96-year-old Kentuckian Recalls The ‘Blessing’ Of Driving In Red Ball Express During WWII
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A 96-year-old World War II veteran from Kentucky is being recognized as a true American hero.
Albert Wess Sr., from Paris, Kentucky, loves educating people about the Red Ball Express from World War II.
“The Red Ball Express happened 74 years ago, and a lot of people you talk to don’t even know what you are talking about,” he said. “But to us, it was an everyday experience.”
At 20 years old, he was a Red Ball truck driver.
“The book says the Red Ball Express was compiled of 75 percent African Americans, but I don’t believe that,” Wess said. “I think it was 99%, because I haven’t seen many white companies doing the operations going through Europe.”
The truck convoy system went from Normandy to Paris and to the front along France’s northeastern border. Red balls marked the route. The Department of Defense says 900 fully loaded vehicles were on the Red Ball route around-the-clock at a top speed of 25 miles per hour.
“That was part of the Army that kept the front going,” Wess said. “If you didn’t have the supplies, if you don’t have ammunition, if you don’t have gas, if don’t have personnel, if you don’t have clothes, don’t have food, whatever it was for us to transport, we’ve done it.”
Wess said they would drive with no headlights at night moving supplies. He doesn’t think Americans realized what he and his military brothers were doing back in 1944
He had been to DC before, 15 years ago with 17 bus loads of veterans many who have since past away But last week in Washington, he was surrounded by Kentuckiana veterans, and you could see the smiles on their faces.
“I’m just so proud,” Wess said. “I don’t know what to do, don’t know what to do with myself.”
From the Reflecting Pool to the gold stars honoring the lives lost, it was a day of remembrance.
“Some gave all, and all gave some,” Wess said. “See the ones that gave all are your heroes, that gave all because they sacrificed their lives for us. It was a job we had to do, and we had to do it.”
Just a few years ago, he received France’s Legion of Honor. It’s awarded for extraordinary military bravery and service in times of war.
“It makes me feel good,” he said. It makes me feel proud.”
Jeff Thoke with Honor Flight Bluegrass noticed Wess wasn’t using a cane or a wheelchair in Washington.
“I want to be just like you when I’m 96!” Thoke said. “What do we have to do to make this happen?”
“To God be the glory!” Wess replied.
Wess also attributes his good health to going to bed early, having a positive attitude and never really playing sports at a young age that would wear on his body.
He still drives a car and loves to meet new people.
While this day in DC is sure a day to remember, he’s now looking forward to his 97th birthday next April.
“I’m glad to have been one of the 16 million that were in World War II,” he said. “That has been in a blessing in itself.”