SHAMOKIN DAM — No one appreciates the sacrifices made by those who stormed Normandy Beach 70 years ago today more than Lee Hummel, 89, whose own combat experience in France was brief, but terrifying and death-defying.
“I didn’t experience the full horror of war as those young men did in the first wave,” he said Thursday afternoon from his home in Monroe Township.
But Hummel had his share of close calls.
“A few months after the landing, while on the front lines, a German sniper took a shot at me after my unit had taken over a house in rural France. The bullet just missed me. I heard the ping. It was a miracle because German snipers never miss. I started shaking. I went back inside the house, crawled into a corner and was just shaking. It could easily have died that night.”
He served for a while as a messenger on the front lines, delivering ammunition to machine gunners.
“One day they called me in to do some office work, because I was good at such things,” he said. “And the man who replaced me that one day was killed. I was saddened about him dying, but just shaken to the core because I knew it could have been me.”
Hummel never questioned his call to duty, even though he was still a teenager when he was called up.
In the late 1940s it was considered highly patriotic to join the military.
Three men from Snyder County were drafted at the same time as Hummel.
“Once you were drafted, you didn’t want to get a 4F deferment,” he said with a smile. “The girls wouldn’t look at you if you were 4F. I didn’t want to be a 4F.”
Things happened quickly when he turned 18.
“My birthday was in March 1943,” he said, “and in April, I got my ‘greetings’ from the draft. My mother took me up to Middleburg and I got a deferment, but only until early June, so that I could graduate from Northumberland High School. Right after I graduated, I got a draft notice again.”