“I have seen men die in I guess every way they possibly can.”
It’s a statement one does not make or take lightly, and it’s one not often shared. But it’s a statement that one 97-year-old Vernon Ewin lived.
It’s also a life his daughter Diana Applegate never knew.
“I knew daddy was the rock of the family,” she said.
How hard of a rock she never knew, until he put it all down on paper. It was an eye-opener for his grandchildren, who only knew him as a doting grandfather.
“I could not put it down and read it,” Applegate said. “My husband came home [and] I said, ‘you got to listen to this.’ We got into the book and I’d be crying [while] reading parts of that.”
“I was just a boy, growing up, going to country school, and doing things boys do,” Ewin wrote of his early life.
The fibers of service were woven into Ewin by his father.
“My dad was a World War I veteran,” Ewin said.
Ewin’s father and uncle, both fought in the trenches of Europe. His uncle never came home.
“He died in my dad’s arms in a trench,” Ewin said. “In the forest in northern France”
War was nothing a father wants a son to be a part of, but when World War II broke out, the elder Ewin made it clear his young son understood the responsibility of service.
“The best thing he told me was don’t ever disgrace your uniform,” Ewin said. “If you do, don’t ever walk in this house.”
And that’s where the story he put down on paper begins. The country boy once doing country things became a machine gunner attached to the 45th Infantry Division.
The 45th fought from Italy into the heart of Germany. Day in and day out for nearly two years.
“Anzio was pounded, sometimes day after day, night after night,” Ewin said. “You’re under fire all the time.”
As for disgracing his uniform, his father didn’t need to worry.
After a day of fierce fighting, Ewin’s commander wrote “Sergeant Ewin disregarding automatic weapons and small arms fire, advanced to an exposed position and placed his machine gun into action. Although the object of direct rifle fire he held his position, inflicting heavy losses and disorganizing the enemy forces completely”
Ewin was awarded the Bronze Star for valor under fire.
Ewin said he was just doing his job.
“You’ve got a mission to do, so you gotta do this mission you gotta get it done,” Ewin said. “No, I can’t say I wasn’t afraid”
You might say he fought with an angel on his shoulder.
When my gunner, dropped his head of course after he took that bullet, I turned my head a little bit and a bullet took my chin strap off, never touched me,” Ewin said. “And then when I turned to talk to a guy on the ground, I took a bullet across the shoulder, through my shirt, put just a red line on my skin.”
Though he may have had an angel on his shoulder, he would soon look the devil in the face.
As the war drew down Ewin and the rest of the 45th saw the hell that war is. Not in combat, but when the 45th liberated the concentration camp at Dachau a Nazi death camp. What Ewin saw, was beyond his comprehension.
“Skeletons stacked clear high all along the roof,” Ewin said. “Some new bodies, and I said to myself why?! How do people do this? Why do they do that? You know?”
There are times today he is reminded of senseless violence and death, not the violence he saw in the war. But the needless violence between young people today, in cities and towns across a country he fought for.
“I think we would have to sit down and look at ourselves and talk with one another,” Ewin said. “They (the young people) need a great deal more love of humanity around them. I don’t think they are getting it in families here and there — the love we need in these United States of America.”
He says he has one clear mission: To do what he can on that front and repay the angel on his shoulder.
“I have a job to do, that’s to be the best Christian I can, and I have tried that all my life,” Ewin said.