MUSCATINE — Maurice Furlong's train arrived at 8 p.m. on a cold Christmas Eve in 1944. His family was there, waiting to greet his return. When they last saw Furlong, it was August 1942 and he had just joined the Navy. They were going to train him to be motor machinist, to help maintain the U.S. Navy's tank landing ships, designed to transport tanks and troops for amphibious deployments.
Fresh from the train, Furlong's family took him to midnight mass and then straight home. He was back in the United States for a short leave, just enough time to visit with family for the holiday.
He was 25 when he left for the war. He remembers being on a boat heading from New York Harbor.
"We didn't know where we were going with all these support ships," Furlong said. "It wasn't until we ended up in Bermuda that we realized we were going to Europe."
On board a 400-foot tank landing ship, Furlong was part of the Navy's move to position tanks and troops across North Africa. The ship would position itself toward the shore and two great doors on the bow would open, revealing tanks and troops who would rush out toward the landing.
In this two-year period, Furlong would make 15 round trips from North Africa to Sicily bringing support back and forth across the Mediterranean.
Once, on this route, there was German air raid. Though his job was to maintain the engine, one of the guns needed someone to hand up ammunition. To this day, he remembers how loud the 3-inch artillery pieces were.
"Those guns were huge," Furlong said. "And when it fired -- oh, boy -- it damaged my hearing."
The war wasn't without its funny moments. He remembers going on duty one morning. He passed by a French medic from a unit they were transporting.
"He tells me, 'You wouldn't want any wine would you?'," Furlong said. "I thought he was bulls***ing me."
The next morning, the ship’s executive officer told them that the French unit had brought four barrels of wine aboard.
"He told us that anybody caught near that wine barrel will get court-martialed," Furlong said. "It was a shame, too, because there wasn't any whiskey coming out of North Africa."
By the time he came home that Christmas Eve, he had been a part of three invasions: first North Africa, then Sicily and Southern Italy. After his short leave period, they shipped him to the Pacific front. For Furlong, it was much the same problem.
"I had no business after all that in Europe being sent over to the Pacific," Furlong said. "It was just more war."
Furlong returned home for the final time on Dec. 14, 1945. He farmed before he left and he was set on farming when he returned. And after what he had seen, he was determined to stay in Iowa
"The trouble of the military — especially in war time — it's all the destruction," Furlong said. "It destroys everything. Homes. Factories. Buildings. They all get destroyed."
He saw the war and its ravages everywhere he went.
"I saw in North Africa and then in Sicily and then in Italy," Furlong said. "In England, the city would have these empty spaces. I'd ask, 'What happened here? Why is this space here?' And they would tell me there was something there. That it got destroyed by the bombing."
The war Furlong saw cost more than buildings.
He remembered transporting a boat of 800 Italian prisoners to North Africa to be turned over to the French. He said they were packed below where tanks are normally stored.
"I felt sorry for the poor devils," Furlong said. "They were loaded onto the tank deck just the way you would cattle on to a truck."
When on land, he and other sailors found towns touched by the war in complete disarray.
"You'd have people begging for money in the street," Furlong said. "There were even young fellows peddling sex with their sisters. They were so damn (poor), they were doing anything to survive. I was old enough to know better than getting involved with any of that d*** stuff."
This December, Furlong will celebrate his 100th birthday. He lives on a farm in Muscatine by himself. He does his own cooking. And though he needs a hearing aid, he is as clear about his time in service to the country as many are about what we ate for breakfast.
Though the war is long past, he still gets anxious at the sound of gunshots or fireworks. They evoke memories he would rather leave unvisited.
"It's like this,” Furlong said. “When I die, sure they can play taps, but I don't want any d*** guns shooting. I just don't want them.”
He never watched war movies and continues to avoid them today. He finds them to be in bad taste.
"I just can't understand glorifying war," Furlong said. "In most families, you grow up and you are taught to help people in cases of sickness and health, and then you have war come along and you are taught that you are supposed to destroy people.
"When I got out of the service, I just didn't want any more military stuff," Furlong said. "There are more things that are important. There's family. There's kids."