Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
WARREN - War is hell.
For Edward Callion, images of dead and wounded soldiers, Marines and European civilians spread across the beaches and hills of Normandy, and later through Belgium and in Germany, are seared in his mind's eye.
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond L. Smith
World War II U.S. Army veteran Edward Callion was a 19-year-old Warren resident when he was drafted into the military in 1943. Now, 88, he recalls witnessing the death and destruction of war.
Six decades later, Callion still shakes when talking about what he felt and saw during the last days of World War II.
"I hate war," Callion said. "My unit, the 3420 Quartermaster Trucking Co., arrived in Normandy days after the D-Day invasion. What I saw haunted me. The bodies of men on the ground and in trees. There was death everywhere."
Now at age 88 and legally blind, Callion's vision often is trained inward on pleasant memories of family and friends.
Edward Callion Age: 88
Service: U.S. Army. Tech-4
Awards: World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, EAME Theater Medal with five Bronze Stars.
Family: Parents, Edward Sr. and Rebecca Callion; children, Timothy and Edith Callion.
Education: Graduate of Warren City Schools. Attended one year at Youngstown College and completed bricklaying and drafting school programs.
Yet Callion believes his service during World War II made him even more appreciative of being an American and has helped him to recognize the privileges of living this country.
"We are in the greatest country," he said. "I'm glad the war never reached American soil. I remember the destruction that I saw in Europe. I remember women and children whose husbands and fathers were lost in the war begging for food and a place to stay. If a sustained war had been on American soil, I think it would have fundamentally changed this nation."
After his time in the military, he worked as a mechanic, bricklayer, general contractor, entrepreneur and family man.
Callion was drafted by the U.S. Army in June 1943. He did basic training at Fort McClellan in Alabama and advanced individual training in motor repair at Fort Benning, Ga. He had a natural aptitude for working with vehicles because he worked by his father's side fixing cars since he was a boy.
As an African American, though, his abilities didn't earn him equal treatment.
"I was surprised about the level of segregation in the military," Callion said. "When we were going to basic training, friends that I grew up with were required to ride in separate train cars."
"When we passed through Cincinnati on a meal break, we watched white soldiers get off the train and go into the restaurant," he described. "Food was brought to us. We had to eat on the train car."
Callion said that during the war, there was much debate on the role of African Americans.
"Secretary of War Henry Stimson openly questioned whether African Americans had the sensibilities to be combat troops," Callion said. "I don't know how others felt, but that hurt me. We were in the battles. We were risking our lives, just like every other American serving."
Arriving in Normandy a few days after June 6, 1944, 3420 Quartermaster Trucking Co. was a part of what became known as the "Red Ball Express."
The route of the Red Ball Express was marked with red balls and closed to civilian traffic. The trucks were marked with red balls and given priority when on regular roads.
Hundreds of trucks used the route to deliver needed equipment, food and other supplies to troops on the front line.
The system ran for three months, from Aug. 25 through Nov. 1, 1944.
The express was created because the French railway system had been destroyed by Allied air power before the invasion in order to deny its use to the German forces.
The truck convoy system stretched from St. Lo in Normandy to Paris and eventually to the front along France's northeastern border. More than 900 fully loaded vehicles were on the Red Ball on average days with drivers officially ordered to observe 60-yard intervals and a top speed of 25 mph.
At its peak, 140 truck companies used the route that took 54 hours to drive round trip and operated all day, every day regardless of the weather.
"My unit had about 55 trucks, four jeeps, more than 100 drivers and seven mechanics," Callion said.
"Enemy pilots were constantly strafing our convoys, because they were trying to break out supply lines," he said. "We often were carrying ordnance rounds, so if they hit us right, there would have been explosions that could have killed us all."
Approximately 75 percent of those who served in the Red Ball Express were African American.
As the war began to die down, the role of the truck drivers began to shift from carrying supplies to the battle lines to helping pick up bodies.
"During combat missions, trenches would be dug, bodies pushed in, and they would be covered," Callion described. "Later, the grave registration company would return to the area, unearth the shallow graves, identify the soldiers using their dog tags or any other identification available. We would transport the bodies back so they could be sent home to their families."
The deceased would be placed in the trucks 20 at a time.
"The stench was terrible," Callion said. "I would not have an appetite for days afterwards."
When he returned home, Callion was glad to see some of his childhood friends also return from the war.
However, he also was reminded of the losses when he would see the mother of one of his childhood buddies.
"We were drafted at about the same time," he said. "Years later, when I would see his mother, she would cry because her son did not make it back."