WWII Snapshots by Matt Splitter - 2008

Cecil Eyestone, Army

Cecil Eyestone, local World War II veteran and active community member, will be inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame in Washington D.C. this coming October. Eyestone was nominated by the state of Kansas 4-H office and is one of approximately 20 inductees into the Hall this year.

Eyestone, born Sept. 1, 1920 near Lansing, Kan., was the son of a World War I veteran and a homemaker. As a young child, Eyestone attended a one-room school for his first year of school, after which he moved to a four-room school through grade school until graduating from high school in 1938. After graduation, Eyestone worked on a local farm for two years until enrolling at Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science (now Kansas State University) in 1940.

"I spent $6 per month for room and $15 a month for food," he said. ". . . kids seem really surprised when I tell them that."

While at K-State, Eyestone was active around campus. He was the president of the college's 4-H organization, a member of the Agriculture Economics club and a member of several agriculture honorary organizations. He was also on the K-State wrestling team.

Eyestone's first experience with military service was with the ROTC program at K-State. When he was in school, it was mandatory for every male to be enrolled in the ROTC program. After completing the basic program, he decided to enroll in the advanced ROTC program and, when finished, attend Officer Candidates School, (OCS), at Fort Benning, Ga.

Eyestone was called to duty in May 1943, just shy of being able to graduate from college. After being inducted at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he reported to nearby Fort Riley where he was one of many others that were waiting to attend OCS. Since there were plenty of young men, Eyestone was given the opportunity to return to complete his degree. He graduated from KSAC with a degree in agricultural economics in January 1944. Immediately after graduation, he was sent to Fort Benning, to attend OCS.

Over the course of the next year, Eyestone traveled from one end of the country to the other. After his stay at Fort Benning, he was transferred to Camp San Luis Obispo in California. After a short stay there, he was sent back to Fort Benning, back to California to Camp Cook and finally to New Jersey where the journey was really just beginning.

In February 1945, Eyestone made the 10-day journey to Europe. His first destination in Europe was France and Camp Lucky Strike where he was named 2nd Lieutenant, 387th, and leader of Company C platoon. His stay at Camp Lucky Strike was a brief one. His platoon, along with fellow soldiers of the 97th Infantry Division, were loaded into box cars, also known as 40/8's, and headed out of France, to Dusseldorf, Germany. He said he saw the images of the war for the very first time while on the train to Germany. He said they passed a town that had been leveled.

"There was nothing standing, with the exception of a few chimneys and stacks," he said.

The train arrived at their destination, which was on the west side of the Rhine River, which had been secured by the Allies.

In late March 1945, after spending two or three days on the west side of the river, Eyestone's unit was moved into southeast Germany, which meant crossing the Rhine River and into the Battle of the Ruhr Pocket.

After traveling by foot for a couple of days, their platoon had fallen behind the first and second platoons by a short distance. While looking for a place to bed down for the night, Eyestone's platoon came across a farmstead which was near a village that the Germans still controlled. They decided to camp there overnight and wait for daylight. Eyestone said his men slept in the barn with lookouts scattered around the farm, keeping watch. He recalled some very tense moments. The farmstead sat about a half mile off a main road that led to a nearby village. Before he went to bed one evening, he heard some rumbling coming from the direction of the road. He soon figured out that the noise he heard was German tanks going in and out of the village.

"I didn't get much sleep that night," he said.

The next morning, Eyestone's platoon met up with the other two platoons and advanced on the nearby village.

Eyestone's platoon had been walking for most of the day and had gotten about two thirds of the way to the village when they were first fired upon. Once fired upon, Eyestone received orders to take his platoon and flank around the backside of the village. Timber surrounded the entire village, making it easier to come around the back without being noticed.

Even though the timber made it easier to flank the village without being seen, it could not hide every movement. A German soldier noticed movement in the timber which was a soldier from Eyestone's platoon. The German solider started to fire into the trees where Eyestone's platoon was advancing.

Surprised, Eyestone did not have time to take evasive action and was fired directly upon by one of the anti-aircraft guns. When the shell got close, it exploded, releasing shrapnel that hit Eyestone as well as his radio man. Eyestone was hit in the neck and the leg and started to bleed. After being hit, he was not able to keep track of his radio man, and still to this day is not sure what happened to him. According to soldiers of his platoon, Eyestone refused treatment for his wounds until all his other soldiers were properly cared for. Also, even though he was injured, he did not stop the pace until the position being obtained was taken. The next morning, a jeep came through the village and took him to a field hospital where he was treated for the wounds he received to his neck and leg.

For the next couple of weeks, Eyestone spent most of his time recovering in a hospital in Liege, Belgium. While in the hospital, he was able to see an American movie.

"I�m not sure the name of the movie, but I remember the humor was different to the Europeans than it was to the Americans," he said.

After being discharged from the hospital, Eyestone was transported from the hospital to a replacement depot that was about an hour's ride outside of Paris, France. While at the depot, Eyestone hitchhiked his way to a storage depot that collected the belongings of soldiers who were either killed or injured in combat. At the storage depot, he was able to recover most of the gear that he had brought overseas.

After fully recovering from his injury, Eyestone joined the 5th Infantry Division, which had been overseas for a long period of time. Although Eyestone had just joined them, he was released for a one-month home stay. After the home leave, they were to report to Fort Campbell, Ky. where they would receive their orders and more than likely find themselves in the South Pacific. But the war ended for good on Aug. 15, 1945 while Eyestone was on home stay. The chance of another tour wasn't likely, but he had to return to Fort Campbell for orders.

For the next nine months, Eyestone waited for his time of duty to end. On May 19, 1946 Eyestone was honorably discharged at Camp Attebury, Ind. Although discharged, he signed up and served in the Army Reserves for about seven years.

Immediately after being discharged from the military, Eyestone was awarded both the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. The Purple Heart is awarded to a U.S. soldier that has either been wounded or killed while engaged in combat. The Silver Star is awarded to a person who, while serving in any capacity with the U.S. Army, is cited for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing foreign force.

Eyestone began work as a county 4-H club agent before he had received his last military pay. His first job was in Independence, Kan. where he remained for 12 years before attending Colorado State University and receiving his masters' degree. Eyestone returned to Kansas and was employed as a Kansas 4-H specialist at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan until he retired on June 30, 1977.

Eyestone volunteers as a driver for the Meals on Wheels program in the Manhattan area and is active in the Farmers Market and the Alliance for the Mentally Ill in the Manhattan and Topeka area.

Eyestone enjoys an active family life. He and his wife, Phyllis, are parents of six children: two daughters and four sons. He also enjoys spending time with his 13 grandchildren, ranging in age from 6 to 36. The most recent additions to his family are three great-grandchildren, with the two most recent ones born in March and April 2008. He and Phyllis celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Sept. 1, 2004 at their home in Manhattan. Some of their family joined in the celebration.

"Our 60th anniversary was pretty quiet," Phyllis said, "We had a reception for our 50th, but only had family around for the 60th."

Eyestone and his wife reside in Manhattan, Kan.

Cecil Eyestone with his Silver Star, left in photo, and Purple Heart, awarded for his World War II service. He wore the jacket during combat. Photo: Matt Splitter

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