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Veteran recalls his time in Gen. Patton's division

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- While Nelson Hudgins fought courageously in the foxholes of World War II, nowadays the 92-year-old Army veteran spends part of his time battling the family's dog, Sophie.

The springer spaniel keeps Hudgins on his toes by digging up the veteran's garden crops.

"She tore up my squash, so I had to move my other vegetables to the front porch to keep them safe," Hudgins said while sitting on a rocking chair in front of his home in Patmos.

According to the veteran, minor spats with the family's Fido is nothing compared to his experience as part of an armored division under Gen. George S. Patton during World War II.

A life-long farmer, Hudgins remarked that the devastation of the war was far removed from the peaceful nature of life in his home in Milford.

The veteran said he was drafted into service in January 1942. Hudgins said before being drafted he had gone to trade school to learn mechanics and to be a gunsmith -- skills that he put to use while serving during the war. Hudgins said he trained other soldiers in how to operate the guns of fighter planes and warships.

"That was right down my alley. They had to have somebody that was crazy and had no sense," said the veteran.

Hudgins said he was deployed overseas and assigned to man the machine guns when U.S. forces took a beating during the Battle of the Bulge. The veteran was part of Patton's army that was sent to relieve the overwhelmed Americans during the Siege of Bastogne.

"On Jan. 8, 1944, I landed on the shore of Bastogne, Belgium, and never stopped," Hudgins said.

During his time in Germany, Hudgins witnessed several bloody battles and many deaths.

"We had resistance all the time. Some people think (war stories) are like fairy tales -- they're not. You have a free country, and some people don't realize it ... what it took to get it that way," said Hudgins.

The 92-year-old was the only survivor of his unit during two separate campaigns. Hudgins said he remembers well the clashes along the Siegfriend Line near Aachen, Germany in 1944, where an estimated 24,000 troops were killed in action in the heavily wooded area.

Despite his division engaging in constant conflict with enemy forces, Hudgins said somehow he was never critically wounded.

"I just never got hit," the veteran shrugged. "I don't know how or why, but I was never wounded too bad."

There were close calls, though.

Hudgins, an Army machine gunner during the war, said while firing on enemy forces during one engagement he came eerily close to death.

The World War II veteran said that during combat gunners were prime targets for enemy fire, so moving to different locations was necessary for survival.

"I had moved my machine gun, and a bazooka went off right where I had been," said Hudgins.

While in Germany in April 1945, the then-25-year-old soldier was present when the Allied Forces liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp. Buchenwald was the first Nazi labor camp to be liberated by U.S. troops and was the camp where Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel was incarcerated during the war. It is estimated that more than 56,000 deaths, including that of Wiesel's father, occurred at Buchenwald.

"It was terrible," said Hudgins recalling the sight of the concentration camp. "They had carts stacked full of skin and bones. They were just stacked on top of each other."

While Hudgins was part of "Blood and Guts" Patton's troops, the veteran said he never laid eyes on the famed general.

"He was always behind us," he quipped.

Hudgins recalled a very integral moment during the war when his division crossed the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen in March 1945. Ludendorff was the last intact bridge over the Rhine River during the battle for the Rhineland.

"(German forces) tried to bomb the bridge to keep us out, but it didn't work," Hudgins said. "When we crossed, they tried to bomb the bridge out behind us, but they couldn't do it again."

At the time, the capture of the bridge at Remagen was considered a significant Allied victory, often referred to as the "Miracle of Remagen".

Hudgins said the devastation of war was apparent in the German towns that had been consumed and reduced to rubble during combat.

"You could hardly tell the name of the town you went through because there was no town left. Everything was bombed out and torn up," he said.

While steadily marching through the German towns, Hudgins said many of the local German people showed kindness to the U.S. troops.

"The German people treated you real nice. I believe we liberated about 40 percent of Germans and conquered 60 percent. I think a lot of them knew we were doing good," said Hudgins.

During a very emotional moment, the veteran recalled the end of the war and the sight he saw in France on his way back to his home in Milford.

"I saw all of my buddies along the road in graves. Just rows and rows of them. Forty-three thousand didn't get back home," said Hudgins.

The veteran said after three years of fighting, the sight of the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island in New York Harbor was a welcome sight.

"You can't explain it," Hudgins said of how he felt when he saw Lady Liberty.

After returning to his hometown, Hudgins said he became a member of the Milford Baptist Church, of which he remains a member to this day. Also after returning home, Hudgins said he married his late wife, Ollie Mae, who had waited for him to return home from overseas.