Surviving a bomb in Belgium: War took toll, but soldier made it back home

Photographs from Randolph Abbott's younger years rest on a coffee table in front of a family portrait in Florence.

MECHANICSVILLE — Randolph Abbott, 89, was writing a letter home while in a two-story building in Malmedy, Belgium, on Dec. 24, 1943, when he heard a German plane approaching.

Abbott's buddy was nearby, close to where Abbott's helmet was on the floor.

Both heard a bomb drop from the German plane.

The floor broke and Abbott fell through it, only to get tangled up in the debris.

His buddy was killed instantly.

Abbott couldn't get loose to drop down. He blacked out.

When he regained consciousness, other members of his mine platoon were trying to rescue him. He had literally been buried alive.

And he was worse for wear because shrapnel had torn through his back, broken his shoulder and ribs and then torn the muscle loose from his right arm.

He was rushed to a field hospital in Belgium, where he was placed in a body cast. He was then sent to a hospital in England. He suffered lifelong injuries.

'I still have limited use of my right arm,' Abbott said during an interview at his home in the Mechanicsville section of Darlington County. 'I don't really have any strength in it. I also still have a small amount of shrapnel in me that was too dangerous to try to get out.'

Abbott was awarded the Purple Heart for his injuries. He said he was lucky enough to get his while still alive.

But he didn't go home after being released from the hospital. He was sent to a limited duty assignment in northern France.

And he was sweating bullets that the war wasn't going to end after Germany surrendered. He knew he had a ticket to go the Pacific to fight the Japanese.

'The war would have gone on for a lot longer had we not bombed Japan the way we did,' Abbott said. 'They weren't going to give up.'

Abbott went to the front lines June 12, 1943. He was a member of the 30th Army, an infantry and anti-tank division.

The Germans tried to cut the American line in two near the Arden Forest. Among other things, they were after fuel the Americans had.

'We had to set some six million gallons of gas on fire to keep the Germans from getting it,' Abbott said.

It was after that experience that Abbott and other members of his mine squad ended up in an abandoned public building in Malmedy, Belgium. They were holed up in the building when the German plane dropped the bomb that almost killed Abbott.

Abbott was in the Army for three years and three days. He was discharged Sept. 9, 1945, and arrived in Darlington at 2 a.m. Sept. 10, 1945.

'I got off the bus and went to the police station to see if any cabs were still running,' he said. 'They said there weren't any at that hour.

'But there was one of those ‘loafers' in the station who liked to hang out with the police. He told me he would give me a ride home. I knocked on the door and told my parents, ‘I'm home, I'm home.' We stayed up talking the rest of the night.'

Abbott started dating LaWann Fields of Lydia in 1945. Her husband had been killed in an automobile accident and she had a daughter named Joyce.

Abbott married LaWann in short order. And it wasn't too long thereafter that he adopted Joyce. LaWann died in 2002. Joyce still lives next to Abbott.