Purple Heart recipient carries wounds of war

WWII Army Infantry vet Carl Lawrenson, of Oakland, looks through photographs taken while he was serving in Italy and France.


World War II veteran Carl Lawrenson, 86, still carries six pieces of shrapnel in his back from a hand grenade that went off while he was serving with his U.S. Army in Italy.

“We were kind of close that night,” Lawrenson said. A total of 28 pieces of shrapnel landed in his back and sent him to the hospital.

Lawrenson, of Oakland Borough, was awarded the Purple Heart for his combat injury.  He was drafted into the Army at 20 and served from 1944-46 in Italy and France.

After being wounded, Lawrenson spent 15 days in a field hospital before being transferred to the general hospital in Italy. It took five months for him to recover.

“When I went out of the first hospital, one nurse told me I shouldn’t be alive and if I was alive I should have been a paraplegic,” Lawrenson said. “It was touch and go but it never entered my mind that I wouldn’t live.”

He doesn’t usually talk about the time he spent in WWII.

“Somebody that wasn’t there wouldn’t believe you. It gets interesting if you’re talking to another veteran, other than that, you don’t talk about it much. There’s not many of us left,” Lawrenson said.

“There are things you never forget no matter how much you want to– things you couldn’t forget.”

What he usually tells people about the war is, “It was an experience worth one million dollars but you wouldn’t give 50 cents to do it over.”

But the vet does have some good memories of the time he spent in Europe. Most of all, he enjoyed the seven-day furloughs that he spent on the Riviera, at Nice and in Switzerland.

On the first day of a furlough in Nice, Lawrenson was walking down the street and ran into a childhood friend from Susquehanna.

“He had been in Germany and I was in France,” said Lawrenson. Even though his buddy moved to Ohio after the war, the two kept in touch over the years.

Lawrenson was coming off that Nice furlough when the Red Cross girls met the soldiers at the train with a banner that read in big, red letters: “It’s all over.” That’s how he found out the European campaign had ended.

He returned home to his wife, Betty, who he had married June 4, 1944 while on a 21-day leave before he shipped out. “July 4, I was on the boat,” he said.

Upon his return in 1946, he opened the barbershop in Oakland. “Because of my back, I had to do something where I didn’t have to lift. My back has bothered me ever since so the heaviest thing I lifted was a pair of clippers.”

The Lawrensons raised five children; two girls and three boys.

Daughter Jane took over running the family barbershop when Lawrenson retired.

The veteran has not been active in the local American Legion in recent years but does attend public functions sponsored by the group.

Lawrenson said the WWII vets were treated very well when they returned home.

“Veterans from two wars didn’t get the recognition they should have got. I’m not sure they do now,” Lawrenson said.

“War is war. It doesn’t make any difference what war it is – it’s hell and they should get a little more recognition, I think.”

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