AT A GLANCE
• ON SUNDAY: Battle of the Bulge survivor Earl Watson will speak this Sunday at 6 p.m. as part of the official ceremonies at the One Nation Under God Memorial Day Weekend celebration at Woodward Park. The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest battle of World War II.
And he definitely didn’t know that the experience he had while in Europe in World War II would shape the future of his life.
Friday night, Watson – a Chicago native that now makes his home in Frenso – dined with Pastor Mike Dillman and a handful of selected war veterans that each took time to tell their respective stories to start off the weekend of Memorial Day festivities that Dillman has organized with a small army of volunteers.
As the lone surviving Negro soldier that took part in the fighting of the Battle of the Bulge, Watson now knows that his experiences were not only significant, but also cemented his place in history.
“Everyone in the neighborhood was going – all of the guys that I knew,” Watson said of why he enlisted. “I didn’t want to look bad.”
After his training, Watson would eventually make his way to Glasgow, Scotland, and prepare to arrive on the beaches on France in the same troop transports that were used the day that the United States launched their incursion into the country.
Taking heavy German fire, Watson watched men dropping all around him and had to resort to scrounging for ammunition as he moved forward to secure the roadways – a task he would be charged with for the duration of his stay in Europe.
He would almost get killed at the Battle of the Bulge – spending three days in a coma before making a recovery – and would narrowly escape death several more times during the engagement.
Almost 20,000 American soldiers were killed in the German offensive at the Battle of the Bulge, and as many as 80,000 were wounded or seriously injured.
Watson has still not yet received his purple heart.
When the vessel that he believed was carrying him to the Philippines to continue fighting made a turn towards New York City, the feeling of finally going home and stepping foot on U.S. soil once again something that still makes him choked up.
“Just seeing the Statue of Liberty – you don’t know what that’s like,” Watson said, choking back tears. “When you leave your country and finally come back – it’s something that still makes me emotional.”
Upon his release the armed services, Watson would eventually make his way to Los Angeles where he would take a job in the men’s room at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood.
A chance encounter with Ronald Reagan – who was at the hotel bar with John Wayne and learned of Watson’s recent return from the war – would end with his promotion to being a doorman, and he would meet dozens of famous people over the rest of his tenure at the hotel.