Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
WARREN - Clarence Eshelman defined war as something he was trained to do.
The 88-year-old Warren man served in the U.S. Army infantry during World War II after being drafted at the age of 18.
"Basically, you're doing your job when you go into combat," he said. "It's what they prepare you for. You really don't think too much about it while you're out there. It's later on that it hits you."
Eshelman, who was born in Cleveland on Dec. 21, 1924, has spent most of his life in Trumbull County, moving to Warren in 1979.
As part of the 91st Infantry Division, nicknamed the "Pine Tree Division" or "Wild West Division," he earned three Bronze Stars for three battles he fought in the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign.
Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
U.S. Army Veteran Clarence Eshelman, 88, who served in World War II, boldly displays two American flags, a Christmas tree that represents the U.S. Army 91st Infantry Division and the U.S. Army star logo in the front yard of his Warren home.
He said on his first "official" day at war, he dug a fox hole, set up his mortar - an artillery weapon that fires explosive shells - and immediately went to battle.
"I lost a lot of friends that day," he said. "I was in a heavy mortar outfit. They were trying to take us out constantly. We went through ammo really fast. But you recover and the next day you do it all again."
He spent two years in the service, from July 29, 1943, to Nov. 28, 1945, the first time, but re-enlisted for another two years after that working as a pole climber.
He explained that after he was drafted in 1943, he was transported to Columbus and quickly went overseas to North Africa. Not long after, he got the word to go to Italy, where he ended up in combat in Rome near the Colosseum.
"That's when all hell broke loose. We met the Germans. All you could hear was 'Medics. Medics. Medics.' We were losing a lot of men at that point. But the next day we recovered," he said. "After that, we did pretty good."
But then, on what he identified as one of his most difficult days, Eshelman lost his sergeant. He said the fighting didn't miss a beat, though, as his unit came back off the lines, regrouped, got a new crew and went back out.
"Those are the times that really shake you," he said. "They keep replacing men as you lose them. But you keep at it. You move on. There's really no time to think. You don't keep track of time."
Eshelman, whose younger brother, Jasper, also served in the military during war time, was one of the two surviving men in his troop. He said there were times when he asked God why he wasn't taken as well.
Although some days it's still difficult to remember, he prefers to focus more on the people he met, the friends he made and the family they developed rather than to dwell on the losses they suffered.
After his service time, he returned to Trumbull County and spent many years working at as a steelworker at Republic Steel and Blackwell before retiring. He then took a job working at a local bakery first, then the bakery at Giant Eagle. He continues helping out with an area food bank.
"I don't think of myself as a hero or anything. I had shrapnel land on me. I was shot at. But I was never hit. There were plenty of heroes. They gave their lives, their limbs. The lost a lot. Their families lost a lot.
''We were young. We did what we were told to do. We did what we were supposed to do. No questions asked," he said.
Most of his memorabilia, including photos and recognitions, were destroyed in the devastating tornado that leveled his family's home, and much of the area, in May 1985. However, he proudly wears his Army cap adorned with pins, buttons and the Christmas tree insignia that identified his unit. He also has two U.S. flags, a small pine tree and the U.S. Army star logo displayed in his front yard.
"I don't have any regrets. To this day if they called me and I could help in any way I would. Freedom is so very important and it's worth fighting for.
''We've had a lot in this country to be thankful for. I hope we don't lose that or take it for granted. I'm proud of the opportunity I had to serve my country. I wouldn't change it for anything."