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Veteran recalls service in the jungles of Asia

Cliff Mounts, 88, of Albany displays medals he received for service in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Cliff Mounts, 88, of Albany displays medals he received for service in the U.S. Army during World War II.

ALBANY -- These days, Cliff Mounts spends much of his time at his Westgate Drive home reading the newspaper and doing crossword puzzles.

Before that, he led a different life.

Mounts, now 88, spent three years in the Army's 33rd Infantry Division during World War II. After enlisting in 1942, he completed his basic training at Fort Lewis in Washington state. From July 1943 to December 1945, he spend his service time on various islands throughout the Pacific.

His first stop was in the Mojave Desert in California, where he acted as the first man on a seven-man crew in the 33rd Division Field Artillery. After a stint on the Hawaiian Islands, Mount made his first international in New Guinea. There, he had his initial exposure to the realities of war combat.

"One Sunday morning we took a hike in the jungle and came across three Japs," he recalled. "Two had been dead for a while, and one was recently dead."

He was in New Guinea for seven months. There, he had the responsibility of standing watch at night with a .30-caliber gun and another man by his side. Mounts would let his comrade lie down behind him while he stayed awake.

One night, his partner woke up from a nightmare with a knife in his hand ready to stab Mounts, something he would not dare tell his superior.

"He would be court marshaled for going to sleep on guard," the veteran said.

Mounts eventually found himself in the Philippines, where he served as the assistant driver for the gun section in his part of the outfit -- a job that proved dangerous.

"When moving from one section to another, we moved with no lights on," he said.

While in the Philippines, Mounts crossed paths with a young couple who had recently lost their newborn child. The couple had only one picture of the baby, which they insisted Mounts take -- a gesture that even today his family considers moving.

"(It's touching) a native of the Philippines would think of Dad that much," said Terry Corr, Mounts' daughter.

One night, when navigating the island's dirt roads, Mounts failed to make a turn in time and found himself caught in barbed wire. Later, he found out he had not been alone in the wilderness.

"About 30 feet away, there was a GI in a slit trench," he recalled. "He didn't make his presence known."

Mounts' outfit was roughly 40 miles north of Bago City when word came that the war had ended as a result of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August of 1945.

"I was very thankful for (President Harry ) Truman dropping the bomb," he said.

The Hiroshima bomb, known as Little Boy, was dropped on Aug. 6. Fat Man, the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, fell on Aug. 9. Japan announced its surrender several days after the second bombing.

"I cannot understand why they have a war going on for years and years when they could stop it just like that," Mounts added. "It doesn't make sense to me in any way, shape or form."

Before returning to the States, Mounts' outfit spent three months in Japan. While there, he stumbled upon a confrontation where some men were bothering a few of the women in the outfit. The Ohio native found the perfect way of breaking it up.

"I said, 'Would you like to clean the floor with your tongue?'" he laughed.

In December 1945, Mounts was finally discharged and able to return home after three years, two months and six days serving his country. Unfortunately, his homecoming had some tense moments to it.

He had a fever upon his return and the family doctor gave him a scary diagnosis: malaria.

"When we got to Japan, they stopped giving us the medication," he said.

Probably the most tense part of the trip was when Mounts was walking up to the front steps of his home in Salem, Ohio. At that moment, a neighbor's car backfired, which brought back some not-so-pleasant memories.

"I tried to dig a hole in the sidewalk," he said.

Perhaps the saddest news was that his wife, Virginia, whom he had married three months before enlisting, had lost her mother.

Having had a great-grandfather in the Civil War, a father in World War I and a sibling also in World War II, Mounts comes from a long legacy of national pride.

"Even when I was growing up, there was a strong sense of patriotism," his daughter said.

Even with his experiences, Mounts still considers himself to be the same person he was when he left for the war.

"It made me more contrary," he replied when asked if the war had changed his perspective in any way.

Looking back on things, Mounts has no regrets. After all, he got what he wanted.

"I said I wouldn't ask for another thing if I got back alive," he said. "(God) gave me all I wanted."

These days, Cliff and Virginia Mounts find themselves leading a peaceful life. In part, this is because the years have caught up with them.

"My wife misses numerous things," Cliff Mounts said. "I see a squirrel down the street, she might not see the street."

Even though they spend a lot of time doing crossword puzzles, that doesn't mean they don't find time for drama every now and then.

"If something needs to be said, I'm not ashamed of it," the veteran said.

For fun, they might find themselves at the occasional Braves game. They've also been known to instill a spirit of community service, such as helping their neighbors with routine maintenance work.

"My parents have always been that way," Corr explained.

The one thing that cannot be taken away from the former serviceman are the memories he brought back from the jungles of Asia as a part of something not only he, but his entire generation, was involved with. Taking that into consideration, he said it would be beneficial, if not vital, to preserve the history of World War II.

"It wouldn't hurt to keep up the information," he said. "It seems the new generation in power doesn't care about it."

The impact of the conflict was powerful enough to have a lasting effect, even on those who stood on the sidelines, as is the case with Virginia Mounts.

"World War II changed my life," she said. "It was hard."

Within the Mounts household, the effects of the war are evident not only on the battlefield as well as the sidelines, but on the generation that came into being after it was all over.

Corr, now 57, moved to Georgia from Ohio at the age of 12. Over time, she was able to see what World War II did to her parents.

"It was definitely a time when the unit of the family was strong," she said. "I do realize over time how much that (the war) has affected my parents and their generation.

"They are very good people. I'm very proud of my parents for the kind of people they are."

Remembering the stories of World War II are important not only for the history behind them, but the impact they might have later, Mounts' daughter explained.

"History repeats itself; we can learn a lot from these stories," she said. "We are seeing threats not only from other countries but within the nation. It's very frightening. I do think these stories need to be heard."

After coming home, Corr observed that her father had carried back from Asia with him his duties on the battlefield and translated them into his responsibilities as a husband and parent.

"After his experiences in the war, I think my dad became extremely observant, and is observant to this day," she said. "He has continued to feel a sense of being on guard. He feels a real responsibility to be on watch."