Before Harold McMillan could vote or drink, he had laid his life on the line for his country.
He was subject to the draft in 1942. From 1943 to 1945, he served as part of the 168th Infantry Regiment in Italy. For days on end he would march through the mountains of Italy in an effort to stamp out Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
“It was the most frightening experience of your life. We were in combat many, many, many days,” said McMillan. “My regiment suffered 1,158 killed in action – which is about the strength of a regiment.”
McMillan says death became common place.
“You got the mindset that towards the end we were just trying to figure out who’s next to die.”
It was in an olive grove, in Italy, that McMillan says he found hope. He and a few friends decided to be baptized.
“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for God. I’m sure of that,” said McMillan. “I’m not trying to push my belief on anybody, but it’s very helpful to believe in God.”
Seventy years and all the milestones of life have not dulled his memories of war.
“I remember, vividly, every battle. I don’t understand who you can recall events that long ago. It just left an impression that I don’t think ever leaves,” said McMillan.
While generations divide them, he says he feels a connection with the men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I think an understanding of what each has been subject to and I understand. I look at them as kids, I know what they’ve faced.”
Despite the fear and the pain of war, McMillan says he wouldn’t trade those years serving his country.
“It’s the greatest country in the world, and we have to keep it that way.”