John Neff

World War II Veteran

Mr. John Neff was born and raised in Sheffield, Alabama, to the son of a family that owned Clark Mercantile Company located on Second Street in Sheffield. He began working in the family business at age 10.

Mr. Neff met his first love and wife at the mercantile. Her father owned the dairy nearby, and he would come to barter his dairy products for products from the mercantile. During the time that Mr. Neff was fighting in the Second World War, Mrs. Neff was working for the Department of the Defense in Washington, DC, where she kept a close check on her husband. Their romance blossomed during their childhood, and they have remained very much in love for the past 70 or so years.

In 1941, Mr. Neff graduated from high school. Upon transfer to Auburn University from Maryville College, he was accepted into the co-op program. He was there for only one quarter, working at Reynolds Aluminum in Sheffield, Alabama, as a rectifier. He joined the Army Reserves in November of 1942 to help pay for his education, and his unit was activated in April of 1943.
He initially trained at Ft. Bragg, NC, for artillery training on the 175 mm Howitzer. He was chosen to enter Officer Candidate School; however, with no openings, he was chosen to go into the Army Corp Training School. He was less than satisfied with this decision and requested to go into the 13th Airborne Division of the United States Army, where he trained for the paratroops.

Mr. Neff began a second training at Ft. Bragg, NC, where he was placed in the survey section. Here he learned to survey gun positions and observation positions to calculate distances to target points. At this point, he was made a corporal. He was soon placed into the glider infantry and learned how to load the glider with Howitzers. He eventually became a forward observer, which required him to attend jump school in Ft. Benning, GA.

Mr. Neff learned quickly that one problem with being in the paratroops was that the pilots frequently would get lost, and therefore, the soldiers would be dropped far from their target and have to find their way to meeting points. During training, he was once dropped in the middle of the swamps in North Carolina and was there for almost 12 hours before being located.

The purpose of this division of paratroops was for soldiers to be ready as a backup for the 101st Airborne Division during battle if they were unable to complete their mission. Corporal Neff was to enter frontline battle on four different instances, including the Battle of the Bulge; however, his mission was called off each time. He said that he was very relieved to not have to experience engagement in frontline battle, but he would have been proud to have served if he was needed.

Corporal Neff was discharged from the United States Army in January of 1946. He began his career with Southern Rail in Maryville, TN, then transferred to Atlanta, GA, where he spent his last 30 years employed with them. He retired in 1985 and returned to the Muscle Shoals area in 1995 to live the remainder of his days with his wife of 65+ years.

Interviewed by Kim Copeland on July 14, 2010.