When Ernest Albert “Andy” Andrews Jr. died in 2016, hundreds packed an auditorium in the small mountain town of Montreat, North Carolina, to pay their respects to the 92-year-old World War II veteran.
“He was an old man who lived in this little community in the mountains, and about 700 people came to his funeral,” Andy’s son, Al Andrews, told Fox News Digital. “He was crazy, wild.”
When he was 20 years old, Andy Andrews was among the third wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He would go on to fight in other key battles of the conflict. such as the Battle of Aachen, the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, and the Battle of the Bulge.
Andrews’s war memoir, published last summer and titled “A Machine Gunner’s War: From Normandy to Victory with the 1st Infantry Division in World War II,” recounts in graphic detail his experience as an Army machine gunner. US expectation in combat of approximately seven minutes.
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‘Faith and humanity’
Author and historian David B. Hurt worked for 15 years helping Andrews compile his extensive memories of the war into a book.
“For Andy, this experience as a soldier was defined by his Christian faith,” Hurt told Fox News Digital. “In that sense, you could say that the central theme of the book is about Andy’s commitment to preserve his faith and his humanity in the midst of the horror and brutality of war.”
Born on July 27, 1923, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Andrews grew up in nearby Signal Mountain, the fourth of six children. The first part of Andrews’ book details his devout Christian upbringing, which he credits with sustaining him through the war. He earned four Purple Hearts and four Bronze Stars, and came close to several hits, including once when his glasses shot off his face.
Hurt pointed to several places in the book where Andrews’ faith and humanity shone through the deep darkness of World War II.
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In one instance, Andrews was ordered to throw a grenade at the machine gun nest that was firing at them.
As he approached the dugout, Andrews heard the children’s sobs and discovered that three German boys no older than 7 years old were pulling on a rope to keep the machine gun going. Apparently the Nazis had ordered the children to hold that position as they retreated. He hugged the terrified children, offered them gum, and made sure the Americans took care of them.
In another incident, Andrews disobeyed a direct order from a lieutenant when he was ordered to shoot 10 Germans waving a white flag of surrender. “You can go to hell,” Andrews told him. “You can have someone else do your dirty work for you. Damn if I do!”
The lieutenant, who Andrews speculated was unusually angry after being injured by shrapnel, later calmed down.
I am also a Christian!
Andrews’s most harrowing and poignant battle took place on November 18-19, 1944, when his unit was tasked with holding high ground called Hill 232 outside of Hamich, Germany.
When the enemy attacked, they decimated all but five of the 35 Americans. Andrews had to shoot the Germans at close range in the head with his pistol as they crested the cliff.
Andrews’s closest friend was shot in the head and died during that battle, unable to breathe on his lap as blood poured from his mouth, nose, ears and eyes.
After the four gunners before him were shot in the face, Andrews was ordered to take over the machine gun. He shot a German soldier who had wounded him in the shoulder after throwing a grenade at him.
The silence lasted for 30 minutes, during which time Andrews thought the soldier was dead until a white handkerchief emerged in the early morning darkness.
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“Can I give up? Please, can I give up?” the badly bloodied soldier yelled at Andrews in broken English as he crawled towards him.
Andrews recounted how he picked it up and asked his name. He learned that the German soldier named Erich was 17 years old and feared that Andrews would kill him. After Andy explained that he would never kill anyone because he’s a Christian, Erich said, “I’m a Christian too!” The two, both wounded by each other, limped together to the nearest aid station.
Erich gave Andy a small gold cross, which he kept for the rest of his life.
‘Seek the goodness of God’
After returning from the war, Andrews married his wife, Hellon, and had two children, Al and Sarah. Al Andrews said his father struggled throughout his life to reconcile his faith with the horrific violence he had experienced and carried out as a young man.
“Back then, if you were called, you went to war,” Al Andrews said. “And I feel like while he was talking about it, he was doing something that had to be done because of the horrors of war. But I don’t know if it ever really reconciled him. It was a strain on him, as I think.” It probably would be for anyone of faith.”
When Al Andrews and his father visited Normandy in 1994 to mark the 50th anniversary of the invasion, he recalled Andy kneeling and crying among the Germans’ graves, begging for their forgiveness.
“It was so moving for me, because his deepest pain was not what they did to him, and they hurt him multiple times, but what he did to them,” said Andy’s son.
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Andy Andrews would go on to serve in Christian youth ministry for many decades, a vocation he noted occurred to him when he encountered the young Germans in the machine gun nest.
In the closing remarks of his memoir, Andrews reflected on the healing he experienced from telling his war stories to many audiences over the years, and urged other veterans to do the same.
“Many ex-soldiers simply don’t believe an audience can grasp the terror of combat and the horrors they have witnessed on the battlefield,” he wrote. “Other veterans may simply believe they weren’t heroes and have no stories worth telling.”
Andrews encouraged those veterans to overcome their reluctance.
“By helping to bring to light the terrible suffering and horrors that inevitably accompany all wars, I also believe that we veterans may be able to prevent history from repeating itself,” he said.
Speaking at his father’s funeral, Al Andrews said: “During the last year of his life, when you asked Dad how he was, he always said, ‘Well, I can’t hear, and I can’t see, but God is good.’ And he told us that in the midst of pain and trials, let us look for the goodness of God, which is always there.”
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“As I watched him day by day in his hopeful, gentle, joy-filled life, caring for and loving everyone he encountered, he taught us that if you love, people will see Christ,” added Al Andrews.