News That Matters To Antelope County - Your News. Your Way. Every Day!
© Pitzer Digital, LLC
Lloyd Porter never claimed to be a hero. That’s because, he said, the heroes of World War II are still there.
Lloyd, who served in six major battles during World War II and received several medals for bravery, died in 2010 in Kearney at the age of 86. He helped liberate the largest concentration camp in Germany, along with several prisoner of war camps.
He may not have called himself a hero, but his son, Jerome, disagreed. In fact, Jerome thought so much of his father that he followed in his footsteps and enlisted in the military while most waited to be drafted.
“He’s my hero,” Jerome said. “When I got out of the high school, I went right into the service like he did. I enlisted right into the Air Force and served in Vietnam.”
A 1942 graduate of Orchard High School, Lloyd’s story is kicking off a new series in our newspaper, highlighting Antelope County alumni, both living and deceased.
From Orchard To Europe
Lloyd was born in Page to Charles Edwin and Minnie (Brookhouser) Porter. He attended District 68 and later graduated from Orchard. He married Bernice S. Cleveland in 1944 during furlough before heading off to Europe.
Jerome said his father grew to be a World War II history buff but didn’t talk much about his service unless he was asked.
“He talked about crossing the Rhine River and the concentration camps,” said Jerome, who was Lloyd and Bernice’s only child.
Lloyd was interviewed in 2006 about his military service. The interview is available through the Library of Congress.
Lloyd said his life changed when he was drafted into the Army at the age of 18. He trained in Alabama then assigned to the 89th Infantry Rifle Division and sent to Europe.
“My infantry division shipped out of Boston, Mass. Our next stop was Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. The 89th was assigned to Third Army under Gen. George S. Patton, Old Blood and Guts, they called him,” Lloyd said.
He and his fellow soldiers battled through France - Lexingburg, Belgium, Battle of the Bulge. They crossed the Rhine River to invade Germany at 2:30 a.m. at St. Goar on March 26, 1945. With 25 riflemen paddling, they pushed out toward Germany alongside 8,000 other infantrymen who were all within the distance of 20 miles along the river.
“The German machine guns opened up, 20 mm and mortars.We drifted down the river. Our paddles were shot to pieces, and the soldier ahead of me was hit square in the head. Others were wounded and screaming,” Lloyd said.
The boat tipped over in the river, forcing those still alive “to swim to the shore, which was full of dead soldiers. Most of the boats didn’t make it across.”
Lloyd said millions of shells were shot over the river that morning. Of the 25 soldiers in his boat, 18 were either killed or drowned.
Life of A Rifleman
Jerome said his father served as “the point man and was very good with the rifle.” While Lloyd was humble about his abilities, his medals tell the story for him. He has many - but no purple heart.
He was never shot, but he did come close many times. Jerome still has a bullet as proof.
“There was this one time a German officer shot at him, but it went through the canteen. It didn’t hit him - just the canteen,” Jerome said. “After taking care of the guy, he dug the bullet out of the tree behind. I still have the bullet.”
Lloyd said he trained as a sniper and served as a rifleman first scout. His M1 rifle - his buddy, as he called it - went everywhere he did, even the latrine.
It was a lonely life, he said, up front watching for Germans. Scouts behind him were often killed, but he always managed to get by.
It was also a rough life. On the good days, they slept in barns next to animals as lice crawled all over their bodies. They would go weeks without bathing and eventually have to be fumigated to kill the lice crawling on them.
The bad days meant they would sleep in holes with candles lit to keep warm. Lloyd said the water in the holes would freeze overnight.
“You had to keep moving. You were infantry. I don’t think I rode in a motor vehicle any further than a mile or two. I walked all of the time and crawled on my belly,” he said.
Some of the experiences in Europe carried over to Lloyd’s home life, including his dislike of cheese.
“When he was over there, they were starving and came into this house and there were eggs and cheese,” Jerome said. “He got deathly sick and thought he was going to die. He never touched cheese again - not even a cheeseburger. Anything with cheese was out of the realm.”
Communication was difficult during World War II. Lloyd spent most of his time reading maps, not letters. But when the mail arrived, there was always plenty for him.
“My wife wrote to me practically every day. When I got overseas, she continued to write every day, but I’d only get mail in bunches. There were weeks I wouldn’t get any mail,” he said.
Christmas 1944 was especially difficult for him. While history books talk about the Christmas truce and how German and American soldiers found peace together temporarily, Lloyd remembered the Battle of the Bulge and what life was like for him.
“Eisenhauer said we’ll be home by Christmas, but that didn’t turn out that way because the Germans made the break through with the biggest tanks I’d ever seen in my life. The tanks weighed 60 tons,” he said. “We lost a lot of people in just that one battle.”
On May 8, 1945, the Third Army reached Zwickau, Germany, on the Elbe River where 100,000 German Nazis surrendered.
Eventually the war ended. Lloyd remembered the day the war ended. Everyone cheered and celebrated.
But it was another 9 months before Lloyd was sent back home to Orchard. “If you were an infantryman, you were there to kill Germans,” he said.
And if you were an infantryman, “there was still work to do.” With is rifle in hand, Lloyd continued to hunt Nazis. But now, it was so they could stand trial.
The 89th Infantry liberated the largest concentration camp in Germany. Lloyd could smell it miles away. The death, the poison lingered. Lloyd spoke of “tubs of gold” outside the camp, where gold fillings were removed from the teeth of victims and melted down.
He said the liberated several other concentration camps, as well as American prisoner of war camps.
Back To Nebraska
After two years in Europe, Lloyd was discharged from the Army. He returned to his home north of Orchard in June 1946.
“I was sure happy to be home, but yet I missed every one of them. The heroes are still over there,” he said.
Jerome said the transition was difficult for his father, like most veterans. There were various games the family didn’t play, including popping balloons. The sudden sounds bothered Lloyd.
Jerome said his father had nightmares at times. Again, an understandable effect of the war.
But Lloyd never complained — about anything — according to his son. Even when he was sick toward the end of his life, he laughed.
Lloyd and his family left Orchard in 1956 when he landed a job with the Nebraska Department of Roads at a weigh station. Later he transferred to the state’s vehicle department and eventually oversaw much the state’s driver license examination area.
He retired to Arkansas in 1987 but returned to Nebraska in 2003 due to health problems. Six years after his death, Bernice still lives in Kearney in the same retirement community she shared with her husband.
And Jerome, along with his wife Janet and their children, still treasure Lloyd’s memory. Jerome looks at his father’s medals every week as he visits his mother.
“He’s my hero and he’s my children’s hero. He was quite a guy,” Jerome said.