The seventh of twelve children born to a poor sharecropper in Texas, his family lived for a while in a converted rail road box car on the edge of town.  He worked so hard to help support his large family that by age 15 he had only completed the fifth grade.  In 1940 his father deserted the family and the following year his mother died.

To provide for his brothers and sisters, he tried to enter the military to serve in World War II.  The Marines turned him down, then the Navy also rejected him.   At age 17 he was 5'5" tall and only 110 pounds..."too small to be a fighter."

Finally accepted by the Army, he became a "one-man-army" in Europe earning the distinguished Service Cross in August, 1944 and six weeks later earning TWO Silver Stars in three days.  Three months later he jumped on a burning tank to man a machinegun and cover the withdrawal of his men.  As the Americans dropped artillery around him, someone asked over the radio, "How close (to you) is the enemy."

He replied, "Just hold the phone and I'll let you talk to one!"