division. I landed in a headquarters company and was one of the eight privates in the company.

The 14th had spent about 10 years in the Panama Canal Zone and was mostly regular army people who took every opportunity to pick on draftees – and especially did they enjoy working on the "Air Force" boys. But at least I was in a division that might fight.

We were moved via troop train to Fort Benning, Georgia. After some weeks I decided the 71st wasn't going anywhere or do anything. Besides that, I was being put on guard duty and KP quite often. Each company provided a certain number of men for these duties each week. I asked how I could get to a fighting outfit and out of KP and guard duty. The answer was "volunteer for the paratroops.” I did . . . because I had come to fight!

Ironically, the 71st was brought up to strength – they had lost quite a few men on the mountain maneuver – and shipped to Europe not long after I left them. They did see come combat and suffered casualties, killed and wounded.

I finished parachute school and issued "port of embarkation" clothes (new with no insignia of any kind). Finally I was going overseas, and now this seemed a bit scary since it was actually happening.

The cadre under which I did the paratrooper training was the 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment. Fate dealt another hand. For some reason unknown to me till this day, the 541st was activated as a full regiment (as opposed to a training cadre) and shipped to Camp Mackall, North Carolina.

A certain number of us were shipped to the 541st instead of overseas. We arrived in North Carolina either on Thanksgiving Day of 1944 or shortly before or after – anyway, we had two Thanksgiving meals that week. We spent the winter of '44 doing "problems" with live ammunition. Usually on Mondays we either jumped or went to the field in trucks and stayed out until Friday or Saturday. We nearly always cleaned up ourselves and our equipment on Friday and Saturday for inspection. We put on "shows" for visiting allied brass from our Army and from our Allies. I know now I was blessed by not being in Europe or the Pacific . . . but then I was thinking, But I came to fight!

We never ran a regimental problem without losing a few men from one cause or another, but there wasn't anyone shooting back at us.

Someone else was still on the front lines doing my job.

By spring our regiment was in pretty poor condition and down quite a bit in numbers. An example was my machine gun squad. I had started as ammunition bearer, became gunner and after the squad leader decided he didn't want to jump anymore I became a buck sergeant and squad leader. This was a mixed blessing because I had to give up being gunner and I really enjoyed shooting that 30 caliber light machine gun – didn't particularly enjoy carrying it, but really enjoyed shooting.

Coming from a farm and being a child of the Great Depression, I just reveled in having all that ammunition to shoot. Back home it was just wonderful to get a whole box of 50 22s to shoot. Daddy and I had hunted squirrels and ducks together, and I just couldn't have a better time than when shooting. I don't know how many barrels I wore out that winter. One danger of that, however, was that the rounds would begin keyholing and that was dangerous. It was dangerous because all the problems were "assaulting an objective." The mortars (located behind us) would pound the target and then we would strafe the target and all this went on as our rifle companies were approaching the target and all this with live ammunition and at ranges of 400 to 600 yards. So, keyholing rounds were serious and were misdirected mortar rounds.

I recall one mortar squad wounding and killing some of its own squad by not checking closely enough for mask clearance – their round hit a tree limb above them and the round exploded on the squad. Recall having a mortar "short round" plunking down about 15 yards from me. I was gunning and didn't hear it coming. Luckily, it also turned out to be a dud or I probably wouldn't be a Dad. We all had foxholes, and the members of my squad not in the hole with me had heard it and hunkered down in their holes. I just kept firing – think at that time I was chopping down some small trees with the machine gun. Surely hated to give up being gunner, but surely did want those three stripes.

We started the winter with a full strength regiment. Our Regimental Commander and each of the three Battalion commanders were West Point men.

We were getting ready to fight, but by spring we were pretty decimated. Smart me decided we weren’t getting anywhere.

At this point I applied for Officers Candidate School and was accepted and sent to Fort Benning. Georgia. I had been in Parachute School in the "frying pan" area of Fort Benning and with the 71st Division in what I think was called the "Sand Hills" Area and now I was back in Fort Benning in the Infantry Officers Candidate School.

Toward the end of OCS the war ended and I volunteered to go home.

