Arthur Ellis vividly recalls his days as a runner in the United States Army during World War II where he traveled by foot, Jeep and horse, delivering confidential messages enclosed in an envelope between war officials. More than seventy years later in his Summerville home, Ellis still has plenty of envelopes. But tucked inside them are not secret scripts; rather they are age-old photographs telling of his army days.
Ellis turns 100 on Oct. 31. His living room walls are covered by framed photos that trigger his memory of when he was called from Colonial Heights, Virginia and drafted into the army in May of 1942. Ellis, just over 20 years old at the time, was transported to Oran, Algeria in Africa.
“You had to go,” Ellis said.
Shortly after his arrival, he found himself in harm’s way. He and other Allied troops were stationed at a burial site in Oran. German forces invaded and dropped a bomb. In the explosion, Ellis lost several teeth along with his eyesight for a few days. He also suffered an ear injury that he said causes him to currently wear a hearing aid.
“It knocked me clean out,” Ellis said.
But his days of avoiding death had only begun. Algeria and Italy were Ellis’ first two stomping grounds of a three-year stint in the Army that allowed him to travel to 14 countries. He mainly served as a runner – venturing along trails to deliver messages that were too confidential for even him to read. Those dangerous highways often featured German soldiers perched atop churches ready to snipe at the young serviceman.
“I dodged a whole lot of bullets,” Ellis said. “I was bombed at. Shot at. [But] I never did get wounded much.”
He has some pleasant memories of those times too. Ellis remembers venturing to Rome where he spoke briefly with the Pope as he and other army men toured inside St. Peter’s Basillica at the Catholic Church’s headquarters in Vatican City. Ellis richly recalls this basilica’s gold-shrouded holy halls.
“They got more gold than Fort Knox,” he said.
One day, as he prepared to deliver another war message, in came another one. It was news that the Allied forces had won the war. Ellis returned to the states where he acquired a job as a mechanic, preparing train cars for the railroad. He married his boss’ daughter, Drucille, who died seven years ago. Ellis also spent time at a building supply company.
The two moved to Florida where Ellis continued his post-war hobbies. He picked up plane flying, which he had started at a young age. He also delved into sharp shooting. Inside his closets are Civil War-era firearms stacked against each other. Ellis still holds close numerous articles that tell of first place wins in shooting competitions.
Ellis and his wife moved to the Palmetto State to be near his son who teaches at Ashley Ridge. His Sumerville home is fronted by an American Flag for each country he visited while in the service. The retired veteran is also known by residents to be armed with news clippings, photographs, and a ton of memories for all who are willing to hear about his travels.
“He shares them with everybody,” said June Hodder, a member of North Trident Baptist Church.
The church will honor Ellis on Oct. 29, two days before his turns 100 years old. Church members acknowledge Ellis as a devoted parishioner who, despite his age, regularly attends Sunday morning worship, afternoon programs and midweek services. He also sings on the choir.
“I made a lot of good friends,” Ellis said. “I love all of [the parishioners]."
Ellis attributes his long life to avoiding alcohol, giving up cigarettes, and a special blend of grape juice, apple juice, and vinegar. A brief health scare ensued last year when he fell and broke his hip. He went to the hospital, and even there, he displayed his youthful sense of humor.
Hodder recalled the event.
“My husband and I went over to see him,” Hodder said. “He was yapping, his usual jovial self. He says, ‘I’ll tell you what I have to do. I have to get up and go get in the room with those old people,” Hodder said. He was 99.