James Strong, 91, Presented With Quilt Friday
BY KEN LITTLE
James L. Strong began driving at age 12 and still does so at 91.
Strong's skills behind the wheel proved invaluable during World War II, when he served in the U.S. Army as an ambulance driver in France, Germany and other European countries.
Strong was under enemy fire many times while picking up wounded soldiers on the front lines and transporting them to first aid stations in his trusty Jeep, which was rigged to carry two men on stretchers.
He was recognized Friday for his service at his Kingsport Highway home with a Quilt of Valor presented by members of the Greene County Quilters group.
A 'HUG' IN EVERY STITCH
Strong smiled broadly as he was presented with a multicolor quilt by Cleatis Hofer, of the Mosheim-based quilters group.
"A hug has been sewn into every stitch of this quilt," Hofer told Strong, a Greene County native who grew up on nearby Robertson Road.
Strong comes from a large family of 11 brothers and sisters. He and twin brothers Don and Ron Strong, the surviving siblings, were both on hand with their families for the presentation.
Don Strong nominated his brother for the Quilt of Valor.
It's well deserved, Don Strong said.
"He's real proud of his time in the service," he said.
James Strong was drafted in 1943. After training in the Medical Corps, he was attached to an ambulance company belonging to the 50th Medical Battalion.
Strong vividly recalls spending 14 days on a small troop ship crossing the Atlantic Ocean to England.
"I was sick the whole way," he said.
SERVICE IN EUROPE
Strong landed in Normandy, France on "D-Day Plus Two" -- June 8, 1944.
He saw service in six European countries as the Allies gradually pushed back Axis forces. Strong was in the thick of the action.
"I picked up wounded and took them to an aid station, and they were taken to a hospital," he said.
Strong served alongside many celebrated units throughout the course of the war, including the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions.
He was there as Allied armies broke out of Normandy and drove retreating German armies across France. He participated in the ill-fated "Operation Market Garden" offensive in September 1944.
"When the 101st dropped in Holland, we were there with them," Strong said.
Strong was in an ambulance company attached to the 82nd Airborne Division during the "Battle of the Bulge" in December 1944.
Strong had some close calls while driving the Jeep ambulance.
"I had a lot of them," he said. "I was right up in the front with the infantry."
He said fate was smiling on him one day while driving through a field at top speed.
All of a sudden, "I was going airborne," he said.
"I thought I hit a ditch, and the back of the Jeep came clear off the ground," Strong said.
But the Jeep kept going. It wasn't until Strong reached his destination that he found out he had run over a land mine or an unexploded bomb that detonated.
"It was a good thing it was running as fast as it was," he said. "I'm one of the lucky ones who got out of it without any wounds or anything. The Good Lord was watching after me."
Strong remained in the 493rd Medical Collection Company throughout the war. After hostilities ended, he was assigned a new job.
Some U.S. military hospitals were in the occupation zone taken over by the Russians. Strong hauled coal to the hospitals in a truck, which was unloaded by German prisoners-of-war.
BACK TO THE FARM
He ended the war near Berlin in May 1945 and remained in Europe until the end of the year.
"With the point system we had, I had too many points to go to Japan but not enough to send me home right away," he said.
Strong was discharged in December 1945 after 27 months in the Army. His father, Herman Strong, had sold the family's Greene County property and bought a farm in Indiana, where Strong went to help after the war.
He eventually returned to Greene County.
Strong has lived in a house on the Kingsport Highway for many years. His wife, Lolita, passed away in 2008.
Strong continues his service to the community in other ways. He is a founding member of the Newmansville Volunteer Fire Department and still remains active.
"I don't drive a truck any more, but I still help out," he said.
The Strong family has a proud legacy of military service.
In addition to James, another brother, Howard, and a sister, Millie, served in World War II. Another brother, Bert, was a Korean War veteran, and Ron Strong is a Vietnam War veteran.
Millie Strong, an Army nurse in World War II, met her husband Robert L. Strayer while in the armed forces.
Col. Strayer, who served in the 101st Airborne Division, is known to many as the commander of a battalion that included Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, popularized by the book, Band of Brothers, by historian Stephen Ambrose and the highly-regarded television miniseries of the same name.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation was founded about 10 years ago by a Delaware mother whose son was serving in Iraq.
Her goal was to see that returning veterans "were welcomed home with the love and gratitude they deserved," according to the website of the non-profit Quilts of Valor Foundation, http://www.qovf.org/.
Many of the quilts go to hospitalized soldiers recovering from their wounds. Quilts also are presented to active and past members of the armed services who served in times of war.
A particular emphasis among groups such as the Mosheim-based Greene County Quilters is honoring rapidly-dwindling veterans of World War II and the Korean conflict.
Gail Burnett helps coordinate the effort for the Greene County Quilters, assisted by other volunteer members who sew the quilts and make presentations to veterans.
Members of the Greene County Quilters include Hofer, Donna Barnard, Shelley Eastman, Peg Lassen, Patty Burnham, Virginia "Pinky" Byrd, Donna Alcorn, Ann Burnett, Vicky Chiprean and Margaret VanPelt.
James Strong expressed gratitude for his Quilt of Valor. His brothers said he is a truly deserving recipient.
"He went through a lot," Ron Strong said.