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'War is hell': 98-year-old WWII veteran decorated with medals nearly eight decades after returning home

Reid Clanton often experienced the war through the lens of his binoculars, helping identify targets for artillery crews.

SAN ANTONIO — Pvt. 1st Class Reid Clanton returned to Fort Sam Houston after surviving the battlefields of World War II, where he was discharged with no formal recognition for his service.

The 98-year-old Army veteran recalls hitchhiking back home to Corpus Christi, receiving no medals, but rather a wealth of memories from more than 200 days on the frontlines.

“Let me say this one thing: War is hell,” Clanton said.

On Monday, Clanton, alongside his wife and children, was surprised with the presentation of multiple medals on the base where his military journey began nearly eight decades ago.

Leadership with U.S. Army North decorated Clanton with seven medals during a ceremony accompanied by friends, family and military service personnel.

Clanton trained in Oklahoma to become an artillery spotter before heading to England, then landing on Omaha Beach amid Operation Overlord, also known as D-Day.  

From the Allied invasion of France to the Battle of the Bulge to campaigns in North Africa, Clanton risked his life every day, holding onto faith during the course of the war.

Clanton often experienced the war through the lens of his binoculars, helping identify targets for artillery crews.

One of the most horrific memories Clanton still holds onto originated in Belgium.

“I was about ready to run for that truck and get under it but before I could get there, it blew all to pieces,” Clanton said. “And I looked up from the heaven and asked God, said, 'Don’t let me die over here.'”

The nonprofit Wish for Our Heroes worked alongside the U.S. Army to piece together Clanton’s journey and bring him the recognition he deserved after all these years since the war.

“Within a matter of days, they had all of the awards identified, they had issued the awards from the Department of the Army and worked through that whole process that had taken me three years to try to dig up,” said Jeff Wells, president and founder of Wish for Our Heroes. “Mr. Clanton, he’s an extraordinary situation because he slipped through the cracks. He did so much and fought in such iconic battles in our nation’s history. None of us would be here without him.”

Maj. Gen. William Prendergast of U.S. Army North noted such a massive demobilization of forces during the Second World War led to many discharged veterans going home without entitled medals.

“For us to be able to recognize these service members in today’s era is just spectacular because that recognition is just so important to themselves and also their families,” Prendergast said.

Clanton, admittedly surprised when presented the medals, said he looks forward to visiting Normandy and Belgium in June, which is being made possible by Wish for Our Heroes.

The trip will mark the first time Clanton has returned to Europe since World War II.

As Clanton reflects on his time in the military, he’s reminded about the precious nature of life. Clanton longs for global peace and a world without conflict  as he witnesses the devastation unfolding in Ukraine.

“The kids and women and all that getting killed, just hard to take,” Clanton said. “We should try to prevent any World War III. It’s not the thing to do.”

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