WWII Veteran fought with the 101st Airborne

                                                              Photo by Christy Porter
Veteran Lewis Mansfield shared his war memories, 
some he has spent a lifetime trying to forget.

By Christy Porter
Managing Editor

World War II veteran Lewis Mansfield was born in February 1924 in Mammoth Springs, Ark., but grew up in Edgar Springs, Rambo and Beulah, Mo. He was the son of Leonard and Leota Mansfield; they had nine boys and one girl. Lewis, second to the oldest, would serve while his older brother George was also serving in the European Theatre.
Mansfield was drafted into the U.S. Army in January, one month before turning 18 in 1941. He served a total of five years, 1941 – 1946. His basic training was at Camp McCain, (Jackson) Miss.; he received his paratrooper training at Fort Benning, Ga. “While I was in training my grandfather died and the Red Cross got me home,” remembers Mansfield. “I was deployed immediately after completing my training.” The parade that was held before shipping out made an impression on him. Mansfield had become a TEC5 qualified parachutist, a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division - 82nd Airborne known as the Screaming Eagles. This career would end with a total of 57 jumps to his credit.
Mansfield’s memories are scattered, sometimes hard to know locations and time periods due to the battle activity, stress and previously unknown terrain. However in the jumble, along with the horrible memories of his time in Europe, he also has once-in-a-lifetime good memories.
On his way overseas, he saw the Statue of Liberty in New York City and met Jack Dempsey, the prize fighter. It took seven long days to get to Glasgow and the troops got off the boat with bombs exploding around them. The first night there, the ship beside them in port was sank. While in South Hampton he met Queen Elizabeth and visited the pubs. He was impressed with the numerous tall steeples in Europe and that, with all the bombing, the Big Ben clock didn’t get hit. They used boats to cross the English Channel; afterward they traveled in 6 x 6 troop trucks.
While in France Mansfield visited a Catholic church and Notre Dame. He spent Christmas Day prior to his 21st birthday in Germany near the Rhine River, in a bombed out German house. They killed a cow to have something nourishing to eat. Another Christmas Day the Germans had surrounded part of the army, with Mansfield about 100 miles from them. Says Mansfield of closer combat, “I remember tossing hand grenades overhand into enemy bunkers; when in combat there are close calls every day.” He remained in Europe during the beginning of the Nuremberg trials. While acting as 1st sergeant from platoon sergeant, he never received the rank due to lack of service length at any one place. He was preparing to go to the South Pacific; the atomic bombing of Japan changed his tour of duty. Mansfield was instead sent to Fort Leonard Wood where he trained troops and then took a position cooking at the base.
While Mansfield missed the Normandy invasion with Company B-502 Infantry due to the late arrival of the ship, he was not to escape combat in the last major German offensive campaign, in which the American forces bore the brunt and incurred the highest casualties of any operation during the war. On December 16, 1944, The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive commenced. He fought at The Siege of Bastogne and at battles in the Ardennes until the German offensive ended January 25, 1945. He was with the 101st Airborne when they continued to Munich, Germany and further to the Eagles Nest, Hitler’s hideout bunker in the Alpine Mountains of Austria near Bertchesgaden.  He remembers the horses of Lippizanner Stallion ancestry which were then relocated. “I depended on my mother’s prayers and hope,” remarks Mansfield. He was also helping his mother who received a $7 allotment per month from his army pay. His total pay when jumping was $50 per month.
 The lives of he and his older brother, George, would intertwine while overseas. George was a medic in the military and became a POW. Lewis knew his brother’s outfit and found its location in the Stars and Stripes newspaper. George was spending the night being processed with some of the Jewish population at a concentration camp. Lewis stole a vehicle in France and headed to Czechoslovakia. He had to go through a checkpoint to get to his brother; Lewis stood around 6’1” with blue eyes and the Germans assumed he was of Aryan ancestry. According to Lewis, George’s comment was, “I was never so happy to see someone in my life.” George went on to make a career of army service.
When speaking of his service Lewis says, “I would never send my men anywhere I wouldn’t go myself.” Later President Truman sent Mansfield a telegram that, when he got home, they would make him a first sergeant and he could train troops at Fort Leonard Wood. Lewis did train troops, but was never made a first sergeant.
Prior to returning home the 101st was deactivated and were combined with the 82nd Airborne. With a discharge date of Jan. 12, 1946, Lewis’ troop was the last to come home, they came on the ship Queen Mary. Lewis marched in the grand ticker tape parade in New York City.
                                                       Photo Submitted
Lewis Mansfield in 1946, shortly after his honorable discharge from the army. 
This was taken the day he met Ruth, his future wife, 
when he joined her for dinner at her family home.
While in New York he met an Italian girl; her father ran a shoe company and they exchanged addresses. This exchange would eventually lead him to his future wife. At the Edgar Springs post office, he retrieved a letter and a picture the Italian girl had sent him. While standing there he commented, “Guess this will be my wife.” A girl behind him said, “No, I am.” This girl, eight years younger than he, did indeed become his wife, Ruth Heavin. Their parents worked together, at times with the WPA (Works Progress Administration); their fathers finishing the concrete work on Pine Street in Rolla. Lewis and Ruth eloped with a justice of the peace marrying them in Salem, Ark. They were married for 67 years and Lewis says, “I loved her; she was my life.” While having no children of their own, he and Ruth helped raise three boys and one girl.
                                                                                                 Photo Submitted
Lewis Mansfield and his beloved wife Ruth.
Times were hard when he returned home but Lewis was a driver and carried a T5 ration rating while driving a truck. He also did maintenance work. He worked at the railroad terminal in St. Louis for 10 years handling mail and baggage. He also worked with K & W Contractors for 16 years, starting at 55 cents per hour. He worked at the Fort Leonard Wood railhead, driving spikes, and on the Piney River Bridges, “I was good and had pride in myself,” says Lewis. He remembers he was doing carpentry work at the Jefferson Barracks when Kennedy was shot.
Lewis loved to play baseball, and tried out with the Cardinals in the 60’s – 70’s but suffered an elbow injury. He was a star baseball pitcher when playing with the Edgar Springs men’s league. Sports were in the family blood as his cousin, Ray Mansfield, played with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The effects of the war would remain with Lewis; he was wounded in his left ribs from a plastics explosion and received healthcare at Jefferson Barracks, south of St. Louis. He has also had his right kidney removed. Suffering from PTSD, he continues to relive his war experience. He has trouble sleeping and when he does, he dreams and wakes up fighting in Germany.
Lewis was honorably discharged as Staff Sergeant. His whole company received high recommendations including the 101st Airborne Fourragère, a rope braid used in dress uniform. Other honors and medals include: sharpshooter; two Bronze Stars, one each for service in the Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns and a Good Conduct medal. He also received entitlement to wear the American Theatre Campaign and European African Middle Eastern Theatre Campaign ribbons.
Lewis was a member of the VFW in Edgar Springs and served as Color Guard for his fellow veterans.



Last Weeks Top Story