James McElroy

James McElroy: 'We got the hell out of there'


James McElroy caught a lucky break when his infantry unit got sent to Normandy a few days after D-Day.

It was the first of many close calls he saw fighting across Europe after the Americans made their way up the cliffs.

"There isn't anything I haven't seen. I seen guys get blown apart, I seen guys get killed."

McElroy, 88, of Orland Park, served with the Army Infantry 29th Division, 175th Regiment.

Up on top, Allies contended with the hedgerows of Normandy, bushes and trees planted atop dirt mounds or stone walls too thick to walk through.

As McElroy picked his way through one, a sniper caught the guy in front of him in the head.

"He kept jumping around, they shot him again, more blood spurted out of his head like a chicken with its head cut off, and I couldn't do nothing,"

Then the commander got hit. Then his replacement. Then his replacement, too.

"Then we got the hell out of there. That was a close call."

Another time in France, in the rows, McElroy found himself alone while his regiment ducked mortar shells. He got ahead of the others and crawled on his belly into an opening in a hedgerow that let ox carts pass through.

"I had my rifle on the side, it was loaded yet, and I snuck in there real fast. I bumped right into a Jerry. He was kneeling, and I had my rifle in front of me. And I just shot him right through the chest."

"I turned around and ran like hell back to my line. When I got back to my line, it was a bloody mess."

What were 100 men now were 20.

Once McElroy missed a rooftop bombing in Germany because he went downstairs for coffee. Then two German tanks pulled right up to a trench he was sitting in, marooning him until it got dark enough to sneak out.

"We got out of there that night. Tanks didn't even know we were there. God was with me for eight months on line."

"I was small-built. I stayed away from other soldiers. I never climbed up in a bunch. Those are the guys who get hit."