Before being drafted to join the U.S. Army in 1943, Morris Heitschmidt had only traveled outside of Kansas a few times.
After graduating from Geneseo High School in 1942 and attending Salt City Business School in Hutchinson, Heitschmidt went to boot camp in Abilene, Texas.
"I had just graduated from high school, so I hadn't even had a chance to be a civilian," Heitschmidt said.
Boot camp was the hardest part of his military service because of learning to take orders.
"Being in the Army, you didn't do what you wanted to do — you did what they wanted," Heitschmidt said. "If you did it well, you get by and it pays off. ...I ended up as a staff sergeant, which was pretty nice. I got $96 a month."
Originally stationed in Longview, Texas, Heitschmidt's typing skills — with his fingers flying as fast at 90 words per minute on a manual typewriter — landed him an assignment at the headquarters of a general hospital in a small English village 80 miles west of London.
"There were a lot of the English who didn't like Americans ... but most of them accepted us," Morris said.
Part of Heitschmidt's job was keeping track of all the soldiers coming in and out of the facility.
"If we could fix them there, we did. If we couldn't, they'd be shipped home," Heitschmidt said.
The day Heitschmidt remembers best is D-Day — June 6, 1944.
"We didn't know when the war was going to start," Heitschmidt said. "We were all over there, ahead of time, waiting."
The wait ended with hundreds of aircraft flying overhead, heading for France.
"I've never seen so many planes in the air at one time," Heitschmidt recalled. "...We knew then that something was up."
When he was on liberty Heitschmidt would take the train to visit Scotland, Ireland or London, where he would take in live theatrical performances.
Heitschmidt said he admired those who lived in London — and wondered at how some places in the city were destroyed by German bombs and others were left untouched.
"England was getting bombed long before D-Day," Morris said. "It's amazing what those people went through."
As time wore on, some officers would marry the hospital nurses in the nearby village chapel.
"I seemed to be the only one who could play (the organ), having grown up with the piano," Morris said. "I got to go across the street and play for every wedding that took place."
Playing the organ took a team effort.
"It wasn't modern, someone had to stand there and pump it," Morris said. "...There were a few times they got so interested in watching the ceremony, they forgot to pump."
Heitschmidt caught a glimpse of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower one day — though it was no easy feat.
"We were in London and the word got around that he was going to such-and-such area," Morris said. "...I couldn't see him. I climbed a light pole to see him and I found out that light pole was dirty. My uniform was just filthy — but I saw Eisenhower. That was what I wanted."
Heitschmidt's mother wrote him letters every day, and he would write back using code words to let her know where he was stationed.
After World War II ended, Heitschmidt was shipped to France and eventually got to Paris.
"After the war, we were all discharged on points — how long you were in the service, how many years or months you had been overseas and how much action you'd seen," Morris said. "I didn't have enough points, so I helped send people home."
Heitschmidt was proud of the fact that he quickly learned to navigate both London and Paris.
"I was 20 years old. I'd rarely been out of the state ... and here I was, in two of the biggest cities in the world, and I knew my way around," Heitschmidt said.
The French people were relieved to have the help from America.
"The French went through a hell of a lot more than any of us," Morris said. "The Germans were in their country."
Heitschmidt finally got to came back to the United States in 1946, where he met up with a young lady he had been writing ever since meeting her in Texas — the woman who would become his wife.
"I came back in March and was married in June," Morris said.
Heitschmidt went on an Honor Flight about five years ago and, until recently, served as part of the VFW Honor Guard.
Heitschmidt was also one of two of McPherson World War II veterans honored during the 75th D-Day Commemoration program in Abilene earlier this month. He and Navy veteran Carl Kasey were interviewed by the Eisenhower Foundation, took part in a ceremony in front of Eisenhower's statue and were given a sneak peek at the museum's renovations.
"That was quite a day. It was really interesting," Heitschmidt said. "...They treated us royally."
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.