Friday, 13 November 2020 11:07

COLUMN: Be quiet as Billy walks by

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COLUMN: Be quiet as Billy walks by J.A. Bolton

 

William (Billy) Bryant was born in the rolling hills of the North Carolina Piedmont in 1918. As a boy, he helped his parents on a small two-horse farm raising cows, hogs and grain. 


Billy, being an only child, loved to roam the beautiful Uwharrie Mountains that surrounded their farm. On Sundays, Billy and his family attended a small country church that was tucked away in a grove of oak trees just down the road from the farm. Billy’s grandfather had been one of the original founding members of the church, so his family was deeply rooted there.

Billy was small for his age and was a bit shy. Why, sometimes the bigger kids at the one-room school he attended would pick on him. Seems Billy just didn’t fit the mold that folks thought he should. He was a loner and just liked to be by himself.

As time went by, Billy quit school and helped his folks work the farm. He didn’t do much socializing and would stay on the farm while his folks went into town to get supplies.

In 1941, Billy, along with a lot of other young men of our great country, was drafted into the Army. Billy didn’t have to go far for his basic training, just over to Fort Bragg. There he would meet men from all over the country, all with one purpose in mind: to defeat the Germans.

At Bragg, Billy learned that this army business was a team effort and that soldiers had to depend on each other, whether you liked them or not. 

After basic, Billy was assigned to the glider division of the 82nd Airborne as a private. His glider division did a lot of their training at Laurinburg-Maxton Army Air Base and Camp Mackall before heading to New York for deployment overseas.

His first combat assignment was in North Africa facing German Gen. Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps. Billy and a lot of his fellow servicemen had never been out of the states, much less been shot at from all directions.

After the Americans and their allies defeated the Germans in Africa, it was on to Sicily and then Italy. Then it was back to England to prepare for the invasion of France. With all this horrific fighting, death and casualties, losing your buddies became just a way of life, as it is in any war. 

As the war raged on, Billy was determined to do his part to defeat Hitler’s German Army. For some of his heroic actions in the face of enemy fire, Pvt. Billy Bryant began to accumulate more and more medals.

To help our servicemen cope with battle fatigue, cigarettes and beer were issued to the troops. Billy had never been a drinker, but it wasn’t long before the alcohol became a crutch for him. It seemed to take away some of the bad memories of the war and give Billy more courage in battle.

Some of Billy’s friends often said: “If you give Billy a couple of drinks, he thinks he can defeat the entire German Army.”

It was at the Battle of the Bulge that Billy’s whole platoon came under heavy fire from an advancing German tank. Men were being shot, killed or wounded in a matter of seconds. Somehow, Pvt. Bryant found the inner strength to get close enough to to put a bazooka round into the side of the enemy tank.

The round managed to knock the track off one side of the tank. Even though the German tank was disabled, it could still fire its guns. With the help of the rest of what was left of his platoon, Billy managed to burn and destroy the tank. This was just another instance when Billy put his own life in jeopardy to help save his fellow comrades.

After the war, Billy returned home as a decorated soldier with a box full of medals. Billy tried to get adjusted to civilian life, but he could just not get these vivid war memories out of his head. In today’s world, PTSD would be used to describe Billy’s situation.

Slowly but surely, more alcohol began to take over Billy’s life. Even though Billy had married after he got home from the war, nothing, not even his wife, was more important to him than what came out of a bottle.

Soon Billy lost his job, and then his wife skipped out on him. For Billy, the only thing left was the bottle. Why, he even sold his medals for what a bottle would hold. He soon became homeless and the town drunk.

As the years went by, Billy somehow managed to walk the route in the local Veteran’s Day parade every year.

It was at his last parade that Billy found himself stumbling down the parade route in front of the crowd. Some of the young folks started jeering and making fun of Billy in his tattered uniform. Some of the old veterans stepped over and told the young folks to show some respect. They said if it wasn’t for Billy Bryant some of us would not be here today. So, be quiet when Billy walks by!

This special attention seemed to give Billy a little more snap in his steps. He reached in his pocket and pulled out his old flat garrison cap with the glider patch still on the left side. It sat a little sideways on his head, but Billy walked like the proud soldier he once was for the rest of the parade.

That would be the last time Billy ever wore his cap. On that very night, the Lord took all those bad war memories away from him. In a few days, one lone bugler would be blowing taps over his grave. 

This is just a story, but it could have been a real-life case of any veteran returning from the horror of war. Alcohol and strong drugs can temporarily take away the pain and bad memories but sometimes nothing helps.

I would like to dedicate this story to the men and women who have and are presently serving in our nation’s military. Also, to honor the memory of my dad, Pvt.  James Bolton, who served in the 82nd Airborne during World War II. You see, some never came back, while others still carry the physical and mental scars for the rest of their lives like Pvt. William (Billy) Bryant.

J.A. Bolton is author of “Just Passing Time,” co-author of “Just Passing Time Together,” and just released his new book called “Southern Fried: Down-Home Stories,” all of which can be purchased on Amazon. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..