Aiken resident Richard Wayne Jolley has made sure he will never forget his experiences as a soldier. He's put together a hefty ring-bound book, “Recollections of World War II,” that is filled with his memories of the fighting, photographs, maps and other documents from his stint in the Army.
The book is a private project meant for family and friends to read. But on Monday, Jolley will be recognized publicly for his service to this country. He is one of seven South Carolina World War II veterans who will receive the Legion of Honor, France's highest decoration, during a ceremony in Charleston. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings, a former U.S. Senator and South Carolina governor, also will be honored.
“I'm real proud; it's a special thing,” said Jolley, who learned about his Legion of Honor award earlier this month after completing the application process to be recognized in May 2012.
Jolley, 88, was a Private First Class in Company K of the 119th Infantry's 50th Division. He earned a Purple Heart with an Oak Leaf Cluster and the Bronze Star Medal during his military career. He entered the Army in December 1943 and was honorably discharged in December 1945.
“I arrived in Normandy five weeks after D-Day (in July 1944),” said Jolley, who was a rifleman. “I was wounded on August 8.”
Shrapnel from artillery fire hit him in a thigh and also damaged a finger, which “was stiff and it froze down,” Jolley remembered.
“I stayed on a cot for three days before they gave me any attention,” he said “But I didn't expect any because the guy lying next to me had a bullet right in the center of his chest. I wasn't going to get any attention until he got some.”
Jolley went to England on a ship to recuperate. After he got better, an Army lieutenant offered him the opportunity to work as a typist, helping to maintain records of injuries and fatalities. But even though Jolley had studied typing for two years in high school, he couldn't generate enough words fast enough to pass the test. The typewriter model was different from the one Jolley had used in high school and he didn't have much time to get used to it.
“It didn't bother me a bit that I couldn't pass the test,” Jolley said. “I felt an obligation to go back to my division. I didn't feel like I had contributed enough. It was kind of traumatic for me in Normandy because I was very young and had never been anywhere except Spartanburg and Gaffney. I grew up in that hospital in England, and, when I went back to my division, I was a soldier.”
Jolley fought in the Battle of the Bulge, which began Dec. 16, 1944, but missed part of the fight because he came down with the mumps in January 1945 and was sent to Paris hospital, where he had a view of the Eiffel Tower through his room's window.
Following Jolley's return to action, he crossed the Ruhr and Rhine rivers in Germany.
“My goal was to follow the leader,” he said.
Then Jolley was struck by shrapnel again and injured seriously. He lost the tricep muscle in his arm and part of a shoulder blade.
“I'm missing two ribs, one because of surgery and one because of the shrapnel,” Jolley said.
Even though he never fought again, “I was satisfied,” he remembered. “I felt like I had been a good soldier.”
Jolley, who has lived in Aiken since the 1950s, is a retired security adviser who worked at the Savannah River Plant (now known as the Savannah River Site).
“My goal is to just keep on going,” he said. “I walk 5 to 7 miles a week.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.