World War II veteran recounts time in service
By Jennifer L. Williams
For the Enquirer
It’s been a busy week for George Mills – from attending the Heroes Dinner at Stone Bridge in Cullman Friday night, to being the grand marshal for the 2021 Hartselle Veterans Day Parade Saturday, to serving as the honorary commander of the Decatur High School JROTC Veterans Day program Wednesday.
Such a week would be exhausting for anyone, but what makes Mills’ schedule even more amazing is that he turned 100 years old in May, and the Morgan County man shows no signs of slowing down.
Much has been written about Mills over the past few years; there aren’t many World War II combat veterans around these days, particularly those who have seen and done as much as he has.
About 1.5 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII are still alive in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Mills landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy with the U.S. Army’s 28th Infantry Division in July 1944, not long after D-Day. He arrived in Paris with the 4th Infantry Division in time for the city’s liberation in August, marching down the Champs-Élysées Aug. 29.
From Paris, Mills drove with his regiment west through France and Luxembourg to the German border, clearing towns along the way.
In November 1944 the regiment was involved in a bloody battle in the Hurtgen Forest before heading back to Luxembourg to be brought back up to strength.
Rockets and artillery fire woke Mills Dec. 16, 1944, with Germany’s 5th Panzer Division bearing down on their group of roughly 200 men. He was injured by flying shrapnel while checking on the ammunition supply. “We had six rounds of ammo left, so our company commander surrendered,” Mills said.
As a German prisoner of war, Mills marched for five months, surviving on rutabagas and sugar beets meant for German livestock, until being liberated by the 2nd Armored Division.
Mills soon found his way back in the states and on a bus bound for Decatur. He arrived at 3 a.m. and had coffee about 5 a.m., when he walked the 15 blocks to his parents’ home.
Mills recalls heading straight back to the kitchen to eat the bacon they were cooking and to see his English bulldog, Frank, who nearly tore the door down when he heard Mills’ voice.
Mills said he is now happy to tell his stories, but he once would have shied away from such attention. “I joined several veterans organizations when I returned from the war, but I did not really get involved with them until much later,” he said. “I went back to work selling pianos when I came home, and nobody really talked about it or discussed their service.”
About 25-30 years ago, a history teacher at Austin High School contacted him to come talk to her students as one of several WWII veterans. That opened the door, and Mills started talking more, sharing his experiences with the younger generations.
These days, Mills has a wall of memorabilia in his home and boxes of news articles and letters from people he’s met in his travels. Mills returned to Normandy in 2019 for the 75th anniversary of D-Day and met relatives of fellow Allies and Germans.
Today, 80 years after the U.S. entered World War II, Mills said he is proud to do what he can and share his stories so people will remember not just him but the sacrifices made by all those who served.