Soldiers' tales never die

World War II veteran captivates teen audience

March 16, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

The grandfather wearing the military ribbons explained to the 300 high school juniors that his cargo pants' pockets were designed for carrying live grenades, not ballpoint pens.

Warren G. Sody, who as a 20-year-old private parachuted into France behind enemy lines on D-Day, June 6, 1944, held the Calvert Hall College juniors at near military attention yesterday.

All eyes were focused on the man who could say he came face to face with wartime British leader Winston Churchill and allied commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Sody described the Allied invasion of France from the standpoint of a young soldier who had recently graduated from Polytechnic Institute.

Wearing a newly tailored reproduction of the Army uniform he wore 56 years ago, Sody, 76, addressed boys born in the 1980s who know World War II only from movies, books and the occasional family story.

"I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes," Sody said, describing his drop from a military cargo plane into a French farmer's field. "The French people were tickled to see us, but you were taught to shoot the guard dogs the Germans had on patrol."

Sody related his experiences as a foot soldier, including being wounded in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne, Belgium. The students immediately inquired about the shrapnel cutting through his steel helmet --

"I'd certainly rather hear about this than about the Aztecs," said Tony Amoroso, a 16-year-old junior from Hamilton. "I never knew my grandfather, but he taught pilots to shoot planes. He met my grandmother in the war."

Some students at the Towson school lingered in the hall with Sody for 20 minutes after his main talk ended. On the school parking lot, a group of sophomores collected around his car and detained him another half-hour.

"My grandfather was a medic," said Joseph Hall, a 16-year-old junior from Mount Washington. "He told me the stories. He made the war sound noble, not so much of a chore. I know it was horrible, though."

Students were asked to bring their grandfathers to the program so that they could tell their experiences. One veteran took up the invitation.

Wilbur L. Brown -- who owns a Hampden wallpaper-scraping business -- served in the Army. It was his job, from a hilltop surrounded by the enemy outside Cologne, Germany, to shoot down German buzz bombs aimed at important military sites.

"We got credit for saving Antwerp," Brown said of the Belgian city. Dressed in a blue windbreaker and baseball cap, he stood alongside his 17-year-old grandson, Justin Layfield of Perry Hall.

" `Saving Private Ryan' is definitely one of my favorite movies," Layfield said, adding that he spent time listening to his grandfather give a warm and personal side of the conflict.

Other veterans related to Calvert Hall students were expected, but some decided they did not want to discuss their experience in public.

"I can see why they don't want to go before an audience," Sody said. "They have their reasons, and I respect them."

Sody got the idea to speak out publicly after he visited the grave of his older brother, John, a 24-year-old lieutenant who didn't survive the invasion of France.

"After I'd seen his grave in 1994 in France, I felt I should go home and tell people about these brave men," Sody said.

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