THE GREATEST GENERATIONIn their 90s, WWII vets tell stories from the front

Published 12:15 am Sunday, November 11, 2012

Between December 1941 and August 1945, more than 16 million members of the United States armed forces served to defend the American way of life and defeat the Axis forces in World War II.

They fought around the globe, from the deserts of North Africa and into Europe, followed by island-hopping in the Pacific. They stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, and raised the flag over Iwo Jima. Some fought on land, others by sea or air. Many never saw combat and instead guarded the homefront from the threat of surprise attacks similar to the one at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec. 7, 1941.

Wounds and disease claimed more than 400,000 American lives.

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As the men and women of what has been called America’s Greatest Generation reach their 90s, about 740 World War II veterans die each day, according to the Veterans Administration. Today, fewer than 1.7 million World War II U.S. veterans are still living.

Following are the stories of four who made the arduous journey through the war and back and today live in Vicksburg.

Gen. George S. Patton’s bloody path to victory across Europe began June 6, 1944, with D-Day, the invasion of Normandy. The campaign lasted 11 months and spanned more than 2,200 miles across France, Holland, Belgium and Germany.

George Cain, now 93, saw nearly every bit of it. Cain landed on Utah Beach in Normandy about two weeks after D-Day and was a truck driver for 7th Armored Division of the A Company of the 33rd Armored Engineers. His company was in charge of building bridges across small streams during frontline combat, he said. Waist-deep snow covered the ground most of the winter during the campaign, and Cain and other men used dump trucks to lay dirt for tanks to gain traction.

At first, they were on a mission to free the French capital.

“We were going to liberate Paris, and just about as we were about to go in, Gen. (Dwight) Eisenhower stopped us. You had never heard a man cuss like Patton did then,” Cain said.