Don’t Take Any Wooden Bullets!
by Priscilla Rall
No doubt you have heard of wooden nickels, but have you ever heard of wooden bullets? Well, Lawrence C. “Abner” Myers learned about them the hard way. He was one of five children, born in 1920 in Unionville to Lewis and Evelyn Wetzel Myers. The family soon moved to Creagerstown.
Life was hard for the Myers family, as Lewis suffered from heart trouble brought on during his time in the military in WWI. When Abner was 13, he was “farmed out” to his aunt and uncle’s farm, as his parents could no longer care for their large family. There, he milked cows and drove a team of horses, plowing and cultivating the fields. He returned home every other weekend, and Abner remembers Creagerstown as a fun-loving community that had dances, picnics, and even boxing matches! Mr. Stull had a fine grocery store on the corner, and above it was Lewis’s harness shop. The community’s doctor, Dr. Birely, drove a spring wagon pulled by one horse and would drive to his patients’ homes when needed. There were bootleggers all around, and “you could get it anywhere,” according to Abner.
In July 1940, he joined the Maryland National Guard and trained every other weekend. That all changed in February 1941, when the National Guard was nationalized, and suddenly these fair-weather soldiers were in the 29th Division of the U.S. Army. Abner trained at Ft. Meade, and then at Ft. A. P. Hill in the “Carolina Maneuvers” under Captain Anders (whom he considered the best).
Soon the 29th was sent on the Queen Elizabeth for more training in England. Landing in Scotland, they soon entrained to Cardiff. From there, they could visit London, where Abner experienced the German Blitz, which killed thousands of British civilians. Then his regiment, the 115th, moved to Plymouth, where they stayed in an ancient castle and could watch the RAF planes constantly flying over.
As men, material, and machines crowded the small island nation, it came as no surprise that eventually an invasion of enemy-held France would soon begin. Abner was loaded on a troop ship on June 4, 1944, but the weather delayed the invasion until June 6. From the top of his ship, Abner could see the armada of ships, Allied planes, and barrage balloons strung from vessels to discourage enemy planes.
The 116th Regiment of the 29th Division went in first, and was decimated by enemy fire. The brass then moved the 115th planned landing area several miles to a more-protected area. Abner recalled with dismay seeing supposedly waterproof tanks circling, waiting to land. One by one they sank, taking their crews with them.
As his landing craft drew closer to Omaha Beach, Abner could see German soldiers running across the top of the cliffs and being felled by Allied guns. Only a few crafts were in front of his, but he could see the bodies of soldiers who had not made it off the beach. The water was red with blood. In this wave of 29th-ers were Donald Null, Henry “Pete” Ponton Jr., Richard Fox, Alton Schaff, James Marceron, and others from Frederick.
It was complete chaos, and Abner still marveled at “how we survived.” The men had to weave their way through a mine field, where scores of soldiers lay dead. At some point during his rush to get off of the killing beachhead, a wooden bullet fired from a German rifle struck Abner’s thigh. Finally off the beach, he rested in a German foxhole for the night, not daring to sleep. The next morning, his thigh had swollen up severely, but he continued on with his company. Someone told him that he had been hit by a wooden bullet, which he had never heard of. The wood splinters exploded on impact and caused massive infection and swelling. Apparently, as the enemy was short of ammo, they used wooden bullets for practice for the untrained soldiers dragooned from the countries that they had invaded.
On the third day, Abner was standing near a lieutenant colonel when a shell from an 88 mm hit the officer. He was instantly killed and Abner suffered a severe closed head injury, collapsing on the dead officer. Medics soon moved him to a field aid station, where doctors decided he needed to be evacuated by plane to a hospital in England; he stayed there for two weeks.
Instead of returning to his company, Abner joined Company C, 397th Railroad MP Regiment, marching into Paris as the Germans marched out. Later, he was sent to Holland and then Belgium. Eventually, he was assigned to the 794th MP Battalion before returning home on a Liberty ship.
PFC Lawrence Myers was discharged in October 1945.
Many men who had been in combat came home with both external and internal scars. Abner’s father had died at age 49 from the effects of WWI. His brother, Alton “Peanut” Myers, a machine gunner in the Philippines, never fully recovered from the trauma he experienced there. Abner also suffered from what we now call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Fortunately, he received help from the VA at Martinsburg, West Virginia.
After WWII, it was tough to get a job, with so many ex-servicemen looking for employment. Abner worked as a mechanic at a lumber mill in Woodsboro, and after a time of unemployment, at Ft. Detrick.
He met Clara Dewees in Thurmont in 1945, and they were married in 1949. Together they had three children, eventually moving to Graceham, where he enjoyed his family, going to yard sales, and trips to the beach. Abner died peacefully on July 1, 2007.
So, take it from Abner, don’t take any wooden nickels and certainly no wooden bullets!
If you are a Veteran, or know a Veteran, who is willing to tell his or her story, contact the Frederick County Veterans History Project at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lawrence C. “Abner” Myers