Marcie Dover was 19 years old when he left his home in Alabama for basic training, New Jersey and eventually a ship to Europe in 1944. He hadn’t even had a chance to finish high school before being drafted.
Seventy years later, he’s one of a number of World War II veterans who was honored with the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, on April 3 by Denis Barbet, the consul general of France in Atlanta.
Founded by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802, the National Order of the Legion of Honor is the highest honor in France. It recognizes eminent services to the French Republic. Recipients of this honor are designated by the president of the Republic, François Hollande. Dover left the service as a staff sergeant in Company L, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division.
The son of an Alabama sharecropper still remembers a lot from that time.
Dover, 88, who now lives in a house set back on a sloping piece of property near Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, grew up on the move. He remembers his father moved all around the South taking jobs as a sharecropper. It wasn’t until Dover was about to leave for basic training at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Ala., that his father finally bought his own farm, the first piece of property the family owned.
Dover’s military service brought many more firsts after that, including his first boat trip of sailing from New York to Great Britain, and his first taste of war, landing in the hedgerows of Normandy soon after the D-Day invasion.
“We didn’t know where we were going until they put us on the boat,” he said.
His brother went the other direction, heading to the Pacific theater to fight Japan.
Dover fought the Germans, arriving at St. Lo and moving on to the town of Brest, where he said he and his squad had a hard time even finding a place to sleep due to the destruction.
“Brest looked like a pile of rubbish,” he remembered.
He said after the first real engagement his unit had, only he and his commander were left.
That wasn’t, however, the worst part, he said. That came after his unit was transported in cattle cars from France to Belgium. They marched into position to experience one of the biggest battles of the war, The Battle of the Bulge, and fought during the cold winter.
He remembered his unit leaving the front line for a new unit to rotate in, just days before the Germans launched the attack, driving the new unit back. The fighting was tough, but Dover said the weather was worse.
“The weather was the hardest part,” he said.
Following the battle, an Allied victory, he said the toughest part was simply keeping up with the retreating Germans. From there, it was on to Czechoslovakia, where he was stationed when the war finally concluded.
Soon after, he headed home, having lived a lifetime of experiences in just a year and rising from private to staff sergeant. He chuckled at the light moments, like when a member of his squad stole potatoes from a farmer near the Czechoslovakian base.
“I went from private to sergeant in a month, then a squad leader,” he said. “I was blessed and lucky.”
He said the memories sometimes keep him up at night, and he remembers other events he can’t place, but his life moved on.
Upon returning — his luck held once again when, instead of being redeployed to Japan, the war ended after the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki — he used the GI Bill to finish high school and go to electrical school after a short stint guarding prisoners in Texas.
Before long he met and married Gaynell, with whom he will celebrates 65 years on May 10.
They lived in Alabama, in Detroit for General Motors and then in Doraville, Stone Mountain and Gwinnett County before settling into retirement in Barrow in 2000.
They also found the time to go overseas to where Dover had the experiences he still remembers today. They stayed with a family in Germany whom Dover’s son met while stationed there. He saw the old German bunkers still on the French coast.
In essence, they made the trip Dover did decades before in reverse, finishing in England before flying home.
He liked the trip, a chance to go back under much calmer circumstances. Either way, he said the old memories don’t bother him much.
Plus, he has two kids, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren to focus on now, not to mention his wife.
But he’ll always be one of those who, not yet 20, went overseas to help liberate a country he had never been to before. For that, the French government is now saying thanks.
Dover is happy to accept it.
“It’ll be nice,” he said.