100-year-old North Carolina WWII veteran reflects on D-Day 80 years later: 'War is hell'

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Thursday, June 6, 2024
100-year-old WWII veteran reflects on D-Day
"We had to go get the mainland to defeat Hitler and the Italians, so it had to be done. War is hell, any way you look at it."

MOUNT GILEAD, N.C. (WTVD) -- Robert "Bob" Lowdermilk was 20 years old and training to go off to war himself when he got the news about D-Day over the radio.

"We knew it was coming, but of course when the announcement came, we were sad to hear," Lowdermilk remembers. "In an operation like that when you're facing gunfire head on, that took some bravery."

He remembers the invasion being "terrible" as they lost so many men in Normandy, but he said it had to happen.

"We had to go get the mainland to defeat Hitler and the Italians, so it had to be done," he said. "War is hell, any way you look at it."

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He was one of the first 18-year-olds drafted out of Montgomery County to serve in WWII. He was drafted to the Army Air Corps and assigned to become a fighter pilot.

He got his wings just three weeks after D-Day and was sent to serve in the Pacific. He remembers seeing some of the war's biggest moments.

"I flew over Hiroshima about a week after the atomic bomb was dropped, and, of course, it was complete destruction," he told ABC11.

Though he wasn't in France for D-Day, he remembers American forces employing similar tactics in the Pacific too, on islands like Guam and Iwo Jima.

"Those had to be taken by an invasion like D-Day, of course D-day was by far the biggest operation," he said.

The moment that clearly had the biggest impact on him came in 1945.

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"The proudest moment was when we escorted the Japanese for the surrender. That was a big moment," Lowdermilk said. "The war was over, and I'd be coming home."

The Lt. Colonel came home, served at what's now known as Fort Liberty for a while, and then retired from the military. When he got home, he met the love of his life, Margaret, and went on to have a long career as an aviation design engineer.

He lives in Mount Gilead now in the same house he grew up in. He still takes care of the garden out back.

The town is proud to have him, with a big mural honoring his service on Highway 109.

Lowdermilk celebrated his 100th birthday back in March, and credits his longevity to his happy 70-year marriage and long line of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

While he didn't volunteer for his service, if you talk to him long enough all these years later, you can tell he's proud he served -- though you won't catch him saying it.

"I'm not a war hero by any means, but you did know that you risked your life every time you took off," Lowdermilk said, "but it had to be done."

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