Local veteran Livaudias shares his story about his service during the war

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 9, 2015

FEW MEMENTOS: Jim Livaudias talks about his time serving in the military during WWII.  The hat on his head and the photo in the foreground are two of the few items he saved after his service in the 101st and 82 Airborne divisions. Photo by Jeremy Pittari

FEW MEMENTOS: Jim Livaudias talks about his time serving in the military during WWII. The hat on his head and the photo in the foreground are two of the few items he saved after his service in the 101st and 82 Airborne divisions.
Photo by Jeremy Pittari

This is the second in a series of stories recognizing Military Appreciation Month.
“I was that which others did not want to be. I went where others feared to go, and did what others failed to do. I asked nothing from those who gave nothing and reluctantly accepted the thought of eternal loneliness… should I fail. I have seen the face of terror, felt the stinging cold of fear, and enjoyed the sweet taste of a moment’s love. I have cried, pained and hoped… but most of all, I have lived times others would say were best forgotten. At least some day I will be able to say that I was proud of what I was… a soldier,” George L. Skypeck.

Those are the words written on a piece of paper framed in 98-year-old James B. Livaudias’ living room, given to him after he spoke to a group at an Alexandria La. museum about his military service during World War II.
Livaudias is a veteran, widower, father of one, grandfather to three, great-grandfather to six and great great-grandfather to three. He’s the lone survivor of seven sibling, one of which was signed to be a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves until his brother was drafted and killed in the line of duty.
As a teenager, Livaudias began working for a wage of $3 a week, of which he gave all but 50 cents to his mother to help make ends meet.
Drafted in March of 1942, the New Orleans native gathered with the other draftees at a bus depot on Canal Street in the Big Easy, waiting to be transported to Camp Claiborne just outside of Alexandria. Within two months of joining the military, he married his wife of 54 years, making only $21 a month.
After receiving two to three months of training, the trainees were notified a new division was required, the Airborne. Livaudias would be a part of two of those divisions, the 101st and the 82nd.
That change in assignment brought an increase in pay, an additional $75 per month due to the nature of the assignment.
“In the Airborne everything is faster. You walk faster, train faster,” Livaudias said.
With a sharp mind, Livaudias, can recall every aspect of his 28 months in WWII. Airborne divisions had only 8,000 troops, half the size of the others. Since his division had half the men of others, there were fewer medics, so each man in the Airborne was given one vial of morphine, kept tied to their leg. For the most part, reinforcements were not provided to Airborne divisions if casualties occurred. And casualties occurred often. Livaudias said during his time overseas he saw at least 15 men die. The fact he got out of the war alive and the life he led afterwards makes him feel like a lucky man.
“Somebody is watching over me,” Livaudias said.
During a stay in Normandy his division got some more people, then moved to the invasion of Holland to stop the Germans from destroying a crucial bridge.
In order to get to assignments they were brought in on gliders, a contraption that was notoriously dangerous to land.
“A glider has no brakes. You know how you stop it? You hit something,” Livaudias said.
Since Hitler knew the gliders were used by the Allies, he had his men set telegraph posts in the fields, causing a hazardous landing situation that clipped wings and caused injury, Livaudias said.
After saving the bridge his unit was sent to Bastogne where he became part of a mortar squad. The mortars he used were capable of killing 10 to 15 enemy forces from a mile away.
At times soldiers would need a comfortable place to stay. But due to the fraternization law a soldier could not be under the same roof as a German man, woman or child.
“If you get a little break you knock on the door and tell the people to get out and take their house. Just think if that happened in America?”
One of the things that perplexes Livaudias about the war was that it should have been apparent to Hitler he was going to lose, especially after the Allied troops took back most of the areas he had invaded.
“What in the hell is in the mind of Hitler and all his troops? He could have thrown in the sponge and saved the lives of 100,000 fine young men,” he said.
During his recollection, Livaudias remembered an inexperienced soldier who asked for advice. Livaudias told the solider to seek cover when the shells start falling. But not ten minutes into the next attack the soldier failed to heed those words.
“Where do you think this kid is? I turned around and about six feet from me… he’s sitting on his ammunition in the middle of the road. I said, ‘boy get your ass in that ditch.’ The next shell come in, hit that boy direct and blew him into about 20 pieces,” Livaudias said.
One of the worst days he remembered during that time involved the death of a solider that had been with him since the beginning, until a shell went off near Livaudias and a group of men, killing the man and injuring several others.
“That shows you how lucky I am. I’m next to him. I gave him a shot of morphine, which was wasted. He lasted maybe ten minutes,” he said.
A dangerous assignment Livaudias said he was lucky to survive involved the use of a bazooka to attempt to take out enemy soldiers stationed in a concrete structure. When Livaudias got into position to take his shot, he was almost killed when the soldier shot the back of the bazooka off, missing Livaudias’ head by inches.
After the Germans were defeated, he was informed they would head to Japan and finish the war. But something occurred that would negate the trip.
“God bless Harry Truman. He dropped that bomb and that was the end of the war,” Livaudias said.
With the war nearly over, Livaudias was ready to head back home. But in order to go home, soldiers had to have 85 points accrued. Livaudias had 83, so he was sent to Temple Hall just outside of Berlin for guard duty. While on that assignment a commanding officer asked him to be the first sergeant. Instead of accepting the position, Livaudias told the officer that during his time overseas, his father, brother and aunt had all passed and he was just two points shy of going home.
“I’m thinking, if I take first sergeant I’m gonna be stuck over here another six months” Livaudias said.
Two days later got the call to go home and arrived stateside in November of 1945.
When he got home Livaudias and his wife had a daughter and he opened a dry cleaning plant in New Orleans that he ran until his retirement.
Today he stays active, walking four blocks everyday. He is also willing to share a secret to his longevity.
“You know what keeps me going? You’re going to laugh. Apple cider vinegar and honey and Dr. Lopez,” Livaudias said.
After more than five decades of marriage his wife passed away due to cancer about 19 years ago, but his daughter still comes to visit every Wednesday. Livaudias said he considers himself a lucky man. Not just because he survived the war, but because of his family.

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