WW II vet dies at age 85

Published 10:34 am Tuesday, February 3, 2009

PROCTORVILLE — One of the last remaining World War II veterans of VFW Post 6878 has died.

On Saturday longtime Proctorville resident Donald Gillette died at his home on State Route 7. Gillette served in the Army in the 42nd Infantry Rainbow Division, the illustrious unit Gen. Douglas McArthur had organized during World War I.

“He was a good member (of the VFW),” Dean Cooper of the post, said. “He is an old family, a cornerstone of the community up here. He was a great guy. All of us were saddened by it.”

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A longtime farmer, Gillette was the descendant of Joel Gillette, who discovered the Rome apple, on the land that the younger Gillette spent a lifetime caring for.

“He was a strong man because he worked for himself all the time,” Cooper said.

Recently Gillette shared his experiences serving in Europe in 1944 with The Tribune for a story written on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the brutal assault on the U.S. Navy that forced the United States into the war.

“I went in combat in Europe and started in France,” Gillette said at the time. “We fought all the way across France and Germany. I crossed the Rhine River on Easter Sunday and exactly a year later crossed the Rhine River again. I was in combat all the time.”

One of the most vivid wartime moments came for Gillette on April 29, 1945, when he was among the troops that liberated the infamous Dachau concentration camp.

When Gillette arrived with the Rainbow Division, there were still prisoners barely alive at Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp to open in Germany.

“There were 6,000 prisoners in there starving,” Gillette said. “It was horrible. You can’t imagine.”

Gillette stayed on in Germany for the next year assisting the Allied occupation.

When Gillette returned to Proctorville, he became active in the local VFW Post, including serving in the honor guard. That unit will mark Gillette’s service with a special tribute.

“When he talked, he was straightforward,” Cooper said. “Whatever he told you, you could bank on it.”