Fred Vines read about D-Day in a military newspaper while he was on the Philippine island of Mindanao, more than 10,000 miles away.
The newspaper was called Stars and Stripes and offered military news, photos and cartoons. It also brought news to the troops fighting World War II in the Pacific that the Allies had landed on Normandy coastlines in France.
Although a great victory for the Allies, the fighting wasn’t over on Vines’ side of the world, where Ally forces were still trying to defeat Japan in the Pacific Ocean theater. The then-teenager from Holdenville, who now lives in Shawnee, would experience five months of active combat on three different islands in the Philippines.
Vines, who is 93, was drafted in May of 1944 –– the month he turned 18, before he had even finished high school. That September, he was sent to basic training near Tyler, Texas.
“We did I think 15 weeks training, supposed to have been 17, but they needed us, I guess,” Vines said.
Next Vines headed overseas on a ship to the Philippines to 40th division 108th infantry regiment.
Because the rooms down below were too stuffy, Vines and the rest of the soldiers slept on the steel deck in the same clothes for 30 days during the voyage. This led to some difficulties, as the ship’s crew needed to walk back and forth during the night.
“You’d wake up in the night, and somebody would holler, get stepped on,” Vines said.
To make matters worse, nearly everyone on board the ship suffered from seasickness.
“You had to be careful how the wind was blowing because you’d be all lined up there, everybody chucking up,” Vines said. “It was so bad that they had to hose the deck down twice a day.”
Finally, the ship reached the island of Leyte, where the outfit was tasked with setting up a perimeter around a coastal town and battling Japanese soldiers in cooperation with Filipino guerrilla forces.
Vines visited a total of five different islands in the following months, walking for miles, fighting Japanese soldiers and sleeping in foxholes at night. He was just beginning training to invade Japan, when President Truman gave the word for the first atomic bomb to be dropped on Hiroshima.
After the war was over, Vines finished his service in Korea before returning home before the Korean War began. He finished the one semester of high school he had left in Oklahoma, where he met someone special on the school bus.
“We lived out in the country and rode the school bus, and that’s how I met my wife, is she rode the same school bus,” Vines said. “So eventually we got married. We used to sit together on the bus.”
Vines went on to work at Tinker Air Force Base for 29 years before retiring, and has lived in Shawnee since 1955.
Out of all things Vines saw in the war, one memory –– of a radio operator –– stays with him. The operator refused to dig a foxhole to sleep in at night like the other soldiers did.
“I asked him why he wouldn’t dig a foxhole,” Vines said. “He said, ‘Well, it doesn’t make any difference where you’re at, when it is, when your time comes, that’s it. It doesn’t make any difference if you’re in a hole or not.’”
One night, the radio operator was sitting right next to Vines when Japanese soldiers fired on them. The operator was shot in his jugular vein and died right away –– but Vines, who was in a foxhole, survived.
Vines recounts this story when he meets others with a similar mindset to the operator.
“I’ve run into other people, maybe a couple different ones, who kind of had that same idea about when your time comes,” Vines said. “And I recite that to them.”