Ray Weddington shares his WWII experience
By Steve Huffman
CHINA GROVE ó Ray Weddington remembers being in Belgium during the last year of World War II when a sergeant surveyed him and several of his fellow infantry members standing before him at attention.
The sergeant didn’t hesitate.
“Give that big boy over there a BAR,” he ordered, nodding in Weddington’s direction.
Weddington stood 6-foot-2 and weighed about 185 pounds, a strapping fellow for the era. “BAR” was the acronym for a Browning Automatic Rifle, a big weapon capable of laying down 20 shots at a squeeze of the trigger.
It was much more deadly than the M-1 rifles that most soldiers carried.
The trouble, Weddington recalled, is that the enemy knew the explosive firepower of a BAR. And they’d work hardest to take out any soldier carrying one of the guns.
“I was told that the life expectancy of a BAR carrier wasn’t but a few minutes,” Weddington said.
He asked what became of the infantryman who’d been carrying the BAR just before it was presented to him. His commanding officers paused.
“He didn’t make it back,” one of them finally replied.
Weddington, 84, relayed the story of his days in the military as he relaxed recently in the living room of his house on Lentz Road outside China Grove. He displayed pictures of himself in his Army uniform, the similarities between the young man he was and the senior citizen he’s become evident.
Weddington was drafted in August of 1944 as the war was beginning to wind to a close. But some of its most fierce fighting remained.
Weddington went through basic training at Camp Wheeler outside Macon, Ga. He was assigned to the Army’s 79th Infantry Division and traveled to England aboard the Queen Mary, a luxury liner converted during the war for use as a troop transport.
During the war’s final year, Weddington was stationed briefly in Scotland before crossing the English Channel and seeing action in France, Belgium and Germany. He was one of those brought in as replacements for the Allied troops lost during the infamous Battle of the Bulge, as bloody a struggle as the war offered.
Weddington earned two Battle Stars during his service and remembers the most fierce fighting of his career being the night after he and other members of his infantry division crossed the Rhine River into Germany.
Once they were in Germany, Weddington and his cohorts were given simple instructions.
“We were told, ‘Go as far as you can go as fast as you can,’ ” Weddington said.
They dug foxholes at one point, then were told to move further into the woods, orders that probably saved their lives. German planes that night strafed the woods where they’d first dug in.
“If we hadn’t done the second (foxholes), I wouldn’t be here today,” Weddington said.
On his second day in Germany, Weddington and his comrades had combat with German troops and tanks. He wasn’t far outside Berlin in April 1945 when Hitler committed suicide and Germany finally surrendered.
Following the end of the war in Europe, Weddington was given a two-week furlough, then sent to Camp Shelby in Mississippi where he underwent jungle training in preparation for a transfer to the Pacific Theatre and invasion of Japan.
The dropping of atomic bombs in August 1944 and Japan’s subsequent surrender likely saved Weddington’s life ó as well as the lives of thousands upon thousands of other U.S. soldiers.
Following the war, Weddington returned to China Grove and the farm on which he was raised. He and his wife, Cora, were married in 1947. They’ve raised two sons, Stephen and Donald, and have three granddaughters.
Weddington spent his career working for Cannon Mills. He started as a loom cleaner, then moved through just about every job the textile manufacturer offered before retiring in March 1987 as an overseer.
Weddington and Cora have enjoyed a good life, just about everyone in their rural farming community agrees. They’re members of Mt. Zion United Church of Christ.
The one thing he won’t do, Weddington said, is watch war movies ó either at the theater or on television.
“If I do, I won’t sleep,” he said. “I’ll knock and fuss all night.”
Weddington was one of five brothers who all served in the military during the Second World War. Each returned home safely.
“I attribute that to my mother back home praying for us,” Weddington said.