Editor’s note: Our area of North Carolina is fortunate to remain home to many men and women who served in the Second World War from 1939-1945. Throughout 2017, OutreachNC is honored to share some of their remarkable stories with our readers, and we could not think of a better way to kick off the series than with our “Nonagenarian” columnist, Glenn Flinchum.
by Jonathan Scott | Photography by Diana Matthews
It was Christmas Eve, 1944, and the Allies were fiercely engaged with the German Army in the forest of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg in what would later be known as the Battle of the Bulge. It would also later be known as the decisive turning point in the European Theater of World War II.
About 40 miles away, lying on a cot in a damaged schoolhouse in Maastrict, Netherlands, a boy from Carthage was trying to catch up on some much-needed sleep. Glenn Flinchum had never been out of North Carolina until he joined the Army. It had been a whirlwind year, first training at Fort Bragg, then off to Texas, then Boston, and then aboard a ship to England.
Flinchum was grateful for the comfort of sleeping in a tent. There was now snow on the Dutch landscape, and the infantry troops had to spend Christmas Eve huddling in foxholes.
Flinchum was part of the Ninth Army, led by Lt. Gen. W. H. Simpson. Simpson had led the Army from England, through France and up to Holland in the wake of General Patton’s Third Army. They were headed to the German border.
Flinchum’s sleep that Dec. 24 was broken by the sound of a German “buzz bomb.” They were a forerunner of today’s drones: unmanned bombs with wings but with no guidance—a random way of waging war. To Flinchum, the familiar sound seemed almost commonplace.
He could have almost slept through it but not through the rough nudge of his tent-mate, Roy.
“‘I’ve got something to tell you,’ Roy said,” Flinchum recalls, “‘we have an invitation for Christmas Eve.’”
Flinchum and Roy had made friends with some of the local children by giving out chocolates and gum. To these kids, Americans were heroes. The Army had liberated Holland from the Nazis, who had taken almost all the country’s food and consumer goods with them when they retreated. The Dutch didn’t have much, but by Christmas Eve 1944 at least they had their freedom.
The Dutch family who had invited them were living at the lowest possible subsistence level. They didn’t let that stop them from generating a holiday mood. Enjoying a meager meal the family had managed to scrounge, the group swapped stories of the war, how the family had survived and how they even managed to help some Jews escaping from the concentration camps. The evening ended with Christmas carols sung in two languages.
“I didn’t receive one single present,” Flinchum says. “However, it was a Christmas I’ll always remember.”
After the war ended the following year, Flinchum returned to North Carolina. He worked for the state of North Carolina and later the U.S. government in public health and vital statistics. He recently moved back to Pinehurst.
“If you have pleasant memories of growing up,” he says, now at 93, “you want to come back.”