Justin Minor had just finished high school when Pearl Harbor was bombed.
The next year, in 1942, he was drafted. And his next three years would take him to two of the major theaters of World War II, including the now-famous Battle of the Bulge.
Minor is one of only about 300,000 World War II veterans who are still alive on this Memorial Day weekend, according to estimates from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs — just a fraction of the more than 16 million Americans who served in the war.
But even though many are now in their upper 90s, some still have vibrant memories of their time overseas.
Minor remembers being a dependable teenager when he joined the Army — his mother could set a clock by what time he would come home, he didn’t hang out on the streets, and he didn’t swear, he says.
“The Army didn’t change me any. I didn’t use profanity, and guys laughed at me,” he recalls. “They’d say things to me.”
In 1944, Minor found himself in Belgium, joining what would be known as the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive of the war. The Allies ultimately succeeded.
“They attached us to George Patton’s Third Army, and that’s when we got a break,” Minor says. “We went on down through to Germany. So it was in 40 miles of Rhine River — on foot. We were walking.”
He was then sent home and had just a month to regroup, before being deployed again. This time, it was in a completely different part of the world.
“They sent us to the Pacific. After getting there, we got on the boat, and that’s when the atomic bomb was dropped. We asked the captain would he turn around and take us back. He said, ‘My order is to go forward.’ And so he carried us all the way.”
One night on guard duty, Minor says, he was sitting and “getting ready to take me a smoke. Something just happened to tell me to look up, and I looked up, and there was one of the renegade Japanese with a bolo knife in his mouth, getting ready to jump off on me. I fired my rifle, and it jammed. But they ran out of the way after their plan fouled up.
Minor says the Japanese soldier had been abandoned by his company. Both men survived that night.
“I stayed alive to see another day,” he says. “That’s right.”