World War II veteran shares service stories

Published 9:31 am Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks For more photos visit

Veterans Day is a special day set aside to thank veterans for their service to their country.
Recently, 95-year-old Carl Blackburn was the guest of honor at a special Veterans Day ceremony at Ivy Hall Nursing Home, where the Honor Flight of East Tennessee recognized him for his service in the Army. Blackburn earned the rank of sergeant and is a well-decorated soldier, receiving 28 medals from his time in combat, including a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, an American Defense Service Medal, a Good Conduct Ribbon and a Combat Infantry Badge.
Blackburn was born in Butler on Christmas Eve 1918, the fifth of 12 children. He dropped out of high school when he was 16 years old to help his father farm and to work odd jobs to help support his family.
When he was 21, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he worked on a ranch in Nevada for $50 a month. Just six months after joining the CCC, Blackburn was drafted to serve in World War II.
During his four-year deployment, Blackburn was stationed in Iceland, England, France, Scotland, Belgium, Holland and Germany. He was trained to be a machine gunner in the combat infantry.
Blackburn explained his job during the war was largely to fight back the enemy troops when they burst through the front lines.
“Every time someone broke through, we were called in and put where they broke through to push them back or wipe them out,” Blackburn said. “Only a few of us could do that. I was one of them. When things were getting too rough, they would call for us. They would put us in, we would clean it out and then move back out again.”
Because Blackburn was often in the heaviest fighting, there were many times when he experienced close calls, and he was wounded in battle three times.
“We would follow the artillery so close we would get hit by shrapnel from our own artillery,” he said.
Blackburn was taken off the front lines after an enemy bomb exploded near him, wounding him and killing four of his fellow soldiers.
“That one knocked me out,” he said. “I was in the hospital for two months. When they let me out, I asked them to send me back to the front, but the Army said they could not and would not let me go back there.”
Blackburn said that after more than 70 years, his memories of his time in World War II are “all muddled up,” the good memories and the bad.
Among the good are the friends he made, some of whom he stayed in contact with even after leaving the military. Among the bad are memories of the things he saw in battle.
“How would you feel to know that you have to shoot all of the men that were coming toward you because that is why you were put there?” he said. “It was a mess.”
Blackburn came home on Aug. 15, 1945, to his home in Johnson County on the shores of Watauga Lake. He came back home with major hearing loss and damage to his hip from the constant recoil of the machine gun he used in the war.
In the early 2000s, Blackburn received his high school diploma. Now, he said he’s hoping to recover from his hip injury enough to return to his home on the lake.

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