When Junction City resident Steven Mittura enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1936, President Franklin Roosevelt was re-elected to a second term, the depression was lingering in America, Jesse Owens won four gold medals for the U.S. in the Berlin Olympics and Superman hadn’t yet made his first comic book appearance.
Mittura, who grew up in Allentown, Penn., and was the oldest of 17 children, was 18 years old when he enlisted. He joked that he had to enlist because there was no room at home. Mittura joined the reserves, leaving home in 1938. He went to Texas for basic training for the infantry, eventually winding up in 90th Infantry Division. In Feb. 1941, the reserves were called back — 10 months before the attack at Pearl Harbor.
“And that’s when they scattered them around. I wound up in Virginia for a while,” he said.
Mittura said he was among approximately 50 other soldiers who were sent to Fort Eustis, Va., as military police.
“We didn’t know nothing about the police but they taught us what to do,” he said. “It was a pretty good service.”
There was a shortage in engineers, so Mittura was reclassified as an engineer. He went to engineering training until Army officials determined they needed infantry more. So, Mittura was assigned to the 90th Infantry, and was sent to England.
“Yeah, I was reclassified all the time — from the MPs to the engineers, then from the engineers to the infantry,” he said.
He was in England for a day, before being sent to France, where he remained for a few days. Mittura then joined up with the 90th Infantry in Germany. He would be there for nine months.
“It was a short stay but it wasn’t my fault. They could’ve had me anytime they wanted to,” he said.
Going overseas, thoughts of enemies shooting at him were initially on his mind. But Mittura said what really had him worried was the thought of getting stabbed by a bayonet.
“I remember going from town to town, taking one town, and then you’d have a little rest before tackling another little village or town while the field artillery would be shooting up the place for about 15-20 minutes,” Mittura said. “And then you’d advance, and if there’s any resistance, well, you’d have to go at it.”
But for much of the time, as he recalls, he and other soldiers would be sleeping in fox holes.
“That’s no fun,” Mittura said.
The Nazis were the enemy, and Mittura said they had to be treated as such. However, as he recalled, the German locals treated American soldiers rather well. Soldiers would utilize the houses in some of the German villages. Civilians would stay in one portion of the homes while soldiers used the other parts of the houses.
“(Civilians) had to move over to the side but they were pretty nice. They treated you good. I guess the fright was there so they had to behave themselves,” he said. “They couldn’t be resistive.”
Spending time in Nazi Germany, Mittura recalled seeing a concentration camp. When he arrived at the small camp, all the German soldiers had gone, but he said bodies were still there, and furnaces were still operating.
“You’d open the door and see the skeletons,” he said. “Oh, yeah. It was horrible.”
Outside of time spent with friends, Mittura doesn’t have any fond memories from Germany. Though its been more than 70 years since his service in Germany, Mittura still has bad dreams about that time. Dreams in which someone is attacking him, or he’s trying to fight two or three people, still occur once in awhile.
“A couple times I even hollered in bed,” he said.
But in reality, German soldiers never physically attacked him. He never let them come that close.
“I’m a pretty good shooter,” he said. “But I was always afraid of that bayonet though.”
After being discharged, he signed right back into the reserves, where he stayed for another 20 years.
Mittura turned 100 years old in August, and said it’s nice to reach the milestone, but it’s not easy either — mainly because of the usual aches and pains that come about. He said he’s heard about the president sending certificates to veterans upon such milestones in their lives.
“But I didn’t get one for being 100,” he joked.
However, he did previously receive a papal blessing certificate from Pope Francis.
Mittura attributes his life’s longevity to ingesting hot dogs and coffee. The good hot dogs, obviously come from Pennsylvania, according to Mittura.
“The hot dogs ain’t too good around here,” he said.
As Mittura wears a ball cap with the words “World War II Veteran” embroidered on the front, he is stopped from time to time by people curious about his experiences. And he doesn’t mind talking about it. Having experienced many historical events through several decades, he likes the 1940s particularly because that’s when he was in the service.