As Charles Austin Marker’s unit worked its way across Europe, they kept steadily on the move.
Marker was an armored-car driver, driving a six-wheeled vehicle with “a big Chrysler engine in it” and a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the top.
Each morning, Marker’s sergeant would give him, a corporal, that day’s destination.
They whitewashed the vehicles for camouflage in the snow, and tried to dodge the German artillery that had zeroed in on bridges and intersections to target vulnerable vehicles and convoys.
The pace was part of the aggressive approach of Gen. George Patton.
“Old Patton kept pushing,” Marker said. “He probably caused a lot of people to get killed. But he wanted to get the war over.”
Marker, 93, was drafted in March 1943, less than a year after graduating from Middletown High School.
He was bused from Frederick to Fort Meade, where he was asked whether he wanted to be in the Army or Navy.
“Dumb me, I took the Army,” he said.
He missed the D-Day invasion, shipping out for England in November 1944.
He finally got to France in January 1945, then to Holland and back to France before moving on toward Germany.
He saw his first taste of combat in Holland.
He remains philosophical about the experience, 72 years later.
“You just do what you have to do, that’s all. And hope and pray that nothing happens to you,” he said.
He couldn’t believe the destruction that had been done to the towns and villages as they drove across the European countryside.
After the war, he worked with the military government in Pilsen and Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, “escorting the big shots at the airport.”
It was a pretty easy life. They had German prisoners to do the cooking and cleaning, and Prague had been largely untouched by the war.
And Marker’s service had allowed him to accumulate enough points in the system the military used to allow him to avoid going to the Pacific to fight the Japanese once the war in Europe was finished.
He didn’t speak any German, but most of his experiences with them revealed them to be regular people, he said.
He and the other GIs used to give the candy from their rations to German children.
He went back to Germany years after the war, and was stunned by how towns that had been so decimated in the fighting had been rebuilt.
He came back to Frederick County and worked at a series of jobs, including opening a grocery in Middletown and working as an animal caretaker at Fort Detrick. He got laid off and went down to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda until he was able to retire in 1979.
After that, he drove a school bus for the county and did jobs as a painter.
“I enjoyed working,” he said.
He remembered the end of his time in the Army, riding in boxcars with his fellow soldiers to where they would ship out for home.
At one stop, they were told not to go into the nearby town. One man did, and ended up getting killed in a robbery.
Marker and the others couldn’t believe he’d been so stupid, taking such a chance so close to going home after all he’d been through.
He reflected on the fates of war that let some men die so young and others to lead long, productive lives.
“We were so lucky. We lost a lot of boys, but I was one of the lucky ones, I’ll tell you.”