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Memories of war: A soldier's story

By Brian Todd

The National World War II Memorial
The National World War II Memorial
Wolf Blitzer Reports
Armed Forces Retirement Home
George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- This Memorial Day weekend marks the dedication of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Thousands of veterans are participating, including one man who'll also take part in ceremonies in France next week, when President Bush commemorates the 60th anniversary of D-Day and the liberation of Europe.

Charles Yoder, who by his own admission is a loner, blends in among more than 500 World War II veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home -- that is until one hears what he has to say.

"I tell you, if you are ever hit or you are near a shell that explodes, it can be something. Your ears start ringing. There is a buzz in the air. Long after the shell has exploded you still have got this ringing sensation," Yoder says, fighting tears. "I don't like to be reminded of all this. I'd forgotten all about them."

In late 1944 and early 1945, Yoder was part of a cold, wet, ugly campaign into Germany.

"The fighting was intense, and we lived in mud," he remembers.

Pvt. Yoder was a medic with Gen. George S. Patton's U.S. Third Army as it swept through Europe to rescue a surrounded American unit in Belgium.

It became the Battle of the Bulge, and it started in the middle of Yoder's R&R.

"That was our R&R: The Battle of the Bulge!" says Yoder.

Yoder endured that epic fight, his reckoning was yet to come.

Yoder's story is compelling in many different ways. His heroism and sacrifice clearly stand out. But what draws you closer is how relevant his story is right now.

When you hear about a mortar attack in Iraq, imagine a day in Germany in March 1945: Yoder and his buddies thought they were out of danger.

At a farm, they lined up for a rare, hot meal. They heard a whistling sound, then explosions. Some men took cover in a barn. Others were hit. As Yoder moved to help them, a shell exploded right next to him. He was wounded, but kept moving.

"I knew I had work to do. So I went and got this guy out and led him back. I didn't know it was ... the lieutenant of our company. I led him back into the barn and I had to go back and pick up the other guy. He was badly hit and I carried him out of there, back to the barn. So I guess I got the Silver Star because I was wounded and the two guys were wounded," he says.

From that day -- in a span of two weeks -- Yoder earned a Silver Star, two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star. And he doesn't consider himself "highly decorated."

"I don't know, a lot of the highly decorated guys or the guys that would be highly decorated are dead," Yoder says. "I think the amazing thing is that I came out of it alive."

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