By Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Maurice Laird joined the Enlisted Reserve Corps in 1942. The Army called him to active duty the next year, when he was 20 years-old. After months of tough infantry training, he shipped out for North Africa.
"We went on an LCI, Landing Craft Infantry, across to Naples. From Naples, I rode a 40 & 8 truck north of Naples & went in with the 34th Division. At that time I was a replacement. The 34th Division went through North Africa and there was not many men left with the 34th Division, 168th Infantry. Most of them were either killed or injured.
The first night, I guess we started out --and usually if you moved it was at night. And we walked through the mountains north of Naples and further on up to the battle zones. We finally got to the Valley of the Repido River and we were gonna take Mount casino. That never happened. The germans were to well dug-in in Mt Casino."
He carried in his pocket, a Bible given to him by his mother.
"I don't say that the Bible kept a bullet from killing me. I say my mothers prayers did that. Because when you're in combat, shells bursting all around you --and small arms fire all around you and you didn't get hit, you have to feel lucky. I was in a lot of battles and dug alot of foxholes. A lot of foxholes in Italy."
Laird remembers one snowy morning, as he emerged from a foxhole, an attack nearly ended his life.
"I got out and a friend of mine was next to me over there. I heard a shell coming and it burst right close to us. I was lucky. It didn't hit me, but it hit him. Killed him immediately."
After about 3 and half months in combat, the extreme cold took a toll on his body.
"I got frozen feet. And I realized one afternoon my feet were frozen. So I talked to the captain and he said, 'yeah, you have to leave'. So you had to go under the cover of darkness. So I, with a friend, we walked down the mountain. I can't tell you how we got down the mountain.
From the aid station, I went to a field hospital. And from then on, I spent 4 months in the hospital in Italy. I didn't walk for 4 months."
He also developed gangrene in 2 toes. After his hospital stay in Italy, he was sent back to the states. He was reclassified into the Quarter Master CorpS where he would serve in Virginia for the next year and a half.
"You were a veteran of the war. And they treated you like that. Every weekend you would take a trip somewhere."
Laird went back to school after his discharge. He became a teacher and coach. And eventually had a career with the US Dept of Transportation.
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