Sam Blackwell: ‘I’m not a-givin’ up!’

By Gerre Joiner | Published Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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I made a visit to a local retirement facility two days ago to see a good friend.

I knew Sam Blackwell had been a very busy soldier during World War II. I knew he had been wounded. I knew he didn’t talk about it very much.

Gerre Joiner

Gerre Joiner

I noticed a display of his war medals on one of the walls in his room. His daughter, Barbara Bethurum, asked him to tell me one of his war-time stories. I was really surprised when he agreed to do so. I got my cell phone out and recorded the exchange.

Before I share Sam’s story, I’d like for you, the reader, to know that I have asked for Sam’s permission to place his story in the newspaper. He has agreed.

Sam was in a group of 12 soldiers whose job it was to find and evaluate the strength of the enemy’s artillery. The snow was knee-deep to waist-deep. The 12 men put on their white camo and started out into the dark night. Some time later, they arrived at their destination about two miles behind enemy lines.

The plan was that the 12 men would stay in two groups of six. If one group became engaged in a firefight, the other would cover their retreat.

Sam was in the forward group quietly observing. Three German soldiers suddenly popped up. A soldier by the name of Cook broke the silence by shouting to Sam, “Let ’em have it, Blacky!”

Cook’s inappropriate shout caught the attention of the Germans, and a firefight was on. Sam sprayed the three Germans with his Browning automatic rifle. The firefight continued. Cook and some of Sam’s group retreated.

As one man retreated, he yelled to Sam, “Give up!”

Sam responded, “I’m not a-givin’ up!”

Sam heard later that when one of the members of his group met up with the lieutenant, he asked, “Aren’t we going back to help them out?”

The lieutenant replied, “They’re not going to make it out.”

Then McDonald (next to Sam) was hit. Six times. Sam assessed the situation and said to McDonald, “See if you can crawl to the little creek down there. I’ll come to you.”

McDonald crawled to the creek. Sam then ran to the creek and found McDonald. Sam was lying in the snow taking off his white camo when he was hit – four times. He buried his empty rifle in the snow and started slowly and quietly dragging his friend through the mud toward their base camp.

After some time, Mac whispered to Sam, “Something’s moving up there.” They stopped. Sam whispered, “We have to do something. If they see us, they’ll kill us.” Then he took Mac’s rifle and sprayed the three German soldiers.

They finally met up with their captain. Mac was placed on a stretcher by some medics and taken to a Jeep. Sam reported to the captain what had happened. They were then taken to St. Vith hospital and later transferred to a Paris hospital.

Sam recuperated for two weeks and returned to the fight. A short time after returning to his men, an explosion blew him off a tank. He didn’t require hospital care this time. He returned to the fight shortly after the explosion.

Some observations:

  • Our great country is filled with men and women who have fought bravely and faced death routinely while trying to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today. Go out of your way to thank them.
  • About 550 (some say twice that many) World War II veterans are dying every day. Ask them to tell you their story. You might be surprised when they agree to do so. Record it if you can.
  • There have almost always been voices crying, “Give up!” when times get hard. Don’t do it. Remember my friend, Sam, when he shouted, “I’m not a-givin’ up!”
  • We are living in a time when there are living veterans from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, conflicts in Grenada and Panama, the Persian Gulf War, and wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Thank them for their service to our great country.

Thanks, Sam, for telling me one of your stories. I’m thankful for your service to our country, for our forever friendship and your heroic patriotism.

God bless the United States of America.

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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