BANGOR — Photographs of Guy Ellms’ leg, laid open by a log during a woods accident in Sangerville last fall, would convince most people that the 91-year-old World War II veteran was done marching in parades.
Not so fast.
“We are practicing walking up hills,” said his wife, Nancy Ellms, also a World War II veteran. The married couple of 64 years lives in Dexter, where a hill is more than a bump in the road.
So it is that spectators at the Bangor Memorial Day Parade on Monday will see Guy, now 92, and Nancy, 85, at the head of the World War II contingent marching along Harlow and Central streets and then doing their best to make it up Main Street to Davenport Park.
“It isn’t for ourselves,” that they will take part in the Bangor parade for the 14th year, Nancy said.
“We enjoy the people,” Guy said. “I love to see little kids waving their arms off and trying to thank you, even though they don’t know what it was all about.”
Like most of the World War II veterans who march in Bangor, Mr. and Mrs. Ellms were interested when they read about the World War II walking sticks being distributed by Cole Land Transportation Museum a dozen years ago. Both carry their walking sticks in Bangor parades.
Nancy was a WAVE in the U.S. Navy during the war, serving in Washington, D.C. Guy drove a supply truck for the U.S. Army’s 433rd Anti-Aircraft Battalion, a duty that took him to Casablanca, Sicily, Naples, Rome, southern France, the Rhineland and, most memorably, to Anzio in Italy.
“Anzio Beach was the worst place we were in,” Guy recalled. “It was a point of land out in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Americans decided to invade that. There were no Germans to really speak of, and they decided to stay,” he said with a pause. “We spent three months there.
“By day, German planes would fly over, drop a bomb and strafe on the way out,” he said. “One landed on a field house.” Those killed included Julian P. Clukey from Dexter, for whom the armory in the town is named.
The German planes were busy at night as well, Guy recalled. “They would drop flares, and the heat would hold them up in the air for a half-hour. They would dive right under a flare and drop a bomb.”
Though Guy drove a supply truck, he had his own close call with German bombs.
“One time, the Germans rolled four tanks right through our line,” he said. Three of the tanks went back, but one didn’t. “They called out a bunch of us boys to go with the infantry, and the next day we spent all day in a ditch 3 feet deep and 4 feet wide.”
That night, during the blackout, the convoy Guy was on stopped. The Germans were dropping what the soldiers called personnel bombs. Two bombs were dropped, one landing behind the convoy and one in front of it, but no one was hit.
“I heard some praying,” Guy said. “I’m telling you, we were all scared.”
By the time the war in the European Theater ended in May 1945, Guy’s unit was in the middle of Germany.
“We were all cheering — we thought we were going home,” he said. “Then they told us, ‘You are now being assigned to the infantry and headed to the Far East.” They were trained to teach bayonet fighting in anticipation of the invasion of Japan, but that war ended after the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
The troops came home, and Guy was on to the next phase of his life, including a marriage of 64 years — to his bride, Nancy.
The secret to a long marriage, Nancy says, is something a minister at church once said: “Don’t go 50-50” in the partnership, she explained. “Go 75-75. And we never go to bed angry.”
Guy and Nancy have been walking hand in hand in the Bangor parades since 1997, said museum founder Galen Cole.
“Never in my life have I known a couple with the joint enthusiasm and the ‘can-do’ attitude of Guy and Nancy Ellms,” Cole said. “Their life’s story is simply remarkable. In this year’s parade, we can expect fewer than 30 World War II veterans. The Ellmses will be marching alone up front, leading the World War II group, and will be available to shake hands both before the parade starts and at the Cole Museum at noontime.”
The couple will meet the featured speaker at the museum program, Maj. Gen. John Libby, adjutant general, Cole said. “World War II is special to the general, as his dad was in that war, and he plans to speak about the Ellmses during his speech.”