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"On Dec. 5, 1940, a train left Milledgeville taking 81 citizen-soldiers from Baldwin County to World War II. Twenty-seven had left by truck earlier in the day." 

-- Words from a monument at GMC honoring those who served

They were members of the Battery D 214th Coast Artillery Anti-Aircraft Regiment.

William Harrington was one of them.

Harrington, who now lives in Papillion, Nebraska -- a suburb of Omaha, will turn 100 years old in February. He believes he is the only one of those 100-plus men who is alive today.  

William had five siblings: Glenn Jr., Emily H. Hutchins, Ralph A., Royce and John Floyd. They grew up in rural Baldwin County in the Hopewell Church Rd. area before moving to town. Their parents were Glenn T. and Mary W. Harrington. 

Ralph and Floyd joined William in the service. Although Glenn Jr. was not in uniform, he instructed Navy pilots as a civilian.

All except William are deceased. Royce died as an infant; Emily died in her 30s; Glenn Jr. was a cropduster who died in an airplane accident. Ralph and Floyd were prominent businessmen, farmers and politicians for many years in Milledgeville. 

How did William live to be amost 100?

"It's all in God's hands," he said on the eve of Veteran's Day on Monday. "He controls when we come; He controls when we go."

William wound up in the Air Force, and after the war he stayed in the service and took a position with the Strategic Air Command in Nebraska. He retired from the military at the age of 43, went to college, earned his degree, and worked in real estate for about 20 years before retiring again. 

He has come a long way from finishing high school at GMC in 1937. He didn't attend college at GMC because "there was no way a country lad could get in and pay tuition."

What her uncle William has become for Carol Harrington Brock is a conduit for information on her dad Ralph, who was in the Army and served in the European Theatre, surviving a German POW camp. He was later awarded a Purple Heart.

"The things I didn't ask my Daddy," Carol said, "my uncle William has been a link back to my Dad's experience. He's been able to fill in the blanks to my family's history."

Carol said her father Ralph didn't talk much about his time as a POW, but he did later make a video in 2000 that gave more details. 

"He was from a generation that just didn't talk about war, medals, awards or things like that," she said.

Ralph was held for 109 days at a German prison camp after being captured near the Ardennes Forest in Germany.

"He was attached to a heavy artillery company," Carol said. "They were trying to retake St. Vith (Belgium). They woke up one morning and saw German tanks at the crest of the hill, as far as you could see, headed straight toward them. Their captain told the men to surrender. The gunners removed their firing pins so the Germans couldn't use it. They marched two days in the snow, then were put on a boxcar and taken to Stalag 9B."

Food was scarce and the Germans intercepted any packages sent from home. 

"His sister, Emily, sent him a fruit cake," Carol said. "He tried to hide it until Christmas, but the German soldiers found it and took it.

"That's why when he returned home, and I'd take him some peanut brittle or something like that, he'd always say, 'Let's taste it now.' "

William, who was at home when Ralph returned, remembered in his autobiography that "Ralph had been treated badly in prison camp. Although he never talked about his treatment, he looked like a man who needed good food and rest.

"He was accommodated by mom and began to show improvement right away."

Carol counts herself fortunate to have had a daddy, after going through what he did, who came home and was able to resume a normal, happy life. 

And she also feels fortunate that her uncle William wrote his autobiography 20 years ago when he was diagnosed with a bad heart and given only a short time to live. But he outlived his diagnosis.

William is still going strong, living in a nursing home. He's planning a "little party" on his 100th birthday -- Feb. 2, 2020.  "Groundhog Day," he says, laughing. He hopes his three childen - two sons and a daughter - will be there.

"I've had a good life," William says.

He, as well as the other Harrington family members who were in the military, were blessed by the prayer from R. B. Moore, then the editor of the Union Recorder and the father of Battery D commander Jere Moore, when they were leaving for the war.

"May a kind and loving Providence guide them and keep them, and aid them in developing a stalwart manhood."

--Reach Rick Millians at rdmillians@aol.com

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