By Mary Kay Gominger
December 16 marks the 64th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest of the battles that the U.S. forces experienced in World War II. Over 75,000 Americans were killed in the failed Nazi counter offensive, the last major offensive against the Allies in WWII.
Resident James Vancil, then an Army infantryman, now a retired command sergeant major, was in the 6th Infantry Regiment during World War II and as such was involved in the Invasion of Sicily, the Invasion of Southern France and he survived the Battle of the Bulge.
James, now 93, said it was all in a day's work.
When I enlisted in the Army in 1935, my pay was $21 per month, he recalls. That was more than I needed, I remember thinking how fortunate I was to be making so much money.
On December 16, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, James' job was to guard the perimeter of the command post. He had no occasion to shoot anyone and fortunately for him, he never got shot. When the war ended, James got out of the Army but stayed in the Army Reserve. He was recalled to active duty at the start of the Korean War and had the opportunity to go into construction engineering. It was a way for him to get ahead so he made the switch to the 434th Engineer Battalion (Construction) and spent the next several years paving roads and building in south Korea.
James retired from the Army in 1966 and he and his wife settled into farm life in Arkansas. Working a three-acre vegetable garden took up most of their time but they did manage to fish, hunt and travel to their hearts content. He feels very fortunate to have had a life filled with so much abundance. James and his wife Jermaine had 63 years together. He joined his fellow veterans at the AFRH a year ago. He attributes his good health and longevity to his healthy lifestyle (no smoking or drinking), and exercise.
I have a daily calisthenics routine that I have been doing for many years, James said. I also go through the Life Trails several times a week and I walk and jog at least four or five times a week. He keeps his mind sharp and alert by reading. I only had nine years of education, just one year of high school, James said. My wife used to read all the time and I guess I just picked up that habit from her. Now I read about 20 books a month. The library here is just great. It is very large and has plenty of books.
The thing about living here now is that they take care of everything, James said. I have made some friends here and it is nice to spend time with them but mostly I do my exercises and read my books. It is a good life.