Tomorrow, on Memorial Day we will remember the soldiers who fell in battle to protect our freedoms. One of those who remembers is Lester Paxton Jr. His uncles and father Lester Paxton Sr. fought in World War II. Paxton Jr. served as a gunner during the Berlin crisis. His grandchildren joined the Army Reserves.
His father served on the Phoenix in the Seventh Fleet in the Pacific. Worried about his brother on another ship, Paxton Sr. would run “After every exchange of fire, to see if his brother’s ship was hit. When the island had been secured, he found his brother and they had a picture in the Philippines,” Paxton Jr. said.
“He kept a diary through the war. (Years later) when he was reading about a kamikaze strike, he closed the diary and tossed it in the trash. He did not want to talk about it.”
Paxton Sr. told Jr. that during the battle for Corregidor Island he was on watch and saw a lot of paratroopers coming down. “When they were hit, they just folded up as they came down.”
In the heat of battle, gunners received sandwiches as they worked the guns, except for the time when a stateside strike delayed the delivery of supplies. Then Sr. had to eat rice for 13 days. “After the war, he refused to eat rice,” his son said.
Lester Paxton, Sr. did talk about the Japanese kamikaze planes. “Some of the men would get so scared that they would jump overboard. One Sunday, they were having services on the bow of the ship with orders to cease fire. One sailor saw the plane and just kept firing until he knocked the plane away from the ship. One of the wings landed on the deck. They chopped it up and handed out pieces as souvenirs.”
During his time in the Pacific, the chaplain came to tell Paxton Sr. that his brother Earl had been killed and buried in Europe. “Four brothers went in the service and three came home,” Paxton concluded. With that in mind Lester Paxton, Jr. says “I enlisted because I wanted to go Europe and Belgium to see the grave of my father’s baby brother Earl.”
Assigned to Company C of the 66th battalion at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas Paxton Jr. waited and, as a gunner, “fired tanks in demonstrations for officers from overseas.
Then the Berlin Crisis came. “We went over to Germany and out on the Autobahn about six miles from the Russian border. They sent the 2nd armored division to show the Russians we could put an armored division on their doorstep in 24 hours. We thought we would have to fight. We were there for seven months with operation ‘Big Lift.’”
“I did go to Belgium to Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. There are at least 8,000 soldiers buried there. I took a picture of Earl’s marker with his name and serial number. He was in his 20s, a young boy. I gave the picture to my grandfather. My grandfather really thanked me a lot for that. I am the only family member that has ever been to his grave.”
While there, his wife had an appendectomy. “The Red Cross came and told me what was going on and suggested they get me home. My tank commander said, ‘You can forget about that.’ So just as soon as I got back from Germany, I got in my VW and went to see her.”
With the family history in mind (and with two grandchildren serving in the Army Reserves) this Memorial Day, Lester Paxton will again pause and remember, as should we all.