Finally headed back home after 10 months of surviving in deplorable conditions at the hands of a German POW camp in France, Kines can’t put into words the way he felt as he saw the Statue of Liberty break over the horizon.
“When I saw that … I just, I just don’t know,” he said, glancing off into the distance before closing his eyes. “It was great, that’s all.”
After a palpable pause, the 88-year-old Kines starts to speak again, this time, with a chuckle, “They sure gave us some kind of meal when we got off the ship. Any kind of steak you wanted, they let us have.”
It was a seemingly insignificant offering of thanks for someone that had endured such physical suffering just days prior, but Kines remembers the small gesture of appreciation well.
“Over there, we were always hungry. The big tents where we slept had no beds, we were lucky to have straw cover the dirt. Body lice as big as the tip of your thumb,” he says, his voice quieting. “It was terrible.”
Kines enlisted in the Army in 1943, several months shy of turning 18,he admits. After a little pleading, he was allowed in.
“I told them that all my buddies were going
and I didn’t want to be the only one that didn’t get to go,” Kines said. “I guess it worked because they let me in.”
And off he went — to Florida, Arkansas, Alabama then overseas to England and France, serving as a rifleman radio operator in the 317th Regiment 80th Division.
The day he was captured, Kines said they were in a small town in France. “We planned on going in that morning and shooting our way in.
The Germans let us come in, but then they came in behind us.Everything went crazy.”
To say that it stayed crazy for the next 10 months of Kines’ life would no doubt be an understatement. In this interview, he doesn’t share much about what went on during his imprisonment. All we need to know, he said, was that it was bad.
He gets up and disappears for a few seconds, walking back into the room holding a photograph of a very attractive and very young couple.It’s a photo of Kines and his wife, Greathel, gussied up for a military dance. The couple married in the early 1940s in Bentonville, Ark. and had three children.
While he was serving the country, she moved back in with her parents.
And then came the telegram.
He unfolds a photocopy of the Western Union his wife received when the Army learned of his capture. ‘We regret to inform you,” the telegram states, “that your husband has been captured.”
He folds it back up and shakes his head. “I don’t know what she thought when she got this. I’m sure she was frightened.”
Kines recalls the day when those unimaginable months as a POW came to an end. “The Russians came to liberate us. I remember that day, everything was very quiet, then all of a sudden, here comes the biggest Russian tank I ever saw.” Kines pauses for a moment, and then
starts laughing, “And it was being driven by the biggest Russian woman I’ve ever seen. She came down off that thing and gave us all hugs. It was something else.”
From there, Kines and his fellow POWs were brought to safety and placed on Liberty Ships. For two weeks, they sailed across the ocean before docking in New York.
After his brief stay in New York, Kines headed home to Cedartown,catching a bus that would eventually drop him off at the West Avenue station. From there, he made his way to Ledbetter Street, slipping in quietly to his home at 2 a.m. to reunite with the wife and children that he had left behind.
Seventy years later, Kines has been given another thank-you, this time from the City of Cedartown. Kines was named as the 2012 Grand Marshalof the Cedartown Chirstmas Parade.
Much like the steak dinner Kines was given on his return to the states, honoring Kines as Cedartown’s Grand Marshal seems small when compared to the enourmous sacrifice made by a young man from a small town during World War II.
But for Kines, it’s an honor that he looks forward to having.
“I’m glad to be able to do it,” Kines said of his grand marshal duties. “I wonder what made them want me,” he said laughing, “but I am happy to do it. I’m looking forward to it.”
The Cedartown Christmas parade will be held this Thursday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. The rain date is Friday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.