That’s the day he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and his life was soon to find a little excitement. His journey and education with the military would take him far beyond Flat Hollow — to the beauty of Rome and the horror of the Dachau Concentration Camp outside Munich.
He liked repairing and building things, and so he welcomed the opportunity for training and schooling with the 48th Engineer Combat Battalion. It paid $113.60 a month.
The primary mission of combat engineers in World War II was to keep the tanks and infantry moving, either attacking or impeding the enemy. Their functions included building and maintaining roads (sometimes clearing them of land mines), building pontoon and Bailey bridges across rivers and mountain passes, and functioning as infantry when and where needed.
“That seemed to be just about every day and every where,” said Stanley, who, in one battle with German troops in Italy, had one of his best friends literally shot in two beside him.
“They yelled at us over a speaker, ‘Come out. You’re surrounded.’ Me and a couple of the others got out. We hid in a cave and then regrouped,” Howerton said. “I had an infantryman crossing one of the bridges we had erected for them tell me he wouldn’t want my job. Of those who were in my platoon, only nine made it back to the states. The rest are buried over there.”
Howerton helped build bridges and roads while under rifle and machine gun fire, and at times being strafed by German fighter planes. Combat engineers had to row rubber rafts to the far side of a river, under German fire, while trailing behind them steel cables to be anchored on shore; then thread in metal segments that would allow Allied infantry soldiers to cross on foot.
Once Howerton and his company cleared a road of 39 land mines, only to have the first tank to go down the road discover the 40th. The tank lost a track but there were no serious injuries.
OFF TO THE CONTINENTS
Howerton sailed out of New York Harbor on a troop ship bound for North Africa. He was awed by the sight of the Rock of Gibraltar, which seemed so much bigger than it did in those Prudential Life Insurance advertisements he’d seen.
He met his first Arabs, whom he said tried to “steal him and his fellow GIs blind.”
“The work of Ali Baba and his 40 thieves paled in comparison to some of the Arabs we met up with,” Howerton said.
He fought and worked his way through Naples, up the boot of Italy, through Southern France, into Rhineland and Central Europe, and on to Germany.
Howerton was in Rome on Liberation Day in June 1944. Roman citizens lined the streets to welcome them with shouts of “Viva Americanos.”
“Bella signorinas” with black hair, olive skin and “forms like a pin-up girl” reached out to embrace them.
The GIs had enough of a break from the battle to visit the Coliseum, St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican.
Then it was back to business as usual. The German troops had withdrawn into the Apennine Mountains and made their last stand on the Italian Peninsula in mountaintop strongholds north of the Arno River. They had set up 2,300 machine gun nests and hundreds of heavy gun emplacements. They set up defenses in mountaintop citadels and abbeys, many of which had to be destroyed by Allied fire.
Howerton and other segments of the 48th left off there and traveled by ship across a corner of the Mediterranean Sea for a beach invasion of Southern France.
In the course of the journey north and then east into Central Europe, Howerton would win theater ribbons with five Bronze Stars for the battles in which he participated.
The magnitude of the horror and the aftermath of the suffering witnessed by Howerton and his fellow GIs at Dachau shocked and angered them, he said, and made them realize afresh and anew why all the bridge-building and fighting was necessary to rid the world of Hitler and his atrocities.