The Daily Register - Harrisburg, IL
  • WWII vet recalls troubles overseas

  • Cecil James, member of “The Greatest Generation,” is a local man, born and raised in McLeansboro who served in the United States Air Force in Italy during World War II.By
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    On June 6, 1944 Cecil James of Eldorado was driving a truck for the U.S. Army Air Corps in northern Italy near the Arno River. A draftee, he served with the Air Force.
    Cecil James, member of “The Greatest Generation,” is a local man, born and raised in McLeansboro who served in the United States Air Force in Italy during World War II.
    Thursday, James and his wife were enjoying lunch at Eldorado Golden Circle and he took time to talk about his experiences during the war.
    He was drafted into the American Air Force.
    In 1943, James entered service and completed basic training, “On the beach in Miami, Florida.” Shortly after he had completed basic training, James's father had a severe health problem and James was given emergency medical leave to briefly return home. When his emergency leave expired, because his basic training group had already been assigned to duty stations, James returned to a replacement depot in Fresno, Calif. Shortly after that he was sent to North Carolina where he stayed a few weeks and then loaded up on a transport ship and headed for Italy.
    The transport ship sailed in a convoy of other ships. The convoy system was used to allow Allied warships to be used economically to escort the convoys and protect them from enemy attacks.
    “We got into trouble outside the Straits of Gibraltar,” James said. “We were attacked by a German submarine. I was told that it was sunk with depth charges by our Navy.”
    James arrived at Naples, Italy, and after a few days, he and fellow American servicemen boarded a freight train for transport to the front. They traveled through the newly liberated Rome to the front, which at this time, James remembers, was near an Italian town called Livorno, “Or we called it Leghorn,” James said with a small laugh.
    “When we got there, we were broken up into groups of 8 to 12 and assigned to be repair crews at forward emergency repair bases for Allied planes,” James recounted. “We constructed small runways and did emergency repairs for our planes that were shot up over the lines. I was a truck driver and I brought gas, plane parts, oil and the other things that the specialists in my group needed to repair our planes so they could go back to fight or get to bigger repair bases further back from the front.”
    James recalled one episode in particular that has stood out in his memory from his time at the front.
    “Almost all the German planes I saw were on the ground, shot-up or bombed. One night I left my tent and I heard a German plane overhead. I looked up and I saw it and there were two of our fighters right behind it. They followed it as it landed at our emergency runway. The German pilot wanted to surrender and had found our runway. I was surprised that he spoke English!”
    Page 2 of 2 - James served in Italy until the German surrender in May of 1945. He returned to America by ship, reaching New York in 1945 and returned home to McLeansboro on Jan. 1, 1946.
    After “loafing for a year” and in that time, meeting, courting and marrying his wife, James pursued a career of farming and truck driving. He and his wife raised two sons. His younger son works to this day as a mining engineer in McLeansboro and his oldest son is a retired teacher.
    James is in his late eighties and remembers his time in the Air Force clearly.
    “I am glad I served. I didn't want to at the time and I was scared as everybody was sometimes, but I am very glad I did it. The Air Force was and has been good to me.”
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