Joe King, a 95-year-old WWII Army veteran, was born in the mountains of North Georgia but moved to Thomaston when he was 13 years old. Living through the Great Depression in a home that was far from ideal, he describes his early years as more than “tough going.”
“I was raised by an alcoholic father and was never allowed to attend school. I went to work at 16 years-old to help my mother with the household expenses,” he said. “I had just turned 18 when I volunteered to go into the service to get away from home and to help my country, which was at war.”
King went to basic training in Massachusetts and was then sent to school at Ft. Stewart in Hinesville, Georgia, for radar, searchlight, and anti-aircraft training for one year. He was sent to the European theatre attached to the 231st Searchlight Battalion and served in Italy, France, Germany, and Belgium. When he was in-country, he no longer operated a searchlight but drove a transport truck supplying oil and gas to the front lines and brought out the injured and dead soldiers on the return journey to base camp.
While at the front, King was duty-bound to join in the battles that waged around him.
“I’ve got several battles scars from fighting at the front,” he said proudly. “I spent two to three weeks at a time at the front. I always had my rifle with me wherever I went. I had two rifles in my truck so that I could grab one with either hand if I needed to.”
King does not sugarcoat his memories of battle. A fellow soldier that ran the same transport route as he did to the front received gunfire on one fateful journey that engulfed his truck in fatal flames. He described the driver’s body as completely unrecognizable.
On a lighter note, he does relate a humorous story of when he was trying to dry his clothes with a fire powered by some of the gasoline in his possession. He had lit the fire and did not see the several gas cans waiting nearby to be loaded onto trucks. As the supercharged flames got larger, they ignited the full cans of petrol.
“My friend heard the explosion and turned around to see me in the air at first, and then when I hit the ground, I ran as fast as I could,” he said with a chuckle. “I got in trouble for that, and I was very lucky not to have been hurt or hurt anyone else.”
After the war, King worked in a textile mill for over 40 years. He married his late wife Vivian, and they had two children, Sheila and Danny.
“I have my scars, but overall I came out of the war pretty alright, I guess. I got shot at in my truck, but it never tore my truck up much,” he said. “I didn’t get a Purple Heart, but I got to live through it.”