Freedom Fighters: Tom Shafer - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Freedom Fighters: Tom Shafer

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By Joan Hallmark - bio | email

JACKSONVILLE, TX (KLTV) - "They couldn't get to the shore so they just let the tail gate down and dumped us out in the water up to our necks," said WWII veteran Tom Shafer.

It was early January of 1944 as the American soldiers landed off the beach at La Havre, France, each soldier carrying close to 100 pounds of gear.

"I mean, it was freezing," he said. "Some people drowned because they couldn't maneuver."

For those who did survive the landing, it was a two hour march in wet clothes and freezing temperatures, but even the cold didn't compare to Shafer's first assignment on the battlefield.

"I guess with that first assignment, piling up dead bodies, you found out what war was really like," he said. "When I got to that area where they had that battle and I found all those dead bodies and I said this thing is real. I could get hurt."

It wasn't long before Shafer's realization would come true

"I was hurt pretty bad the eighth," he said.

On March eighth near the German border, Shafer was thrown against a pile of rocks when a German bomb hit a bridge he had just crossed, but a broken shoulder bone and shrapnel wounds didn't stop Shafer from returning to the bridge time and time again to save wounded civilians caught in the battle.

"I helped evacuate those wounded and dead people off that bridge and that's where I received the Silver Star."

Not only did Shafer save lives by evacuation, he shot down a German plane with his browning automatic. If shafer thought he'd get some rest from fighting, he was wrong. The next day, March 9th would bring him even closer to death.

"There were a lot of German soldiers inside that barn," he said. 

The battle that morning was so fierce, both sides ran out of ammunition.

"A German soldier came down out of the loft above me with a bayonet," he said.

Shafer had nothing left to defend himself with.

"Just as he started to lunge for me, a guy came around the corner and hollered halt and he turned and when he did our soldier stabbed him."

By that afternoon, Shafer and his unit were re-armed and sent again into battle against SS troops.

"I was wounded, shot through the head," said Shafer. "They wrapped me up in that body wrap for dead."

Fortunately a passing soldier heard a soft moan coming from the body wrap and carried Shafer to an aid station. Ironically a captured German medic treated Shafer's wounds and in all probability saved his life.

"It was bad enough it paralyzed me on my left side for some time."

It has been 65 years since Shafer was last in battle, but he stands ever ready to defend his country.

"I'd go back again," he said. "I would have gone back any time."

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