WWII veterans remember the war
The hardships and horrors of a war they endured remain strong memories for two World War II veterans some 70 years later. Weston Patterson and Jim MacMillan, members of “The Greatest Generation,” shared some of their experiences in that great world war. Both are now 92 years old and reside in Florence. “It gave me a greater expectation for the horrors, recounted Weston. “It was catastrophic for so many beautiful young men on both sides.”
The young men who fought in that war had nothing of monetary value but they knew about responsibility and respected authority, said Jim. “I don’t want to belittle anyone, but everybody in that war was a hero,” added Patterson. “In other words, everyone had the mind set and capability to be one.” Patterson, born in Columbia, served in the Army Air Corps, (later named the U.S. Air Force) from 1943-46. He was a top turret gunner on a B-24 bomber.
After training in 26 places from California to Texas, Patterson ended up at Langley Field in Virginia where he got additional training with radar. During the war he spent time in the Pacific arena, eventually ending up on the Japanese Island of Okinawa. He was stationed at Ie Shima, an island off Okinawa, during the time of Japan’s surrender. He remembers a few days before the surrender, a small group of Japanese soldiers flew to Ie Shima to be given the details of the surrender.
The largest and most intimidating men, regardless of their military ranking, were rounded up to meet the enemy. Patterson said he doesn’t think there were any soldiers under six foot five greeting the Japanese that day. MacMillan was a farm boy from Richmond, Va. He was Army Infantry, drafted when the draft age dropped from 21 to 18. He was just one month shy of 20. He served with the 87th Division, training at Camp McCain in Mississippi and then he went to Tennessee for maneuvers. He was sent to Fort Jackson in Columbia in February of 1943 for more training.
In October of 1944, he joined the war effort, with a month in England and then on to Metz, France. MacMillan’s job was to clear the roads of mines in front of the first line troops. McMillan was in Belgium in the Battle of the Bulge, Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945, as part of the southern flank. He still remembers the bitter cold that winter, adding that some men froze to death in their foxholes. The snow was waist deep and the weather stayed below zero for 10 days – the coldest winter on record, he said.
Toward the end of the war, MacMillan was in Czechoslovakia helping with police action in the villages. After the war, the soldiers were ready to get married and start a family, Patterson recalled. He married Emily Dixon of Columbia. The couple had four children. MacMillan returned to Richmond and married his sweetheart, Bettie, in June of 1946. They had three daughters. Both veterans attended college on the G.I. Bill. Patterson, who had three semesters at Clemson before the war, finished his degree at the University of South Carolina.
In 1948 he moved to Florence as a partner in Cormell, Streett and Patterson. He remained with the company until retiring in 1991. MacMillan earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. He joined DuPont in Martinsville, Va., and moved to the Florence plant in 1960. Patterson’s son Pat married MacMillan’s daughter Grace in 1974. Today, they share grandchildren. Ironically, two of their granddaughters, siblings of Pat and Grace Patterson, are married to Air Force pilots.