ROTONDA WEST — Art Lang is a survivor in the truest sense of the word.
The Rotonda West man has survived serious war injuries, life-threatening illnesses and the constant challenges of aging.
At 96, he sits in his living room, recounting with remarkable acuity details of World War II and his long road to recovery after a sniper’s bullet did maximum damage as it punctured his lung.
At first, it didn’t look like he would fight in the war because he was classified 2-B, the sole support for his widowed mother and his young siblings.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when there was a great need for more men, he was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey.
“We lived in tents and the challenge was staying warm while we waited for orders,” he said.
Finally, he was assigned as part of the 26th Infantry Division — known as the “Yankee Division” — and sent to South Carolina, to board ships headed to Europe.
“On the way to the ships, we got fired up when we heard the song, ‘Over There (The Yanks Are Coming).” It’s unbelievable what that music does to you,” he recalled.
His ship arrived in France three months after the Normandy landings known as D-Day. “I was deeply moved to see all the sunken ships in the water,” he said.
As part of the infantry with Patton’s 3rd Army, he learned what it was like to spend 11 days in a foxhole with German rocket artillery they called Screaming Mimis flying at them.
“It was frightening,” he admits.
But it was a mission that wasn’t supposed to be dangerous that did him in.
“We were walking through a wooden area to take over a village when the Germans proved to be tougher than we thought,” he recalled. “Everything in the woods opened up with machine gun fire.”
Art was hit in the chest by a sniper’s bullet designed to explode and shatter inside.
The bullet destroyed his left lung and spleen, along with two sections of ribs.
“I was conscious and heard all the injured men calling for medics. Medics are special men deserving of praise,” he said.
Medics carried him to a field hospital behind the lines where surgeons operated on him.
Later Art learned his life was spared by the small bible he carried in his pocket. The full force of the bullet was lessened when it hit the bible he keeps to this day.
But it was the paper pages from that Bible that lodged inside him, causing infections that required more surgeries.
“After countless surgeries at several hospitals, it got to the point where they just left my chest open,” he said.
When he looked around the hospital and saw men with their arms and legs missing, he told himself he was lucky to be alive.
But the constant pain led to depression and that, in turn, led to drinking.
Medically discharged in 1944, he was living with his mom, going from one tavern to another.
When a close friend prevailed upon him to go on a double date bowling with a woman named Anna, he thought he would do it once and walk away.
Instead, after another encounter with Anna, he discovered they had a lot in common.
“It’s almost like a fantasy story. She’s a very understanding person and kept encouraging me as I tried to cut down on drinking. I wouldn’t be here today without her,” he says. “She changed my life.”
Art and Anna celebrated 73 years of marriage in January.
In 2012, Art was completely paralyzed when he was hit with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
“At 89 years of age, I had to learn everything again. Everyone in rehab screamed in excitement when I could move an inch,” he said. “It felt like another miracle.”
He also survived two heart attacks, a brain tumor and several blood clots.
“And that’s only the good stuff,” he jokes.
While they live alone, their son and daughter-in-law along with several caregivers help them.
Grateful for all of his 96 years, Art looks back on his life and concludes, “I guess I’m a hard guy to knock down.”