By SARA ARTHURS
It’s been 70 years but Norval Knouse can still sing the song of the Third Infantry Division. The 101-year-old World War II veteran, who joined the Army in 1944 at the age of 31, had never been outside northwestern Ohio before joining the service. He soon found himself in a war in Italy.
He still vividly recalls singing the division’s song, “The Dogface Soldier,” as he and his unit marched into Rome after Italy’s surrender.
Knouse will be one of more than 70 veterans reliving their memories Tuesday when they fly to Washington, D.C., with Flag City Honor Flight.
Honor Flight is a national nonprofit organization that flies veterans free of charge to visit the World War II Memorial and other memorials built in their honor. Tuesday’s trip will be the fourth for the Findlay-based branch of the National Honor Flight Network.
Travelers will include 31 World War II veterans, 45 Korean War veterans and one Vietnam War veteran, plus their guardians.
Each veteran is paired with a guardian to accompany them and assist them with whatever they might need. Travel is free for veterans but guardians pay their own way. Knouse’s granddaughter, Jayme Dillon, is going as his guardian.
Knouse is the oldest veteran to travel with the Findlay chapter of Honor Flight.
The Third Infantry Division had, prior to Knouse joining, invaded North Africa “and chased the Germans across here,” Knouse said, pointing on a map to the countries of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. They then landed in Sicily. He joined them in Anzio, Italy. They would make their way through Italy and France before crossing into Germany.
“After we took Anzio, we took Rome,” Knouse said, calling it “a miracle” because Hitler pulled his troops out before the Army came in.
When they arrived in Italy “it was kind of stupendous,” with youths marching down the street singing “Lay that pistol down.”
“At that time Italy had already surrendered,” Knouse said.
Knouse, who joined as a rifleman, would eventually rise to the rank of first sergeant.
“We practically went on our hands and knees,” through France into Germany, he said.
The various units of the Third Division created a race to see who could get to Munich first. Knouse’s company “not only won but I had the privilege of leading the whole Army into Munich, Hitler’s favorite city.” Hitler had committed suicide the day before.
Knouse said as they arrived in Munich the German people were cheering and said in English, “Now we can sleep.”
Knouse fought near Audie Murphy, who would go on to become one of the most decorated heroes of World War II.
When they invaded France, Knouse and Murphy were at the same place and Knouse witnessed, as bullets were flying, Murphy throwing a hand grenade and then the bullets suddenly stopping.
At 31, Knouse was older than many of those he was serving with. He recalled saying goodbye to his daughter on her first birthday, and then not seeing her “for ages” while he was off at war.
There was a man in Knouse’s company who had survived four invasions already before Knouse met him and had come through them unscathed. He was dubbed “the Saint” and Knouse was advised to stick close to him and did so. Later, however, the Saint was injured in the leg and developed gangrene and lost the leg.
“I’ve been to his grave since,” Knouse said.
Knouse also met Charles de Gualle, the French general who later became president, near the city of Lyon after Knouse’s company invaded France. However, Knouse didn’t realize who he was until afterward.
Looking back upon memories of the war, one thing that stands out is “the joy of marching into Rome,” Knouse said.
Knouse said he formed friendships in the war, and these friendships lasted a long time. The division used to hold regular reunions which Knouse attended up until 2001. He had been scheduled to go to a reunion on Sept. 11, 2001, when the terror attacks grounded all the flights.
Knouse earned the Combat Infantry Badge, which he said is what he’s proudest of. The award, considered a high honor, is worn above other awards. He also received a unit citation.
One of the men in his squad had received the Medal of Honor and the protocol is that everyone, even generals, salutes those who have received this medal. Knouse recalled walking past some officers with his squadmate and seeing them salute.
Knouse has a book, “The History of the Third Infantry Division,” with information about the division including lists of names of those who served. The lyrics to “The Dogface Soldier” are printed in the back.
After the war Knouse would go on to a career at what is now Marathon Exploration where he was a clerk and supervised the secretarial pool. Later Knouse and his wife, Anne, would go back and visit some of the areas in Europe where he had served.
Anne is now deceased. Knouse has a daughter, a stepdaughter, seven grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.
Knouse has been to Washington, D.C., before but has not seen the World War II Memorial.
Asked what he was most looking forward to about Honor Flight, Knouse replied, “Being with my granddaughter. She’s good company.”
The veterans will fly from Toledo to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. They’ll then travel by bus to the World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War memorials and will watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. Upon their arrival back in Toledo they will have a welcome home ceremony with family members, including mail call.
Flag City Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide veterans with the opportunity to visit the war memorials built in their honor. It organizes one trip each June, relying on donations from individuals, organizations and businesses to cover expenses. The flight director is board president Deborah Wickerham.
Veterans are primarily from Hancock and surrounding counties, but Flag City Honor Flight will take any U.S. veteran and coordinates with other Honor Flight chapters to provide that opportunity.
Flag City Honor Flight’s website: http://www.flagcityhonorflight.org/
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