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World War II vet wonders why he survived war's horrors

Bernard W. Amos desperately wanted to go with his classmates and fight in World War II.

A year younger than the other Medina High School seniors because he had skipped a grade in grammar school, he was crushed when his father refused to sign the early enlistment papers.

"I was 17 and gung-ho to enlist, but my father said, 'You wait until you're drafted.' He knew from his service in World War I that I would not like taking orders, "Amos said.

After graduation, the enthusiastic teenager got an indirect taste of the war while working at the H.J. Heinz Co.'s food processing plant in Medina. Italian prisoners of war were among his coworkers.

"The Army was there to make sure the prisoners of war did their jobs, but they were very cooperative. They were happy to be doing something rather than just sitting around," Amos recalled.

And though only 17, his work ethic did not go unnoticed. He was promoted from his job on the production line to quality control.

"The production lines produced cans of food, all different varieties, and I had to make sure the proper number of cans went in each box at the end of the lines. I also had to make sure the boxes were properly sealed."

But his career at Heinz ended Sept. 21, 1943, when Amos, who'd turned 18, was drafted into the Army.

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Bernard W. Amos, 91
Hometown: Rochester
Residence: Medina
Branch: Army
Rank: Corporal
War zone: World War II, Pacific Theater
Years of service: September 1943 – January 1946
Most prominent honors: Asiatic-Pacific Theater Campaign Medal, 3 battle stars; Presidential Unit Citation
Specialty: Infantry

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"I was happy to be in the service and go to war," he said.

For months, he and other soldiers received extensive combat training, but most of it would not prove applicable to their duties in the Pacific Theater with the 77th Infantry Division.

"We had received all different types of training except for what we needed, jungle combat training. So they sent us over to Hawaii for three months to train in the jungles," he said.

After that, the 77th Infantry was launched into the thick of the island-hopping war, making amphibious landings at Guam, Leyte and Okinawa.

"We'd arrive in landing crafts and run about 60 yards through water onto coral beaches. The Japanese were shooting at us, and we were shooting at them and many of our troops were wounded or killed, and it was the same with the Japanese.

World War II veteran Bernard W. Amos, right, got three months of special training to learn how to fight the Japanese in the jungles where much of the war was waged. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

"We kept advancing. You kept moving forward and got as far into the island as you could before nightfall. Anything that moved at night, that was enemy. We were under orders not to move. If we heard something move, we shot at it. That was at every landing, the same orders. That's the way it was set up and it made sense."

The biggest of the invasions was the one planned for Japan, and Amos says he was not looking forward to it.

"We were on Okinawa and preparing to ship out to Japan with a lot of other divisions, but then they dropped the two atom bombs on Japan, and we did not have go. That was the end of the war. It would have been a real mess if we had to invade Japan, many men lost on both sides."

Back home, he earned a mechanical engineering degree at Rochester Institute of Technology on the GI Bill and, in time, was hired as a design engineer at General Motors' Harrison Radiator Division in Lockport.

He and the former Shirley Pask married in 1948 and raised four daughters. In 1981, he retired from Harrison after 33 years.

All of that bespeaks a successful and happy life, but the veteran says the war left a troubling mark upon his psyche.

"You have no idea what it is like. You lose friends, you see horrible scenes and you live in the same uniform for days, getting little rest, and you are shooting the Japanese who were sent to kill you."

For years, he says he wondered why he had survived without so much as a scratch.

"I finally realized that the good Lord needed me for other duties, to serve him. I have been very involved in the Medina United Methodist Church," said Amos, who continues to serve on church committees, attend weekly Bible studies and participate in social gatherings.

With this helping him make sense of why he was allowed to live, the 91-year-old Amos says he hopes he can serve God "a few more years."

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