Incidentally, the 541st had by then been shipped overseas and became part of the army of occupation in Japan. They didn't see combat, but at least they did get overseas. At the time I resigned from OCS, I had enough points not to be shipped overseas if the army followed its own rules.

I was sent to Camp Butner to wait out discharge which finally came in December of 1945. In January of 1946 I was back at Mississippi State.

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So children, that's basically what Daddy did in the Great War.

He spent his time executing “his plan,” out-guessing the Army (incorrectly) and making no visible contribution to the war – and to think: "I came to fight.”

God spared me – and a half century later I don't know for sure just why.

The answer must be in our children or our grandchildren. As the song goes, "When we all get to heaven," we'll find out.

A few years ago cancer took my friend, Bill Watson of Springlake. His last conversation with me included his statement, "Looks like cancer is going to win, but the good news is that all my children and grandchildren are saved.”

This was from a combat infantryman who stood in a ditch one day as a sniper took the man on his left and as he looked to see what had happened the German sniper took the man on Bill's right. Bill turned down a field commission, saying he had all he could do to try to look after himself.

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The rest of the story is that a few months after I was drafted my father died from a heart attack (January, '44). The last time I saw him was when he took me to town in the old 1941 Ford (which would receive two new engines before the war ended) and put me on the Greyhound bus headed for Camp Shelby, Mississippi.

After the war I changed my major from Aeronautical Engineering to Agricultural Engineering because I needed to go back to the farm. I attended college alongside many war heroes. We were all on the GI Bill – those with many medals and combat records and those like myself with no medals and no combat record.

Graduating from college in January of 1949, I went back to the farm (the farm founded by my Grandfather Reverend T. N. Lusk) to spend the rest of my life there (again, my plan).

I farmed 1949 through 1956 – 8 years.

Barbara and I married in 1953, following a really good crop. (I had figured out just how to farm . . . my opinion.)

Following some disastrous crops, I gave up the farm equipment in 1957 to pay debts and rented out the land. We went out of business as did many of our neighbors. Farming was another of “my plans” that didn't work.

Fate handed me an offer to go to Texas for what appeared to be a good job and I took the offer. I had vowed never to work in an office and never to live in town – my plan. Since 1957 I have worked in an office and have lived in a town (42 years). So much for MY PLAN to live in Mississippi and farm the rest of my life.

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I now think and believe it was God's plan for us to raise our children in Plainview, Texas. We moved to Plainview in January, 1961. At the time of this writing, the date is January 1999. We have now lived in Texas longer than we lived in Mississippi.

What I can say in 1999 is that God's plan for me is recognized by me to be a much better plan than MY PLAN for me. I thank God for my salvation and for my family.

Children, you must be why I have been spared because you are my only claim to fame.

I love your mother and each of you and your children – those born and yet to be born. Therein is my success. I have been slow to appreciate God's plan. It took me decades. Each of our children has accomplished more than I did and I'm thankful for them and their accomplishments and their children and their accomplishments.

“Daddy, what did you do in World War II?” I came to fight . . . but I didn’t know God’s plan.

I'm not ashamed of my life – just feel I should've done better. As to soldiering, our country has laid many a life on the altar of war. We survivors can never balance the scales. The best we can do is remember and try to make something worthy of our nation for which the sacrifices were made.

I reverently thank the men and women who have died and been wounded fighting the enemies of our nation. War is not through devouring our citizens. Even today we have men and women stationed on many foreign locations, directly in harm’s way.

After over half a century I have come to realize and accept that God knows best. I thank God for saving me and for sparing me until this day.

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Billy Tom has more stories at USADEEPSOUTH. Enjoy his memoirs which are full of Mississippi Delta history:
Part I: Early memories
Part II: Stories from my youth
Part III: Influences on my life
Part IV: College days and WWII enlistment
Part V: Thoughts on religion
Part VI: On fishing


A Mississippi Delta native, Billy Tom "Bubba" Lusk has resided in Texas since 1961. He is a graduate of Mississippi State University ('49), and has worked in agriculture and insurance.

He and his wife, Barbara, have 4 children and 7 grandchildren.




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Read many more great stories listed on our USADS memoir pages.

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