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Memories, wounds from World War II linger in Harford County 70 years after German surrender

What was life like for military, civilians during World War II?

More than 70 years have passed since Fallston resident Willard H. Blevins was seriously wounded while fighting near the Rhine River in Germany, but the World War II veteran still has pieces of shrapnel working their way out of his leg.

Blevins was wounded on March 15, 1945, and Nazi Germany surrendered about seven weeks later, bringing an end to the fighting in Europe that started nearly six years earlier in September of 1939 when Germany invaded Poland.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of when people in the Allied and liberated European nations celebrated on May 8, 1945, when Germany's surrender was announced. That day is known as V-E Day, or Victory in Europe Day.

Blevins, 91, is the owner of Vale Body & Fender Shop on Old Fallston Road, which he has been operating since 1962. He and his youngest son, David, who lives in Level, were in the shop Wednesday afternoon.

Willard Blevins talked about his experiences, while David worked nearby on the panel of a pickup truck. The father still works at the shop on a full-time basis.

"He works like he's 50, just keeps on rolling," David Blevins said.

Willard, who grew up on a farm in Jarrettsville, said he keeps working "just because I like to have something to do."

He pulled up his pants leg to reveal his left calf, which is covered with dark spots, bumps and raised squiggly lines – shrapnel from a German rocket that struck the house where he and his fellow soldiers were taking cover.

"A guy shot the bazooka right through the wall and got five of us with one shot," he said.

In the early years of the war, German troops overran nearly all of continental Europe, plus wide swaths of North Africa, with their Italian allies. The Allied nations of Great Britain, Canada, the U.S. and the Soviet Union – who had help from resistance fighters in German-occupied countries – fought relentlessly until Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy were defeated.

Bloody fighting took place at the same time against Japan, which occupied much of China and countries across the Pacific Ocean. The war against Japan ended with that nation's surrender in August of 1945.

Because the war in the Pacific was still raging, Germany's surrender did not register too highly for one Harford County veteran of the Navy.

Sterling "Socky" Solomon, 87, of Bel Air, joined the Navy when he was 17 years old in 1944. He was still in training as a signalman on V-E Day, and he was focused on being prepared for an Allied invasion of Japan.

"When the war [in Europe} ended, I was still in the Navy, and I don't recall it being anything special," he said.

Japan surrendered shortly after the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August of 1945.

"[President] Harry [Truman] dropped the bomb, and that's why I'm still here," Solomon said.

'War is war'

Blevins was recovering from his wounds in a hospital in England when he heard about Germany's surrender. He said people in England "went crazy."

"I was just happy about it, but I was with a lot of wounded guys," he said.

Blevins started his military service when he was drafted by the Army in 1943. He was an infantry squad leader with the 90th Infantry Division during his time in Europe. The division was known as the "Tough 'Ombres," and it was part of famed Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army.

Blevins was part of a "second wave" of Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy in France, a few days after the first wave of American, British and Canadian troops knocked out the German coastal fortifications on June 6, 1944, known as D-Day.

Blevins came ashore on the American Utah Beach, where he and his comrades took the fight to the Germans concealed in the hedgerows of the French countryside. He was wounded when enemy artillery fire tore up his back.

He also fought during the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Belgium in December of 1944, when Allied troops held off a last-ditch attack by the Germans and turned the tide of the fighting in the Allies favor for good.

Blevins was eventually shipped back to the U.S. after he was wounded the second time while fighting in Germany, and he continued his recovery at Ft. Story, Va. He left Virginia and returned to Harford County in October of 1945, and he began working for Mark Hopkins, owner of the Hopkins Motor Co. auto shop in Bel Air.

He worked for Hopkins for 15 years, operated his own shop in Bel Air for about one year, and he then opened his Fallston shop in 1962.

"War is war," he said. "It's hard to explain; if you weren't there, it's hard to explain a lot of things."

Bel Air resident James P. Monaghan, 91, fought in Europe as a paratrooper with the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

He and Solomon were interviewed Wednesday at American Legion Post 39 in Bel Air

Monaghan parachuted into Normandy as part of the D-Day invasion. He and his fellow paratroopers dropped behind the German lines to harass the enemy hours before Allied troops landed on the beaches.

Monaghan, who is a former Bel Air police chief, took part in the same battles that made Easy Company, of the division's 506th regiment, famous. The men of Easy Company were the subject of the 2001 HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," which was based on historian Stephen Ambrose's book about them.

Monaghan fought during the same battles as Easy Company, including Normandy, the disastrous parachute drop into occupied Holland known as Operation Market Garden and the German attack on the Belgian town of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

The Battle of the Bulge was a surprise attack by the Germans, and the American troops blunted the attack despite not having any cold-weather clothing or enough ammunition when it started.

"We moved so fast, we really didn't have time to get loaded up with ammunition," Monaghan recalled.

He was wounded and briefly held prisoner by the Germans in January of 1945. His fellow paratroopers rescued him. He was recovering from his wounds in England when Germany surrendered.

"War is a terrible thing, a terrible thing," he said.

After Monaghan returned from the war, he joined the Maryland State Police in 1946. The Town of Bel Air hired him as an interim police chief in 1977. He became the full-time chief in 1978 and held the post until he retired in 1985.

The homefront

Harford County Councilman Jim McMahan, a lifelong Bel Air resident, was 6 years old and visiting relatives in Baltimore when he heard about Germany's surrender.

"When the news came over the radio, I could not fathom thetrue depth of whatwas taking place," he recalled in an email Thursday, noting his young age at the time. "Irealized a great sense of relief on the part of the adults."

He remembers collecting materials for the war effort such as scrap metal and milkweed pods for stuffing life jackets.

On V-E Day, McMahan's said his mother quickly drove back to Bel Air when she head the news, and he remembers people in Baltimore celebrating "like an out-of-control group of fansafter a great sports win."

He and his mother visited church in Bel Air that evening.

"There was jubilation mixed with apprehension because we were still at war in the Pacific," he wrote.

Robert Sauvageot, 84, who lives near Fallston, was 14 years old in 1945. He grew up in Leonia, N.J., and he remembers the civilian defenses that were set up in his town to prepare for a German attack on the U.S. Atlantic coast.

He said anti-aircraft guns, spotlights and alarm systems were set up, and people held "blackout drills," when all lights in town were shut off so they could not be seen from the air.

Air-raid drills were conducted at Sauvageot's school, and he was among the students who put wooden panels over the windows to keep them from being shattered during a potential bombing raid.

"I was one of the guys that would put the boards up while everybody else was going out in the hall and sitting against the wall," he recalled while having breakfast Monday morning at the McDonald's in Rock Spring.

Sauvageot's father worked in New York City, and he and his brother and father watched a massive ticker-tape parade in Manhattan held to celebrate the end of the war and welcome the troops home.

"It was good to see everybody coming home," he said. I'll put it that way."

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