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On this 4th of July, we pause to honor a Hometown Hero, Sgt. George Mills of Decatur. He arrived in Normandy more than 20 days after D-Day.
Mills said that none of his training could have prepared him for what he saw and experienced. WAAY 31 sat down with him this week to present him with a token of gratitude for his service.
At 98-years-old, George Mills' mind is sharp. He remembers his time in Normandy, France with clarity.
He joined the military in May of 1942, serving in 109th Infantry regiment of the 28th Infantry Division.
"I was the communications sergeant for E Company and that's the big radio that keeps in touch with the other companies and whatever you need with communications," he said.
Mills said in December of 1944, the situation took a terrifying turn for his company.
"The night of the 18th, right after dark, they turned a bazooka loose on the north end of the house. I went back to see what it was, and they turned another round in there and I got shrapnel on my eye and on my back," Mills said. "I thought I lost my eye because there was blood all in there and then they threw a flame thrower in there and set the house on fire."
Mills became a prisoner of war.
"We took inventory and we had six rounds of ammunition, and there is no way you can fight two divisions with six rounds of ammunition, so the company commander surrendered the company," he said.
He said each day he was only given a rutabaga and sugar beet for food. He was starving and weak, but held onto hope.
"You are never going to want to die. You are going to fight that all, if you got in you, a spark at all in you. You are weak, you've lost all that weight, but you've got to survive because you know there is going to be a good end to it. I had that much faith in Americans that they were going to get to me," Mills said.
After 5 months of captivity, there was a turn of events.
"They put us in a barn lot. There was about 900 of us when we started out and we were down to about 240 at that time. The next morning, we heard what we thought was a tank coming, and when we got to where we could see it, it was a half track and there was a command car with it and when it got to where it could turn, there was that big American flag on it. We knew we were in heaven then," Mills said.
Mills has received several awards for this bravery and was honored with the purple heart. He recently returned to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. He says it wasn't the Normandy he remembered, and that's a good thing.
"There is nothing but progress over there and it makes you feel good. It sure does," he said.
Of the 4,414 Allied troops that died on D-Day, 2,501 of those were Americans. Mills said many of his friends didn't make it home. Now, he spends his days volunteering and visiting area schools to share his experience.
We thank George Mills for his service. If you would like to nominate a Hometown Hero, click HERE. Each month, we feature a new hero, and present him or her with a gift as a token of our gratitude.