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War & Locale: World War II -- European Theater
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By Elaine Mingus
For David Pineda Towns, it was always about the letters. The letters from his wife. The letters from his family and friends. And his letters back to them.
It was always about the news they brought. He lived for their arrival. Like the one he received telling him he’d become a father to a 9-pound son.
"It's letters, and letters only, that bring up the morale of a soldier," Towns wrote to his wife, Lilia Martinez, while stationed overseas in Europe during World War II. "Do not fail to answer me soon."
It was in a letter where he told Lilia, his high school sweetheart at the time, that he was leaving his training at Camp Swift near Bastrop, Texas, to go by rail east to New York, where he’d be shipped off to war in Europe.
"When he wrote to me and told me he was going to leave, that he was going overseas, I went to San Antonio [, Texas,] and he came to say goodbye," Lilia said. "When he left, that night I couldn't sleep very well. When the train [he was on] passed by I could hear the whistling and still, when I hear the train in Eagle Pass [today], it still brings up those memories."
A letter telling Towns of his son's birth lifted his spirits while stationed in Southern England. The telegram informed him Lilia had given birth to a son and she’d named him David. It read: "Baby boy born this morning weighing nine pounds. Both doing fine."
Captain George Meyers, Towns' superior officer, sent a letter to Lilia, noting the effect the telegram had on Towns.
"I was very happy to hear the good news last Sunday when David greeted me. I knew he was happy because his face was beaming, and to think he was the proud father of a 9-pound boy," George said. "Believe you me, Lilia, he is a happy man."
Soon after hearing of his son's birth, Towns was chosen to undertake the role of platoon leader to augment the D-Day Invasion units.
"When Towns was transferred out of our platoon, that was a sad day ... after going through the whole thing with him, and then having him leave ... it was kind of sad," said Howard Schneider, one of the soldiers in Towns' original platoon within the 207th Engineer Combat Battalion.
A month before D-Day, Towns was transferred to the 237th Engineer Combat Battalion, which trained on the west coast of England. There, he trained for the first-wave attack.
On D-Day, his unit helped dismantle a mine and blow up the massive sea wall at Utah Beach. On D-Day plus one, Towns was caught up in a firefight with Germans near Poupeville.
On the third day of battle, Towns, who’d earned the rank of Second Lieutenant, was gunned down by German fire while his unit was advancing through the ancient Celtic hedgerows near the French village of St. Come du Mont. His unit had come upon a German machine-gun nest when an enemy soldier came out with his hands raised, waving a white flag of surrender.
"I told him I didn't think he should go near the German soldier," said Howard Collier, who was a witness to the incident and who’d first met Towns during basic training in Texas.
"Lt. Towns looked at me, smiled and winked," Howard recalled. "He then took several steps toward the German."
Another German soldier had been hiding in the machine-gun nest and opened fire, Howard added.
"He was then shot through the forehead, the bullet passed through his helmet, and he died instantly."
Howard said he’d lost contact with Towns until the very day his friend was killed.
"God only knows why we were brought together that day."
A month after Towns’ death, his wife received a telegram informing her that Towns had been lost in battle. She received the news while attending an outdoor concert in Eagle Pass, Texas, with their 4-month-old son, a boy Towns never got the chance to meet.
"In Eagle Pass, everybody knows everybody," said Lilia's sister, Luz Martinez. "When the word got out that David had been killed, people from all over town came to the Martinez home and paid their respects, and many stayed throughout the night."
Towns was first buried in France, but three years after the war ended, his remains were moved to Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
Towns was born Sept. 17, 1917, in Eagle Pass, a small town near the Mexico-Texas border, about 150 miles southwest of San Antonio. He was the second of three sons, born to Pedro P. Towns and Luz Pineda; he also had five sisters.
As children, Towns and his siblings used to play a game every day after school in which all the kids would run from school and the first to kiss their mom was the winner.
"His energy, vitality and love of life were outstanding. I wanted to imitate him in many ways," said his brother, Pedro Towns. "He was always playing jokes on us, always brought something to the home that made us cheerful and joyful."
Towns was an avid reader in high school and had a repertoire of poems he knew by heart, including "The Day is Done" by Longfellow and "La Caida de las Hojas" by Nervo. He also excelled at sports. He was a halfback and captain of the football team and played for his high school basketball team.
Towns was studying at the University of Texas as an architecture major when WWII broke out. Two days after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, he left school and presented himself at the Travis County Courthouse, where he was sworn into the Army.
After basic training at Camp Barkeley in Texas, located 11 miles southwest of Abilene, he was sent to Fort Ord in California to train as a medic in the 54th Medical Training Battalion. From there, he was sent to Hilo, Hawaii, where he caught the attention of the camp's commanding officer, which landed him a slot in Officers Candidate School.
Towns received specialized training at the Army School of Engineers at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, graduating three months later as a second lieutenant. He was assigned to the 207th Engineer Combat Battalion at Camp Swift in Texas.
"I first met Lt. Towns at Camp Swift. He was a very upbeat individual, but at the same time, he took his soldiering very seriously," said Norman Pehrson, who was a lieutenant at the time but later was promoted to colonel. "He was a very serious and a very good platoon leader."
When Towns returned to Eagle Pass in the spring of 1943, he married Lilia in a full military-style wedding, before setting sail for the war in Europe.
In Towns' last letter to his sister, Ruth, he wrote that if he died on the battlefield, he’d have no regrets because he’d lived a full life at 27 years.
Today, Lilia, who remarried after the war, lives in Austin, Texas. She and Towns’ son, David, graduated from the University of Texas with a M.D. and Ph.D., and now lives with his four children in Los Angeles.
This Tribute is based on information, including letters, newspaper clippings and written memoirs of relatives, provided by Towns' son, Dr. David Towns Raphael.