On average, 372 World War II veterans die each day.
In September 2018, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 496,777 American veterans were still living.
As September 2019 approaches, about 135,780 World War II soldiers will have passed in the last year, leaving roughly 360,997. These numbers mean two things — in a little more than two and a half years, these living pieces of history will be gone and all we will know is what is presented in books and film.
And on Aug. 30, Ohio County native and World War II Army veteran Noble Midkiff will turn 100.
Midkiff was drafted into the Army on June 26, 1942, and entered into basic training at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Lawrence Township, Marion County, Indiana. On Nov. 11, 1942, he was deployed to England. Upon arrival, he spent 18 days and nights making the trek from Lichfield, England to North Africa.
He would spend a little less than a year in the North African campaigns of Algeria, French Morocco and Tunisia. He received his first combat wound in February 1943.
“It happened during an air raid,” he said. “The British and the Americans had men ready to go, but the Germans had air superiority. They killed 62 American boys in about five minutes. When it came to battles, I didn’t miss a one of em.'”
He would move with the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion from North Africa into Italy, traveling from Salerno to Lake Bracciano from campaign to campaign, which included Naples, Anzio, Rome, Arnol and Foggia.
“I was in the 1st Armored Division,” he said. “We were the only tank destroyer battalion and they used us all of the time. I was in the Anzio Beachhead — a hot spot buddy, don’t think it wasn’t. In 1944 I got my second wound in Italy. That is when I got my ankle all tore up during heavy German shelling, killing one of my best friends.”
It was on April 17, 1945 that he received his third and final combat wound, the one that almost got him, he said.
“In the Army, you don’t say a guy got killed, you say he got ‘it,'” he said. “I lost a dear friend then. It was two days before the war was over, that was the worst thing. I got a head wound on that one and laid in a ditch for about two hours and didn’t know nothing. I don’t tell anybody anything about that one — April 17, 1945 is when they almost got me.”
He returned home on July 25, 1945 after 33 months and 10 days of not seeing his wife, Ada Tinius Midkiff, or his parents, brothers and sister, he said.
“It took a year to get adjusted to civilian life,” he said. “A good year, and I decided to teach there at Sorgho Elementary School that year and went back to college at Western and got my degree in 1948. … I taught for 33 years.”
For his service, Midkiff received five Combat Battle Stars, a Purple Heart, two Oak Leaf Clusters, E.T. Operation Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal and a Driver’s Badge. Ada, who died in 2004, was with him on the front lines through it all, he said, and for 62 and a half years after.
“We never had a short word,” he said. “We loved each other and I was afraid of her.”
As his 100th birthday approaches, he spends his days living right next door to the house he grew up in, surrounded by photos of his life’s work and has, over the past 40 years, become an avid maker of mix tapes that include bluegrass, gospel and country.
The secret of his longevity is simple, he said.
“I was born and raised on cornbread and buttermilk.”
Midkiff and his family will be holding a community celebration for his 100th birthday and everyone is invited, he said. The celebration will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. Aug. 31 at the Fordsville Community Center.
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