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UPDATED PHOTO: Recently homeless WWII vet tells war stories from new home

November 10th, 2013 9:20 pm by Jeff Bobo

UPDATED PHOTO: Recently homeless WWII vet tells war stories from new home

From a 1945 KTN article, submitted by Ronnie Clark of Church Hill whose father, Charles Clark, center without helmet, is identified as a medal recipient along with George B. Dean. Mr. Dean is likely standing second from right.

UPDATE: Upon reading this article Ronnie Clark of Church Hill recalled a photo and brief article that ran in the Kingsport Times-News in 1945 which included a group photo of soon-to-be returning WWII soldiers. Mr. Clark said his father, Charles Clark, is kneeling in the center without a helmet. George Dean's middle name is Booker, and the article also identifies George B. Dean, although it doesn't state where he is in the photo. The article states: " GEORGE
P. CLARK. With
the 30th Infantry Division. Camp Oklahoma City, France — Pfc. George
B. Dean, who has been awarded
the Bronze Star and Pfc Charles
P. Clark are en route to the
United States with the "Old Hickory"
Division. Pfc. Dean is the brother
of Joseph F. Dean, 1345 Bondwell
Street, Kingsport, and Pfc Clark
is the son -of Mrs J W Clark,
Church Hill. Pfc. Clark has received
the Combat Infantryman's Badge,
the E.T.O. Ribbon with five stars
the Purple Heart and the Presidential
Unit Citation."

MOORESBURG — George Dean spent seven months and 13 days on the front lines without a break, fighting the Nazis in the months between D-Day and V-E Day.

After he got home to Morristown in 1946 he’d wake up in the middle of the night with visions of fireballs in his face and all around him. He said he’d take off running and wouldn’t stop until the visions disappeared.

At the time he didn’t realized what was going on, but he later learned it was “battle fatigue” — what’s generally diagnosed today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

One day a former army doctor stopped by his house and gave him a shot in the arm consisting of one drop from five different bottles. He doesn’t know what was in those bottles, but it has worked for nearly seven decades because after that he never had another vision.

Dean went on to raise his own seven children, as well as 27 foster children while working as a car mechanic in Morristown.

To this day, however, the 90-year-old veteran’s WWII experiences are as clear and vivid as if they happened yesterday.

“Anyone who never went through it don’t know what it is,” Dean told the Times-News last week. “But me, I’ll make it a dream, as though it never happened. I have to, to keep on living and going on. If you hold and ponder things like that you end up with worries and heartaches that you don’t need — seeing your friends that you cared for and think a lot of drop beside you.” 

In recent years, Dean has been living in a house in Mooresburg on the far western end of Hawkins County with his adopted son Wayne. Earlier this year the aging house collapsed and they had to begin renting a room from Dean’s late brother’s widow.

The Rogersville-based Of One Accord ministry was made aware of his plight. This past summer one of the church missions that visits Hawkins County every summer to perform building projects for the needy built Dean and Wayne a new home from scratch.

Dean said he believes he’s had a guardian angel looking out for him ever since he was a baby, when his mother died of tuberculosis and the neighbors fearing he was contagious left him near an open hog pen to die. But he was saved, and his angel was with him again through the war as he escaped death on a daily basis.

But he believes the greatest thing that guardian angel did for him was to bring South Side Baptist Church of Florence, S.C., into his life and provide him a home where he could spend his twilight years.

He said words can’t describe what a blessing that new home is to him and Wayne.

“When I walk in I can feel the love that it was built with, and it’s still in the house — it stays here,” Dean said. “It’s so comfortable that it’s equal to a mansion. To me no greater gift could have been given except salvation. I got that gift, and this (house) is next to it. A place to live. A place to call home.” 

With Veterans Day coming, last week Dean agreed to talk about some of his experiences during World War II.

The following are a few of his stories told in his own words: 

“I don’t care how long you live, you’ll never forget that memory. Like my army serial number. I’ll know that the day I’m leaving this place. I don’t care to (think about) them days in this day and time because in my life now I don’t harm anyone. Back there you’re under an order, and you have to.” 

Dean sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, and was on board during a torpedo attack.

“We were in our hammocks, and that ship just laid plumb down, and everybody fell out of the bed. They said it was a torpedo and they turned that ship up and laid the top of it over in the water to get that torpedo to go by. That’s how close we came to going to the bottom of the ocean. They turned that ship on its side, and top deck, I know, was in the water. When they got it straightened back up a sentry came through and said, ‘We just missed a torpedo’. I said, ‘I’m glad it missed because I was down here where he was at. We were about three or four decks underwater.’ 

