Earl “The Pearl” Watson - a survivor from America’s bloodiest engagement at the Battle of the Bugle during World War II where 80,000 United States soldiers died - is the last man standing in his old segregated regiment that once numbered 1,800 strong.
Watson was in Manteca Monday to address those gathered to remember the fallen during the Memorial Day ceremonies at East Union Cemetery.
“This is one of the most patriotic cities I’ve seen,” the Fresno resident said. “I’m just in shock.”
Watson participated in the full four-day Memorial Day commemoration including the Not Forgotten pageant Saturday, the Woodward Park ceremonies Sunday, and gatherings on Friday.
Watson told of preparing for the invasion of France in England and how on that fateful day he was in such a state of shock with the amount of firepower unleashed by the Germans that it made “night turn into daytime” that he forgot to take all of his ammo with him as he left the boat to wade to the beach.
“I remember thinking how dumb I was to be running out of ammo,” Watson recalled
Watson ended up spending the early hours of D-Day running from a fallen soldier to another to grab up ammo so he could keep fighting.
After the Allied Forces secured most of France they advanced toward Germany to start the Battle of the Bulge.
“It was the coldest winter they said they had there,” Watson recalled.
Compounding the situation were supply lines that were spotty.
“We couldn’t get food or the proper warm clothing,” Watson said.
Watson remembered getting hit and ending up with blood all over his left side. He ended up in a comma in a military hospital waking up after three days. About nine days later he was ready to report back to duty.”
“I was a strong young man back then,” Watson said.
They wanted to reassign him to an artillery regiment but Watson thought it was only right to join up with the men he had trained and fought with. So he decided to crawl out the hospital window and hitch a ride back to his unit.
Shortly after he fled the hospital, it was blown up by enemy fire.
Watson recalls building a bridge over the Rhine River capable of handling rail track in just 11 days. Watson recalled having to work in three hour shifts because the stench from the river from dead bodies was overwhelming.
Watson said when they met up with the Russians in Germany they figured the war in Europe was near its end. He was hoping to return home to see his family but the orders came to head toward Manila – a 65-day trip by boat. En route off the shore of New York, the news came. The war was over.
“It was a thrill to see the Statute of Liberty,” Watson said.
He was discharged in California because he had a sister in Los Angeles.
Watson recalled it was tough looking for work as hundreds of thousands of soldiers were returning from the war and seeking to rejoin the civilian workforce.He had two brief periods on unemployment and promised himself he’d rather starve to death first before going taking another unemployment check.
That’s’ when he heard the Knickerbocker Hotel was hiring in Los Angeles. The job was for a men’s bathroom attendant.
“I figured I could do that,” Watson said. “I wasn’t proud. I wanted to work.”
The hotel management almost didn’t hire him because they felt he was overqualified. He got the job and ended up meeting stars such as Ronald Reagan who got him to share war stories.
Reagan, who was an actor at the time in post World War II Hollywood, went to the manager and told them they had a real war hero and whether they could give him a better job. That’s when the offer to be doorman came up.
“I became the best doorman in the world,” Watson said.
Watson ended up penning a book titled "Earl, the Hollywood Knickerbocker's Doorman to the Stars" that is available for $24.95 through Borders.
It highlights his experiences as a doorman from 1945 to 1962 at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood, where he befriended a lot of celebrities.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail email@example.com