Lynder Holmes was 20 years old when he began fighting on the front lines of World War II as a machine gun operator in a Tiger Tank Destroyer.
He served 225 consecutive days on the front lines in some of the most brutal battles of the war and wondered if he’d live to see his next birthday.
Holmes did that and more. On Thursday, he celebrated his 100th birthday with Willie, his wife of 73 years, their son David, and other friends and family.
“The worst was the Battle of the Bulge and we were right in the middle of it,” said Lynder while remembering his military service on his 100th birthday. “There were a lot of people getting killed. I stepped over some of them. We could see the Germans every day. Sometimes they were right across from us and we could see them over there eating their rations. We didn’t fight every day but we could see them.”
Holmes served in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. There were 100 tanks in his company and 25 tanks in his platoon.
There were four soldiers aboard each tank – a driver, radio operator, artillery gunner, and machine gunner. Holmes operated the 50mm machine gun, while the artillery gunner operated the huge 90mm tank gun that’s like a cannon.
He said his tank never got hit, but came close.
“They knocked out the tank right next to us,” said Holmes, who didn’t know if those soldiers survived. “We didn’t have time to stop to see if they were OK. We were too busy trying to take care of ourselves. A tank was about the safest place you could be over there, but I was still scared all the way through. I’ve never seen nothing else like it.”
His military service was tense from the start. His ship landed in Liverpool, England after two weeks at sea.
“We didn’t take a straight path,” said Holmes. “We had to go out of our way because we were dodging German subs.”
Holmes recalls driving through a concentration camp in the tank after Hitler surrendered.
“The bodies were stacked up like firewood on both sides of the road. Some of them were burned,” said Holmes.
He said they made their way to what was known as Hitler’s hideout to find it had been abandoned. He described it as looking like a school.
Holmes says he and some other soldiers were trying to clear out a town in France when they stumbled upon 10 German soldiers hiding in a basement. Fortunately, there wasn’t a confrontation.
“They put up their hands and didn’t put up a fight,” said Holmes. “They were young boys and they were ready to give up. We put them on the back of a trailer and took them to headquarters. I’m not exactly sure where we were. The Germans did a good job of destroying buildings everywhere they went. We didn’t know where we were half the time.”
Holmes was part of 808 Tank Destroyer Battalion, Company A which covered much of France and Central Europe. He was awarded the Purple Heart and three Bronze Stars. He spent four weeks hospitalized when he was wounded by shrapnel from a mortar shell.
Holmes had returned home for a 30-day furlough and was about to be deployed to Japan when the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. He was discharged on Oct. 26, 1945.
Lynder grew up on a farm in the Shady Grove area not far from Morrison. He moved to McMinnville in the late 1940s and married his wife Willie on July 5, 1948. Willie is 96. They have one son, David, who conveyed the story of their wedding day.
“They were riding around talking about what would happen if they got married and dad said, ‘Why don’t we just get married now?’ So they drove down to Georgia and got married that same day. Then they came back and told their parents,” said David.
Lynder said 73 years of marriage have agreed with him.
“I married the right person,” he said. “We get along much better now that we don’t talk as much.”
Lynder said it was a goal of his to live to be 100. He had two sisters who lived to 100 and a brother who lived to 101.