The Greatest Generation Part III: Ben Celaya's Story - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

The Greatest Generation Part III: Ben Celaya's Story

Ben Celaya Ben Celaya
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May 26, 2004

Cairo - World War II veteran Ben Celaya was just 15-years-old when he used his brother's identification to join the Army. At 17, Celaya was sent to North Africa, but wasn't there long before military police found out about his age and ordered him to come home.

By the time he got back, he had turned 18, so he asked to return to the 3rd Infantry Division. "We were young, Gung ho. We weren't about to give up," said Celaya.

Celaya's second trip to Europe during World War II landed him in the middle of D-Day. "I made one combat jump, that's all." Celaya parachuted into Normandy. "It was a mess of hellfire all over." In the middle of this hell, Celaya rejoined the 3rd Infantry Division.

"We hit them with a bang," said Celaya. Allied troops took the beaches of Normandy. Then, Celaya went to France which was a hotbed of fighting.

"I'm not going to tell you I was brave, but I was never scared." That's thanks, in part, to a new German friend. "We acquired this German Shepherd dog. He could tell if there was movement out in front of us. He would started growling. Then, we would send up the flares, and they would burst in the air and light up. We would get the machine guns and fire." His four-legged ally saved a lot of lives.

The enemy, the German Military, was clearly losing the war by December 1944. The Battle of the Bulge what's Hitler last offensive. Celaya was in the center of the fighting.

"They had us almost surrounded completely. Because of the weather, our fighter planes could not come give us support, likewise with our artillery." Then, came a divine plea from General George S. Patton. "He really did stand up and said a prayer to clear the area so we could get going. Sure enough, the weather cleared off and our pilots came in shooting and lending bombs."

In the fighting in France, Celaya was almost killed. "I was hit on my back and on my buttocks. It probably would have killed me, but my radio operator was right beside me. He heard it before I did, he hit me and knocked me down."

Celaya spent 6 weeks in the hospital. The heroic radio operator died that day. "I'll talk a lit bit something time, and I gag up and can't say anything."

Like many veterans, Celaya's memories of the war can overwhelm him. So, some stories will never be told. "I'll never forget."

Celaya stayed in the Army and fought in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After retiring from the military in 1968, he moved to Cairo where he was the golf pro and general manager of the Cairo Country Club. He still lives on the golf course in Cairo.

posted at 11:50AM by kathryn.murchison@walb.com