‘I do not consider myself a war hero’

T-R PHOTO BY CHUCK FRIEND World War II veteran and Iowa Veterans Home resident Leslie Graham looks at a scrapbook containing many pictures of his war-time years in France. Although suffering an early war injury, Graham returned to be among those who captured and crossed the bridge over the Rhine River during the Battle of the Bulge.

Editor’s note: This is the latest in an ongoing series of articles profiling those who have ever served in the U.S. military, be it overseas or stateside. Every Thursday, a new profile will be published in the T-R.

Leslie “Les” Graham does not consider himself to be a war hero, even though he served in World War II in France just after D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge.

“I do not consider myself to be a war hero. I went in as a number, then was shot by machine gun fire and just became a statistic,” Graham said humbly, “I just tried to always do what I was told to do.”

However his experiences led to an interesting conclusion for him — we truly live in a small world.

“I graduated high school at age 16 and was too young to be drafted. But once I turned 18, the Army wasted no time in getting me drafted in October of 1943. I completed my basic training in Texas, and prepared to be shipped overseas” he said.

When notified that he was going overseas as a transplant, Graham, 92, said he was fortunate enough to be assigned to the 9th Infantry Division — a well-seasoned and experienced combat division.

“The division joined WWII on D-Day + five. I joined them on D Day + 10. I lasted two weeks before taking a machine gun slug to the leg on June 30. I was sent back to England for rehabilitation,” he remarked.

Coincidence or not, Graham soon found out that his nurse was from Blue Earth, Minn., and that the doctor that would be caring for him was the son of the doctor from his hometown of Burt, Iowa, who was doing his internship in the Army.

“As a private we could not write where we were or anything concerning our conditions in letters back home, but corporals on up could. This doctor wrote to his wife and told her where I was and how bad I was injured, and then instructed her to tell my parents,” Graham said. “She told my mother. Then six weeks later my mother said the family finally received a telegram from the Army telling them I had been injured and where I was.”

After six months of rehabilitation in England, Graham said he was attending Christmas Eve mass when the Catholic boys were told to leave the mass and pack up to go back to France. “On Christmas Day we boarded a plane, but sat most all day at the airport in fog so thick the birds had to walk,” Graham recalled.

He was reassigned to the 9th Infantry division as a part of a cutoff point, with their main duty during the Battle of the Bulge was to prevent Hitler from getting his supplies up there or people getting out.

“We experienced very little combat, but nobody moved past us,” Graham laughed.

Graham said a Cavalry Unit Tank Battalion was attached to the 9th Division and was instrumental in capturing the bridge over the Rhine River. He said their general had the entire division on the East side of the Rhine in a 24-hour period.

“I ran across the bridge at 10:30 a.m.,” Graham said. “And five years ago, I learned that another Marshalltown native, Bud Randall, was a member of that tank unit that captured the bridge which allowed us to cross.”

After the war, Graham used a GI bill to get his bachelor’s degree and later his master’s degree at the University of Northern Iowa. He taught for more than 30 years at Marshalltown High School, retiring in 1990. He is now a resident of the Iowa Veterans Home.

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Do you know a military veteran who should be profiled? Send your suggestions to Editor Jeff Hutton at: jhutton@timesrepublican.com or contact American Legion Post 46 Commander Randy Kessler at: iapost46commander@gmail.com