By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - "There is nothing glorious about being in the wartime army," says Clarence Derrington. "But I'm proud to have served."
Derrington was drafted in the Army in June 1943.
"They needed people at the time and I was the best they could find."
He went to Europe with Company E, 310th Infantry, 78th Infantry Division.
"My division was what I refer to as green: untrained, unpolished, inexperienced."
His company was sent to scout for Germans in advance of the Battle of the Bulge.
"I was assigned as the point person. I was the 1st man down the road. I was the guy who would get shot first. We were trapped and I was cut off. It's quite an experience to get pinned down under live machine fire in the hedgerow."
Derrington and about a dozen other men made it to the safety of a house basement. But their reprieve was short lived. The Germans hit the house with mortars.
"That's where I got hit with a shell, a ring from a mortar shell, hit me at the right scapulary, went across my back and down and up against my spinal column."
Soon after, the soldiers found themselves staring down the gun of a German tank.
"That was the day that changed my life forever."
The soldiers surrendered and became prisoners of war. They moved first through a tank staging area, then settled in at the Stalag 6G POW camp.
"An American doctor decided I needed surgery on my back. The Germans had no medical supplies. We had a razor blade, boiling water and two sticks that were boiled. He cut in by my spinal cord and used the sticks to pull that ring out of the mortar out of my back.
The British bombed every night. The British unloaded their bomb cargo on our camp and blew it to the ground and I was fortunate enough to get blown into an underground bunker."
He was moved to Stalag 12A and was unconscious for about a month. He and the other prisoners were finally freed when the 9th Armored Division liberated the camp. He recovered at an American hospital before he was discharged at Camp Shelby. Among numerous honors, he was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and the Purple Heart.
"The Purple Heart medal means you have lost blood serving your country. This is an honor to pay a price for my country."
After the war, he helped organize a local chapter of the National Organization of Ex-Prisoners of War. They, with the help of Congressman Sonny Montgomery worked to enact legislation to help POW's gain access to benefits.
"It has been quite a pleasure and privilege to help other prisoners of war."
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