For Carl Schutte, the outcome of World War II was a matter of distance and timing.
Mr. Schutte, who was the captain of M Company, 3rd Battalion, 264th Infantry Regiment, in the 66th Infantry Division, was stationed in England when he got orders to reinforce Allied forces during fighting in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest in Belgium. On Dec. 24, 1944, Mr. Schutte and his men were dispersed between two ships to cross the English Channel. They would never see the Ardennes.
There had been alarms throughout the day, as German submarines had been spotted, and the escorting destroyers dropped depth charges while crossing the channel.
"We were zig-zagging; it was a horrible day," the 81-year-old said. "It was cold, a mixture of snow and sleet and rain. It was dark and gloomy."
Mr. Schutte had just gotten in his bunk when he heard the alarm sound. There was a pounding on his door.
"It was a little ol' English gentleman," Mr. Schutte said, "'Gentlemen,' the Englishman said, 'This is not a drill; this is not a drill. This is the real thing."'
When Mr. Schutte reached the deck, he saw one of the troop ships, the U.S.S. Leopoldville, rapidly sinking. A German U-boat, U-486, had launched a torpedo. It rushed by, leaving a wake only 100 feet from Mr. Schutte's vessel, the Cheshire.
It was meant to sink his ship. Instead, it sank the converted Belgian passenger liner carrying many of his men from M Company.
"We were afraid that the sub was going to come around and hit us," he said. "We knew when that boat went down that it was a tragic thing. Who knows why? Only the Lord knows that."
The torpedo struck the ship between two troop compartments. Almost everyone on board died either from the blast or exposure to the freezing elements. The casualty count: 248 dead, 517 missing in action. Those who lived returned to England.
On Christmas Day 1944, what was left of the 66th regrouped and crossed the English Channel. They docked in Cherbourg, France. There, they helped contain German soldiers cut off from help until the war ended in Europe.
Later, Mr. Schutte was sent to the replacement depot in Belgium and then returned to America and began readying to invade Japan with the 5th Infantry Division. But on Aug. 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Japan surrendered Aug. 15, officially ending World War II.
Mr. Schutte remained in the military for several years. He went to work at Savannah River Plant in 1951 and retired in 1984.
Every day he raises the American flag in the morning and takes it down at night, whistling "reveille" all the while.
"We've got a heritage to preserve," he said. " A heritage of liberty and freedom.
"Americans are living in the greatest country that there is on earth."
Reach Josh Gelinas at (706)823-3218.