The associate professor of communications interviewed 92-year-old J.C. Nethercutt, a WWII vet who was Hatcher's neighbor when he was growing up in eastern North Carolina. Nethercutt, who served as an ambulance driver in the Army, nearly died in a mishap a few days after landing on Normandy in 1944.
When he was young, Associate Professor of Communications Anthony Hatcher knew his next door neighbor J.C. Nethercutt primarily as the father of his childhood friend, Randy. “I was aware that J.C. was deaf in one ear from a WWII-related accident, but didn’t know the details until I interviewed him for this Veterans Day story,” Hatcher says.
The text of the story is below:
WWII Vet Survived Near-Fatal Accident in Normandy to Live a Long and Happy Life
Sitting in his private room in Autumn Village, an assisted living facility in rural Beulaville, NC, World War II veteran J.C. Nethercutt looks as though he is wearing virtual reality goggles. Now 92, he needs the magnifying eyewear to watch a televised baseball game. The volume is cranked up, and crowd sounds roar from tinny speakers.
Nethercutt is hard of hearing, hunched at the shoulders, and stiff in the joints, but still vigorous enough to take a daily 30-minute walk. “I really don’t feel it,” he says of his age.
He is content in his modest quarters. Besides the TV, he has a bed, recliner, dresser, and a birdfeeder outside his window.
The relatively spacious room wasn’t always private. He and his wife, Gladys, moved to Autumn Village together a few years before she passed away in 2009.
They were married for 67 years. “Sixty-seven wonderful years,” he says.
J.C. (the initials are his given name) and Gladys were my next-door neighbors when I was growing up. I always knew he was a veteran who was injured in the war, but I didn’t know the whole story until I paid him a recent visit. Although his story is not as glamorous as those of many vets, it still deserves to be told. He served his country and came home physically damaged.
J.C. was born in 1922, the eldest child of Ivey and Daisy Nethercutt. Along with his brother and three sisters, all of whom are still living, he was raised in tiny Beulaville in eastern North Carolina. His father sharecropped in summer and worked as a high school janitor in winter.
He was 20 when his draft notice came in October 1942. Draft letters of the period typically referred to “a Local Board composed of your neighbors for the purpose of determining your availability for training and service in the armed forces of the United States.”
“I got a letter from Franklin Roosevelt that says, ‘Greetings, your friends and neighbors have selected you for military service,'” J.C. recalled. “I said I didn’t believe I had any friends and neighbors that’d do me that way.”
Gladys was also born near Beulaville. She and J.C. married on Aug. 26, 1942, two months before he was drafted.
That October, he said goodbye to his new wife and departed for Fort Bragg. Then it was on to six months of basic training at Camp Barkeley, a U.S. Army Installation near Abilene, Texas that processed thousands of servicemen from 1940-45.
J.C. became an ambulance driver and served in England and France, landing on Utah Beach June 8, 1944, two days after D-Day. Utah was the westernmost of five landing beaches in the Normandy invasion.
“There was a little town you could see from where we were at. They shelled it and they tore everything up except the church.” He was referring to the historic church at Sainte Mere Eglise, which survived largely intact.
Driving an ambulance, J.C. witnessed many gruesome sights. He also learned how fast to transport the wounded over the numerous potholes that resulted from shelling.
“If [an injured soldier] was hollering and carrying on, I didn’t slow down for the bump, ’cause I knew he was all right,” J.C. said. “If he wasn’t making no fuss, I took it easy with him,” surmising the patient was too hurt to complain.
Ironically, it was an ambulance that nearly ended his life.
Normandy is known for its apple orchards dating back centuries. There were hedgerows surrounding the orchards like fences, and that’s where J.C.’s unit bivouacked. They pulled in after three days of no rest.
“We just fell out of our vehicles and spread our blankets out and lay down and went to sleep,” he said. “When I woke up, I was in the hospital.”
When he came to, he asked someone what had happened to him. “They said that an ambulance run over me. Ran over my head.” He had been out for seven days.
“When I lay down… I put my helmet right up beside my head. The only thing I could figure was it run up on it, and over my head. I didn’t get the full weight of the thing,” he said. “If I had, it’d mashed it flat.”
He was left with a fractured skull and permanent deafness in his left ear. He was in various hospitals for nine months. Gladys didn’t know for a time if he was alive or dead.
J.C. was transferred from the field hospital to England. Eventually, he was stable enough to return to the States, and was sent to Lawson General Hospital in Atlanta. Lawson was a rehabilitation hospital for injured personnel returning from the war.
Gladys traveled to Atlanta and stayed with him until he was well enough to come home to Beulaville. Shortly after J.C. left the Army in 1945, the couple moved a few miles down the road to my hometown of Kenansville, population 800, on a good day.
J.C. had worked in highway maintenance for the N.C. Department of Transportation before the war, and returned to the DOT afterward. In 1958, he and Gladys built a house next door to my parents and lived there for nearly 50 years. The younger of their two sons, Randy, and I were schoolmates from first grade through graduation from high school.
J.C. always kept a backyard vegetable garden, and when he worked outside in coveralls, my younger brother Dana mistook him for Mr. Green Jeans, agrarian sidekick to Captain Kangaroo.
He retired from the DOT in 1982, and he and Gladys lived beside my folks for another 20 years before health issues forced the move into Autumn Village.
J.C. says he suffered headaches for years, but they eventually subsided. “I’m doing real good now,” he said. “I’m getting along real good.” He has good genes on his side. His mother lived to age 102.
A few years ago, J.C. received a certificate in the mail. It was in French, a thank you awarded to U.S. vets who fought at Normandy. He displays it on the wall of his room, proudly pointing it out to visitors.
When asked how he feels about his time in the Army, he simply says, “It was an experience. I’ll put it that way.”