‘I don't tell stories, I have pictures.’
Don Pullan. US Army Air Corps. Corporal.
I grew up in Salt Lake City and before going into the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, I processed through Fort Douglas and went to chemical warfare school in Colorado. From there we were sent back east and headed over to Scotland aboard the Queen Mary.
We ended up at a little place called Flixton, England, where we first got our introduction to those little butterfly bombs. The Germans would throw them out by the hundreds and they would get hung up on limbs and windowsills. If you wiggled them bombs a bit, they’d explode. They killed a lot of civilians.
D-Day was June 6, 1944. My unit, the 391st Engineers, went over June 10. We hit Utah Beach, went up the beachhead and hiked 10 miles before building camp. When we hit the fields, why, it was like a big pastureland. The hedgerows were another mile or so inland.
Something stunk like crazy, smelled really bad. We had never smelled a human body rotting. It was decided that something had to be done to get that body out of there, so I crawled in and tied a rope around him. As we pulled him out, his arms came off; we tried again. It was a German soldier.
When we first went in we were told the hedgerows were only four feet high. Not so. They were really eight to 10 feet, and nothing could get through them, men or vehicles. It wasn’t long before some buck sergeant figured out how to wrap up a piece of angle iron with telephone wire to the front of a tank before we were plowing right on through that mess.
We stayed there for about 10 days, then we were on the move. We followed the infantry right on through to Paris. After Paris, I could probably name about 15 or 20 towns that we stopped at and cleaned out some airplane wrecks.
Our job was basically whatever everybody else didn’t want to do. Being in the engineers, if there was an airplane wreck, we had to take care of it. We got into some nasty situations. I saw some things that you wish you’d never seen, but somebody had to do it.
Later in the war, we went into the Buchenwald concentration camp. We couldn’t imagine anything like that. The ovens were all straight in a row … I think there were six ovens. When they’d either hang a person or shoot him, they’d just throw him on the table and burn him. The pile of bones was humongous. That was horrendous. I didn’t even take a picture of it, that’s how bad it was. I just couldn’t believe people could be like that.
The worst was Dachau. It was awful. When we got into the camp, the people flocked to the fence. They were skin and bones and in rags. The guards had hung four people and they were still hanging when we got in there. They had to have been up for at least two to three days. We counted 200 dead lying out on the ground.
At our last camp at the end of the war, the German people were glad to see us. They were most friendly. People from the village would come by the camp and go through the garbage cans, picking out what was good and take it home and eat it because they were pretty hungry. We didn’t know there was a concentration camp just beyond the town until after we got home.
I took a lot of photos during the war. I had my dad’s camera with me and it saw a lot of use. I could buy film all over Europe and would have buddies courier film back and forth for processing. At my last camp in Kassel, Germany, my buddy Del and I were walking down a hillside and saw an old farmer handling an ox cart. I wanted a picture of that. After I took a picture and put my camera back in the case, we walked down the track a bit and I hit a land mine. It blew me one way and the camera another, ripping the strap from the case. They picked me up, placed me in that old farmer’s ox cart and carried me away.
Later, the old farmer found my camera case and gave it to the Red Cross. Since my initials and serial number where written in the flap, the camera found its way back to me. I’ve still got it, minus the strap of course. It’s close to 100 years old.
The war ended, and on Oct. 3, 1945, the day I turned 22, I walked up a gangplank onto a ship and got to go home. That’s the best birthday present I have had.
I got home to Utah and I asked about a girl I had once dated. Her name was Ruth Olsen. She worked at the Center Theater, so I called up there. She said she got off at 10 o’clock. At 10, I was standing right out there and I saw this beautiful redhead come out. I was gone. We got married five days later.
WWII Talks: I was There is a series of first-hand stories of WWII veterans written for VALOR Magazine. These personal accounts are from interviews with some of Utah’s “Greatest Generation.” This account was complied by David Cordero.
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