At 91, this World War II vet hopes to reconnect with fellow soldiers from MN


Most of us can only imagine the connections that were formed among fellow soldiers on World War II battlefields.

John Knowles, on the other hand, understands those ties from first-hand experience. And at age 91, he hopes he can track down any other surviving members of his Army company to share their common bond again after more than 70 years.

Retired Pfc. Knowles has taken to Facebook in his search for anyone who served with him in North Africa and Italy during 1942 and '43. While Knowles lives in his native state of Georgia, most of those in the Army National Guard's 34th Infantry Division were from Minnesota and Iowa.

Knowles tells WMAZ-TV he thinks about his World War II compatriots a lot, but has not seen any of them since the day an injury caused him to be sent back to Georgia with a Purple Heart in 1943.

His search is hindered by a couple of factors.

For one thing, Knowles knew many of his war buddies only by their nicknames or last names. His assistant gunner, for example, is someone he knew only by the last name of Myers, he tells WMAZ.

And of course, World War II veterans are disappearing. According to the National WWII Museum, the U. S. Veterans Administration estimates World War II veterans are dying off at the rate of 492 per day. It's expected that by 2036, there will be no surviving World War II vets in the U.S.

Knowles tells WSB-TV of Atlanta he's made plans to attend reunions of World War II veterans, but health problems always seem to get in the way.

That's one reason his daughter suggested he try using social media to reconnect. Jana Hamrick told WMAZ she thought her father's photo might get reposted "a couple hundred times." Two weeks later, it has more than 46,000 shares.

While he has yet to find anyone who served in his platoon or company, Hamrick tells the station her dad's inbox is full of messages and he reads each of them attentively.

The 34th Infantry Division

Knowles says he served with the 34th Infantry Division, 135th Regiment, 3rd Battalion, I Comapny.

According to the International Brotherhood of Veterans, the 34th was the first U.S. division deployed to Europe during World War II and its 517 days of front-line combat are more than any other American division saw during the war.

The 34th Infantry is a unit of the Minnesota Army National Guard – nicknamed the Red Bulls – and its roots date back to 1856.

What would Pfc. Knowles say to his assistant gunner or any of the other soldiers who fought alongside him seven decades ago? He told WMAZ he honestly doesn't know, but added "I'd be proud to meet any of them."

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