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Member of Greatest Generation reaches 101

Nov 11, 2020

South Thomaston — Paul Chapman, who is a 101-year-old veteran residing in South Thomaston, recounts his life before and during his active service in Germany in the late 1940s.

We asked him a bit about his personal life and memorable accounts while stationed in Germany, during the tail end of the Nazi occupation.

What is your date of birth?

Nov. 12, 1919.

Where are you from originally?

I was born in Wiscasset and moved to Rockland when I was eight months old.

How long have you lived in Midcoast Maine?

I grew up in Rockland, graduating from Rockland High school and moved to South Thomaston when I got married in 1938. I've lived there ever since. A few years ago, the town officials showed up at my door with a certificate identifying me as the oldest living resident in South Thomaston.

Tell me about your World War II experience.

I volunteered for the Army in 1943 and was in the 327T Glider Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 101st Airborne Division. Due to some needed dental work, I was separated from my unit temporarily and spent the first few months in New York City pulling guard duty for ocean liners in port.

After six months, I was transferred overseas on the Queen Mary, which had been stripped of all its finery to accommodate bunks for G.I.s. We landed in Scotland and made our way to Reims, France.

From there, we traveled by foot and truck through Germany. I remember going through a city which had been destroyed by bombs and a solitary church stood alone and untouched surrounded by a mass of rubble. It was amazing that the church survived and I’ve never forgotten that.

While in France, we got our hands on some red wine and filled our canteens and five gallon jerry cans. Our moods were elevated and I remember it being the best wine I’ve ever had.

In Germany we would sneak into farmers' barns, milking the cows to fill our canteens. Our only food was K rations three times a day so anything we could find to supplement was a treat. We had a few skirmishes with German soldiers, firing back and forth from a distance. Probably the most unsettling times were when we were surprised by German artillery fire. Those times were pretty scary.

When the war ended, I was in Berchtesgaden, Germany, which is where Hitler’s summer home was located. His summer home was said to be luxurious, so I headed up a trail through the woods to get a look, but turned back when soldiers said it was destroyed by bombs.

German soldiers were surrendering, walking into our camp. It was our job to confiscate their weapons and take them to a holding place until they were transported to a prison camp.

After that, I waited in Antwerp for a few months before getting sent back home. It took us five days get to Europe, but 15 days to get back to New York due to bad weather. I thought, “I’ve survived the war but maybe not the ride home.” I was smart enough to get a top bunk and was probably one of the only soldiers not to get sea sick. It was nice to get home to my family.

I was honorably discharged from the Army “Private First Class, Company K. 327th Glider Infantry Regiment,” Jan. 12, 1946.

Have you been married?

Yes, my wife’s name is Laila Rakhonen who passed away in 2001.

How many children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren do you have?

I have three daughters, 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and 20 great-great-grandchildren.

What has been the secret to living a long life for you?

I’ve always worked, kept busy and ate healthy.

What activities do you like?

I’ve always enjoyed working the most. I like reading about the history of the Civil War, WWII submarines and locomotives. My father was an engineer on Maine Central RR so I’ve always enjoyed reading about trains. I also enjoy going for rides and traveling.

In 2004, I took a trip to Austria and Germany. I’ve also been to Spain, France, Italy and all over the U.S.

What was your career? What jobs did you work?

I did various jobs until I settled on I working at the Rockland Boat Shop. I was there for 35 years, managing the shop and building and repairing boats. When I got home from work at night, I built wooden lobster boats in my barn.

I finished the last boat while I was in my 90s, and was featured in the Septembter/October 2018 issues of Maine Boats, Homes and Harbors magazine. This was my final boat and it sold this past March.

What is your advice for young readers?

My advice to young people, anybody really, would be to enjoy the profession you chose and always do the best you can.

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