RUSTON, La -- Lavone Chandler says he was a good shot, taking aim at squirrels around the melon farm where he grew up near Ruston.
As he neared his 18th birthday, he was ready to take his shot in World War II, volunteering for the Army, against the wishes of his parents.
"I was never out of danger. I was in danger every day. Everywhere I went,” Lavone says.
He was sent to battle in Europe -- on the front lines against Nazi forces.
“I knew that to survive I had to be the best. I had to be better than the German soldier. Or I wouldn't survive. I knew that, and I was determined to be the best. And I worked at it daily, improving my ability to shoot, and my ability to control my nerves.
“Shooting in war not good. You got a man in your sights. And you're just pulling the trigger and he's gonna fall. And that's a terrible feeling," Lavone said. "I never enjoyed it.”
Lavone fought all the way through Belgium, but found himself among Allied forces surrounded by the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge – the Nazi’s last gasp offensive.
"When you don't know where you live tomorrow not to change your attitude. My attitude was then as it is now. Faith in my good Lord. If it wasn't for Him I wouldn't be here. I felt his hand on my shoulder many times," Lavone says.
Approximatley 19,000 Americans died in the Battle of The Bulge. Even more were declared missing or were captured. Lavone says he suffered just minor wounds a couple of times.
"I prayed before going into battle. I prayed during battle. I prayed after battle," Lavone said. "It goes down sometimes as cowardice. But it was me praising the Lord.”
Casualties on the German side were even worse. And the fierce fight paved the way for eventual Allied victory in Europe. But Lavone can’t get the horror out of his mind.
"Even today, I wake up dreaming so to speak. Every day, get my rifle and go to the front line," he says of the flashbacks. "It's frightening. It's frightening. Very frightening you look back and see how close you are to death."
But Lavone is glad to have served.
"It feels good to know that I did my part. And I did it well, I did it with enthusiasm, and I did it with determination," he says.
Lavone was the middle of three brothers who served in World War II. They all made it home, though the older one was severely wounded. Lavone is the last surviving of those brothers. He's coming up on his 98th birthday.