“(During the voyage) I got so sick. And they had some of the greasiest food, and I’d get to looking at that and start heading for the rail. But I got over it. A captain came walking by. I don’t know who he was. I never did know him. He came by and gave me two or three little white pills and he said, here soldier, take one of these. I swallowed one of them and the sickness left in about five minutes. I went out there and started rolling dice on the deck. We shot dice about four days and nights.” 

Dean said he made a good impression on his platoon leader, Sgt. Stewart Ballinger, the first time they met. Dean and some other replacements joined his new company at a farmhouse.

“We walked in that barn and Ballinger said, ‘Is that all I get?’ (The lieutenant) said I’m going to let you have Dean, and William G. Smith, and Edgar Maddox. He said Dean is a bazooka man, and that’s what you need more than anything. Ballinger said ‘The bazooka is sitting over there in the corner and they killed the one who was carrying it yesterday. I want you to know that.’ I looked at him and said, ‘Well that don’t mean nothing.’ He said, ‘That’s the fighting spirit. I like that.’ He was a good one.” 

Dean was awarded the Bronze Star after knocking the tracks off of a tank with a bazooka in Stahnsdorf, Germany. Someone stole his medals and uniform after his first wife died about 40 years ago. Hawkins County Veterans Services Officer Danny Breeding recently applied for Dean to receive his medals again, but it may take a year.

“When we got into the town rifle fire on the street between the alleys was so much the bullets looked like bees coming through. When it would let up, we’d dart across the street. We got in this building. Up on a hill there was a road coming down. Ballinger told me to get up there on the second floor and watch that mountain. I had a bazooka that day, and a man was loading for me. That tank got on the hill and he was shooting into town, and he shot the side of the building off. I told him, ‘Load that bazooka, I’ve got to stop that tank.’ I turned around and he was riding the staircase going down where it was falling, but he left the shells. I crawled over there, (loaded one) and rolled over on my belly, and knocked the track off of that thing. That dropped it down and it couldn’t fire on the building. There I was two stories up and had to jump down maybe 20 feet to get down, but that’s how I got that (Bronze Star) medal.” 

In 1944-45, Dean marched through France and Germany with the 30th Division, 117th Infantry Regiment in Company K under the command of Gen. Leland Hobbs, supporting General George S. Patton’s armored divisions.

He saw Patton one time during a risky river crossing.

“It was about 2 a.m., he jumped in the Rhine River and said, ‘Let’s go boys.’ I don’t want to try that no more. Had to come out a mile down the river. That’s the swiftest river I’ve ever seen. He was right beside of us and said, ‘Let’s go boys’ and jumped right in that river. I’m telling you that man didn’t care, he was gone. I don’t know (how deep it was). I never did find the bottom. Backpack, bandoliers, rifle, and hand grenades, combat boots, clothes and everything. There wasn’t nothing to hold onto. ‘Let’s go boys.’ That man was a go-getter.” 

Dean’s guardian angel was looking out for him the day he walked up on a German machine gun in a house less than 10 yards ahead of him with no cover and nowhere to run.

“There was an old brick house and a row of pine trees, and I got up (within about 10 yards) from the house and looked up and there was a machine gun in the upper window shooting right down on me. He kept shooting and dirt around me began to jump up everywhere, and a voice said to me, ‘play dead’. I just dropped the gun and fell over. (Hours later) a tank pulled up right straddle of me, and shot that building to the ground. I had laid there for three and half hours, and the only thing that would move was my head. My arms and legs wouldn’t move. The medic said, ‘Dean’s dead, we best try to get him out of there.’ I said, ‘I ain’t dead, but I can’t move.’ I had laid so long that I went to sleep all over. I was lifeless. I had to be because he was watching me.” 

Although Sgt. Ballinger made it home, Dean’s friend, Edgar Maddox, wasn’t so lucky.

“Every way you went there was a sniper trying to get you. They shot Maddox right beside of me. He fell in a plowed field. The Lord has always watched over me since I was a little baby. He’s never let me down. He wanted me here for a purpose, and I’m proud he did. I’m going to try to get it fulfilled before I leave, if I can. I may never be able to, but I’ll try.”

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