KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — 97-year-old Paul Phelps is from East Tennessee but he got the call to duty while working in the shipyards in Baltimore.
In 1943, he was drafted into the Army at only 18. Phelps said he has looked death in the face but lived to tell the tale.
“The good Lord seemed to leave me here and I thank Him every day for it, and I want that to go on record,” said Phelps.
He began basic training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina in heavy artillery. He then went to Massachusetts for infantry training. From there, he was deployed overseas.
“I don’t remember the exact date we left but I do remember when we got to Liverpool, England,” he said. “It was May the 20th.”
It was just before the Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Phelps was in the 7th Battalion in the 101st Airborne Division.
“I just had a short time with the 101 Airborne,” Phelps explained. “But that was the heaviest thing I could carry in those battles.”
From England, he went to France.
“We just fought for 33 days there in Carlington, France. It’s the only town we took and we turned it over to them when we left.”
From there he said, went to Holland. While there, Phelps was working in communications in the wire section stringing telephone wire.
“They called it duty soldier, yeah, duty soldier,” he said. “That was my handle.” Phelps adds, “and I made T-5 Corporal.”
This was during the Siege of Bastogne which was a part of the larger Battle of the Bulge.
“We have a citation for doing that,” Phelps said. “Everybody that fought in there got a ribbon to wear on your uniform, from the president. President Roosevelt at that time.”
Phelps also has four battle stars from his time overseas. He stated, “we’ve seen as much combat as almost anyone over there did.”
But even though staring death in the face, Phelps said he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“I wasn’t a brave one, but I can sure teach you to make a hole in the ground if I needed to get a foxhole,” he laughed.
Phelps married his high school sweetheart Dorothy Jean MacAbee right before having to go overseas. They were married for 54 years before she passed away. They have two daughters, five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.