By Paul Wood
MILFORD — Staff Sgt. Hubert Neal served and was injured in North Africa in World War II.
He turns 100 this year and is hard of hearing, so his daughter, Virginia, facilitated an interview.
“I tried to forget it all,” he said last week, adding that he loves his country and would do it all over again.
Born in Sunnybrook, Ky., in 1919, Neal “saw one of my best friends from my hometown killed.”
He had always intended to be a farmer. After he was seriously hurt in North Africa, he did return to farming, this time in this Iroquois County community.
“He came up here for a visit and ended up staying,” his daughter said.
Neal met generals, like Dwight Eisenhower, and had an awkward moment with George S. Patton.
Longtime friend Ron Lewis is working on keeping up Neal’s memoirs, a project that he may turn into an article or book.
Neal told Lewis that he quit school after the eighth grade to get a job and help his family. In 1939, he joined the National Guard.
Neal did his basic training at Fort Knox, Ky., then went to Wisconsin for advanced training.
Less than two weeks after he married in January 1941, Neal was called into active duty and sent to Texas for even more training.
Neal said he wasn’t told where his ship was headed when it left New York in May 1942.
Three weeks later, he was heading into port, only to be sent to Ireland to correct a snafu.
Neal, then a sergeant, volunteered to train on anti-aircraft weapons, and was put in charge of a squad.
Under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Operation Torch started the Allied invasion of French North Africa in November 1942. It was also one of the first major airborne assaults of World War II.
Oran was at the center of the naval invasion. Neal and his fellow troops were told that Oran’s resistance was supposed to be very low; the element of surprise would slap the Vichy forces down. The Vichy French, considered puppets of the Nazis, would switch over to the French loyalists under Charles de Gaulle.
Neal said the resistance was stronger than the troops had been told, with heavy bombing of the invasion ships. But within a few days, the Allies had the coast under control.
Gen. Mark Clark started to move across North Africa.
It was a celebrity time for high-ranking war heroes, and North Africa was where the U.S. learned to fight the Axis.
Neal said he “liked the army. I even met Eisenhower. Eisenhower even paid me a compliment.”
Another famous general from World War II?
Neal called Patton “kind of a smart aleck.”
The sergeant said “thank you” to Patton, and he was rudely told not to speak to him, Neal recalled.
He was in combat for the next few months in the fight across North Africa.
Next up was Italy. Neal was put in charge of training new drivers for trucks that hauled artillery.
The training effectively ended his combat career.
An inexperienced driver missed a turn and took the truck over an embankment — the men landing upside-down in a river.
Neal’s left foot was broken in so many places that he was sent back to the states for a series of surgeries.
After several months of rehabilitation, he was discharged in December 1945.
After the war, Neal farmed until he retired at age of 71.
But after a few months of retirement, he went back to work at Wal-Mart for another dozen years.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at email@example.com.