Atherton, Paul

Paul Atherton was born July 15, 1921 in Hanover, New Hampshire.  The family moved around a bit when he was young, navigating the realities of the Great Depression.  Paul attended a one-room school for a time, but as his family moved to larger communities he grew accustomed to larger schools and different amenities.  Life in rural New England was ideal for the young Paul; he hunted and fished and enjoyed the great outdoors, when he wasn’t playing right field or attending a barn dance.  Paul did want to join up, and the navy was his first choice, but he was denied because of poor eyesight.  So he opted instead for the National Guard.  But then the attack on Pearl Harbor took place, and all of a sudden the Guard was federalized – as Paul remembers it he “was in the real army”.  He was sent to a number of camps at this point, as training intensified.  Paul’s destination would be the south Pacific; the men boarded their troopship, the SS Calvin Coolidge, and they were bound for the Solomon Islands.  The ship hit sea mines near Espiritu Santo, forcing the captain to ground the ship.  Luckily Paul and most of the men on board were able to escape.  They spent the next several months there, waiting and under occasional attack by the Japanese air force.  Back in the US, Paul had applied for officer training school, and while in the south Pacific he learned that he was accepted.  At this point he was sent back to the US for officer training, where he became one of the “90 day wonders”.  That training took place near Sparta, Wisconsin, where Paul met Jenny, who he would marry after a 6-week courtship.  Now an officer, Paul would be shipped off to Europe, bound for the Italian campaign.  The first stop was Naples, but Paul soon found himself on the Anzio beachhead.  They began to fight their way inland, dealing with German shelling and heavy casualties.  Paul was wounded and developed trench foot in this period,so he was hospitalized for an extensive period, and able to rejoin the regiment for the eventual invasion of southern France.  The 3rd Division moved from the coast into the Vosges Mountains and into the battle of Colmar Pocket, where Paul was given a battlefield promotion for meritorious actions.  They ran up against the Siegfried Line, as the 3rd Div. was right at the German border.  Paul was wounded crossing the Rhine so the war finished for Paul there; soon enough he would board a hospital ship and return to the US – and Jenny – ready to start a new life and family, and to find his way into the rhythms of postwar American life.  For Paul that meant a military career that would eventually take him to Vietnam.  Paul Atherton was interviewed over zoom in April 2022, by Scott Masters and Crestwood students.