WWII veteran recalls service in Europe

Editor’s note: This is part of a series published every Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.

SOUTHINGTON — When Jack Elston turned 90, he knocked an item off his bucket list — give a “kiss” to every woman he met.

The World War II U.S. Army veteran, now 92, is known all over Trumbull County for giving out thousands of chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, especially at businesses on Elm Road he frequents with his oldest daughter, CoAnn Osmon of Niles.

But as a young soldier, who was drafted into the 125th Anti-Aircraft Battalion less than two months after his 18th birthday, life was very different.

“We traded packs of cigarettes for three-hour gun duty. I didn’t smoke, so I often would get out of gun duty by giving my cigarettes to my fellow soldiers,” Elston said.

He attended basic training at Camp Haan in Riverside, Calif., and ended up staying there for one year of military training.

Elston was at Camp Myles Standish in Taunton, Mass., when D-Day happened on June 6, 1944. He then was sent to Camp Edwards in Falmouth, Mass., before being deployed to England. His battalion set up on the coast and fired at the flying bombers overhead.

“The sky would be full of flak and puffs of smoke. I always wondered how the pilots could see,” Elston said.

The battalion was sent to Cherbourg Harbor, France, to protect it from the German Army, but Elston said they never fired a shot. The battalion then was sent to Belgium.

“Every time the Germans got pushed back by the British and Canadian armies, we moved 25 miles up the line,” Elston said.

He spent one year and seven months overseas with his battalion, mostly attached to the British Army.

Elston said he started as a reconnaissance man, but a soldier in his battalion was too small to handle the ammunition.

“He wasn’t strong enough to carry the heavy artillery, so I took over his job,” he said.

Elston said while he was in Europe, the radioactive fuse was introduced as a new weapon, but the U.S. military was afraid to use it because they didn’t want the Germans to get their hands on it and duplicate the design. However, Elston said they eventually used these fuses toward the end of the war.

He said he was in Holland when World War II ended. When he arrived home, he married his high school sweetheart, Juanita, who was his sister’s friend. He got out of the Army in March 1946 and married her in May.

“When I got drafted, we had an agreement that if neither of us was married when I got out, we would pick up where we left off,” Elston said.

They were married for 65 years before her death about five years ago. They raised four children of their own and also served as foster parents to dozens of special-needs children, several of whom still keep in touch.

Elston comes from a military family. His father, Daniel Elston, fought in World War I and his older brothers, Daryl “Smoke” Elston and Carl “Bud” Elston, also served in the Army during World War II at the same time as him. A younger brother later served in Korea.

One of his grandsons, Clint Elston, was in the Army Reserves, and his oldest great-grandson is in the U.S. Air Force.

“Military service is important. It gives you perspective and helps you appreciate everything you have,” Elston said.

He golfs every week and cuts his own grass on a riding mower. He and Juanita volunteered at SCOPE and also served as bus escorts for the Golden Voyagers, a senior citizens group in Southington, despite being in their late 70s and early 80s. Elston also helped Osmon at the Southington Christian Church’s Vacation Bible School while in his 80s.

“You just can’t slow him down,” Osmon said.