The injury is etched in his memory - and evident even today - but, as he says, "I didn't complain, because I lived."

John W. Lawrence was wounded by machine gun fire, lying in agony for days and waiting for help near the base of the Italian Alps, his left foot and lower leg torn to shreds.

In the midst of battle, the American infantry was being mowed down by German fire, and medics were being targeted, recalled Lawrence, whom everyone knows as Jack. No one was able to get to the wounded as they languished on the hillside.

Lawrence had been going after an enemy machine gunner, he said, crawling up the hill when he was shot in both legs. As he lay there, he thought about one thing: "Living."

I prayed a lot," he said in his Pershing Avenue home in Lebanon, where he lives with his wife, Claudia. "My aunt had given me a Bible and marked the 91st Psalm, and I read it and read it and read it, and I think it helped. I don't need a priest or minister; I know who my God is, and I know who brought me home. I had a lot of narrow escapes."

One medic was able to give Lawrence an injection of morphine before moving on to another wounded man. Another soldier handed Lawrence, a staff sergeant, a .45-caliber pistol, in case he needed to use it on the enemy - or himself.

"They were shooting our medics," explained Lawrence, 91. "I knew it was bad when they cut my shoes off. I laid there with two other guys; one was shot in the mouth, and other poor guy was shot in the stomach. I think they both survived."

There were 17,000 casualties in his division, Lawrence said, adding "and they kept sending in replacements."


Lawrence received training at Ft. Meade, Md., and Camp Gruber, Okla., before he was sent overseas in 1943.

"Oh, the thrill of traveling in a 40 and 8 boxcar," he said with a smile, referring to the train cars that could hold 40 men or eight horses. "It was crowded. But the only things I hated were the snakes in Louisiana and the scorpions in Africa, but I never complained."

Days after the battle in Italy ended, relief came, in the most basic of ways.

"They carried us down (the hillside) in their arms," Lawrence said. "Some young kid from my company carried me down, but I never knew his name."

The former Shamokin man was taken to an old castle that had been converted into a hospital. By that time, Lawrence had gangrene in both his feet, his injuries not attended to for several days - a life-threatening condition.

His left foot was amputated in Italy, and he was kept in the hospital there for six months. At the time, the treatment was to use heavy buckshot as a weight, to stretch the skin in an attempt to grow skin over the open wound.

The treatment didn't work too well, as Lawrence needed further surgery and more extensive amputation due to the gangrene after arriving back in the States. For the surgery, he was taken to one of the hotels in Atlantic City that had been converted to a hospital. He had to stay there for a year.

"There were 16,000 of us who had amputations," Lawrence said.

The saddest cases, he added, were what they called "the basket cases," soldiers who had both arms and legs amputated.

By any other name

While in the Army, Lawrence met another soldier with the same name. That John W. Lawrence was in the 349th Infantry; the Lawrence from Shamokin was in the 351st. The other soldier was killed in action, but it was Lawrence's own parents who received a telegram informing them of their son's death.

"My mother fainted," Lawrence recalled. "But my dad kept looking at the telegram and saw the serial number was different. He called the War Department and found it wasn't me."

Lawrence received three purple hearts and the Bronze Star for his service during World War II.

His career in military service began early, when he took his older brother's birth certificate to a recruiter.

"I told him my father was a banker and didn't need me for support," Lawrence said. "The next week I was taken in."

This was in the 1930s, under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, when young Lawrence became a member of the Citizen Military Training Corps, a program to give young men military training during summers.

"They trained us to be part of the service, if we wanted to go in," he said. "I was in the cavalry. I had a beautiful horse named Bill; I loved that sucker."

The next year, when he was 16, Lawrence traveled to Ft. Bragg to see Bill and was told the cavalry had been disbanded. Instead, he was supposed to learn to operate a tank.

"I told them 'no thanks,' I didn't want to be buried in a steel coffin, so they transferred me to the infantry," he said. "The thing that makes me happiest now is that I was a combat infantryman, and I can wear the combat infantry badge."


Today, Lawrence has a room in his home full of memorabilia from World War II, including a cloth Eagle and swastika taken from the shirt of a downed German paratrooper.

"He didn't need it," he said. "He was dead."

Lawrence still has the heavy helmet he wore during his three campaigns: he was in the North African campaign for the first invasion, saw action in Sicily for the second invasion and then Italy.

"When I got into Naples, I saw this poor dog shivering, so I picked him up and carried him with me, had him for six months," he recalled. "In a foxhole, he'd growl if anything (artillery fire) was coming in, so we'd know. I told the kitchen to take care of him until I got back, but then I didn't get back (when he was wounded)."

The easygoing Pennsylvania boy was trained to be a warrior. He was proud to serve his country and said he'd do it again, if need be. But, like so many veterans of action, Lawrence suffered from post traumatic stress.

"I bayoneted a poor guy, and I dream about him sometimes yet," he said.

He carries with him the memories of a fierce and unforgiving war.

"I had a friend named Joe, and one day, I told Joe, 'You're going to have to help carry mortars up here,' and he said 'OK,' and a few seconds later, he was hit, and it blew him to pieces," Lawrence said. "All we ever found was his dog tags and pieces of skin on the trees.

"We never took a prisoner; we punished them," he added. "We shot everything we could."

Wartime memories

Wartime experiences such as Lawrence's don't just go away, he will tell you.

"I did my duty to my country and I'm glad I did," he explained. "But they teach you to kill and when you kill, (sometimes) you can't deal with it.

"In Italy, I put my squad in a house, in the cellar, and told them to put their packs on, and the next morning, we left the house and there was a tiny grave out back with a rag doll on it," Lawrence recalled. "I don't know how old she was, but I can imagine what her parents went through. I pray for her every day."

The war ended, but the memories didn't, he said.

"When you got home and the war was over and you went downtown and walked and (a local dentist) who had lost two sons in the war, would stand on the front porch and salute and cry, and after a while, you couldn't stand it, so you stopped going downtown," he said.

Lawrence worked in the VA Medical System as a psychiatric aide for 30 years. He was transferred to Lebanon in the 1960s.

He and Claudia have been married for 29 years. Jack had five children and has two stepchildren, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"He didn't just sit around and moon," said Claudia. "He worked."

Lawrence said he is proud that he is able to say he was a part of the Greatest Generation.

"I never complained," Lawrence said. "Because I lived."