The Franklin News-Post|
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
|Veteran learned to take orders during WWII|
Staff Photo by Leigh Prom:
Walter Powell, Jr. proudly displays a scrapbook of World War II memories made by his oldest daughter, Deadra Gruver.
Monday, July 30, 2012
By LEIGH PROM - Staff Writer
Listening to Walter Powell Jr., 89, of Rocky Mount talk about his military service during World War II is a history lesson not found in any textbook.
Powell served in the U.S. Army Air Corps for two years, two months and 22 days. He went in by way of the draft as a private earning $50 a month in 1944 and came out as a sergeant drawing $87 a month in 1946. Powell served in the 15th Air Force 97th Bomb Group 341st Bomb Squadron.
Interwoven in his stories about the war are a number of life lessons he learned, especially about the importance of taking orders.
"I did what I was told to do," said Powell. "If you keep your nose clean and do what you're supposed to do, you'll do all right."
Powell said his compliant manner and willingness to learn were to his benefit in the military.
During the war, Powell became a tail gunner on a B17, one of the most dangerous jobs in the military at that time. "There were more tail gunners killed per capita than the infantry," he said.
Besides serving as a tail gunner, Powell worked in the motor pool, driving officers around in a Jeep or a Cadillac. Once when Powell was assigned to drive a group of officers to the officer's club, the others dressed Powell in a 2nd lieutenant's uniform so he could gain entry to the club.
Once inside the club, Powell ran into a colonel, who recognized him. "I was so nervous the rest of the evening, and I certainly didn't drink anything." Although the colonel did not say anything to Powell that evening, the next day when talking with Powell about motor-pool business, the colonel said, "Don't do that again."
Powell also drove tractor-trailers and heavy equipment. His time in the service was toward the end of the war when the motor pool was involved in cleaning air fields in Italy and hauling materials to the salvage depot in Naples.
Powell was often assigned to drive a tractor-trailer through enemy occupied territory. Although a patrol guard rode with Powell, the guard froze one day when he spotted a hijacker on the back of the truck, Powell said.
Powell stopped the rig, climbed onto the truck and shot the hijacker in the leg with a .38 special, he said. After the hijacker slid off the back of the truck, Powell made his way back to the cab and continued on his way.
Powell was honorably discharged from the Army Air Corps on July 2, 1946.
To preserve memories of Powell's military service, his oldest daughter, Deadra Gruver, put together a scrapbook that he is happy to share with visitors.
Powell grew up on a 100-acre farm in the Pleasant Hill-Fishburn Mountain area of Franklin County. "In that day in age, we ate what we raised," he said. Powell recalls driving teams of mules on the farm when he was 9 years old.
Powell married his high-school sweetheart, Serena Hancock, in April 1943. The couple had two children, Gruver and Mike Powell, before his wife died from a brain tumor six years after their wedding.
Powell married Juanita Prillaman in August 1951 and they raised four children in addition to the Powell's first two. Prillaman later developed Alzheimer's, and he cared for her for 10 years until she died. He has seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
Before being drafted, Powell worked in aircraft manufacturing. When he returned home, he worked as an auto mechanic. He eventually became a service manager and co-owner of a car dealership.
Since his retirement, Powell has worked on cars in a shop behind his house. He has also been active with the American Legion, the Gideons and Pleasant Hill United Methodist Church.
Powell still drives, lives on his own, cooks and cleans. Besides spending time with his family and reminiscing about his time in the military, he spends his time reading.