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Pfc. Delwin Soll, Laramie
Delwin Soll, 85, tells stories of his time in the service from his home in Laramie. Soll once fixed his own broken truck and drove it 400 miles back to camp. (Dan Cepeda/Star-Tribune)

Delwin Soll has always tinkered, been a fixer.

These days he fiddles with wood, pulls his tools out of the garage when something in the house could use a little adjusting.

"It's just something that comes easy to me. You just learn from experience," Soll said. "... If you've never done it, you try it. What the heck?"

In the early 1940s, a 19-year-old Soll lived in Fremont, Neb., and drove trucks that delivered cattle feed throughout the state.

So when he got to the Army, the captain knew Soll had the experience for the job -- even if he did carry one of the lowest rankings.

Pfc. Soll's outfit had just arrived in Reading, England, when the captain called him in.

"Soll," Delwin remembers him saying, "you gotta take a convoy back up to Glasgow, Scotland."

Soll's outfit had landed in Glasgow. It was one of the best 90-millimeter artillery units in the United States and arrived in Scotland on the Queen Mary. Soll was a driver. But in the rush to move the troops to England, they didn't have time to carry the equipment with them.

Soll was put in charge of five trucks. His convoy made it all the way to Scotland and loaded up the radar equipment, radio gear and electronics -- everything they needed to function as a 90-millimeter gun battalion.

When they reached the first small town on their way back to camp, the convoy had to pull up onto the sidewalks to make room for a tank destroyer outfit also trying to squeeze through the narrow streets.

The first one to come around the corner hit Soll's truck.

"They were so big and wide, and he just ripped a big hole in that gas tank," he said. "That put my truck out of commission."

He divided his equipment load among the other four trucks and told them to go back without him. He'd go to the nearest depot, he said, and he'd get another gas tank.

The convoy left him. But at the depot, gas tanks were out of stock.

"So there I sit -- and I forget how many hours we were away from Reading, England -- but I looked this thing over, and being a mechanic, why, I took the gas tank off."

Soll took out one of the floor bolts in the bed of the truck. He rerouted the gas line through the tank's hole all the way through to the engine. He set the tank up high so gravity would pull fuel right to the engine.

He filled it with gas and stuffed a rag in the hole so it wouldn't leak.

And he drove to camp, some 400 miles.

The next morning, a sergeant saw Soll's truck sitting in the motor pool and woke him up.

"What are you doing here?"

"Well, this is where I'm based," Soll replied.

"How did you get back?"

"There's the truck. ... I fixed it."

The sergeant walked over to find the contraption Soll had rigged to get home.

"He just shook his head, turned around and walked off," Soll said. "He just couldn't believe it that I had figured how to do it and get back without them having to come.

"They knew I could take care of myself then."

Soll's unit soon boarded LSTs and headed to Omaha Beach. There were a few close calls.

On the way, driving through England at night in complete darkness, Soll's M4 tank picked up speed. He lost control of the brakes and the track and couldn't slow it down. The tank started skidding and rolled three times off an embankment.

The gun crew bailed out. Loaded with 155 gallon cans of gas and 54 rounds of 90-millimeter ammunition, the fuel ignited and shells exploded.

All but one turret gunner made it out. Twenty-five feet away from the tank, Soll collapsed. He had pinched a nerve in his back during the rollover and temporarily lost control of his legs.

After three days in the hospital, he was issued another tank and continued on.

Soll was 50 feet off the shore of Omaha Beach when the engines on his rhino barge quit.

He had to get off the barge and tow it to shore, but it started floating in another direction. Soll looked over to where he was supposed to land.

"The first unit off that other landing barge hit a land mine and blew a weapons carrier and a load of ammunition sky high," he said. "That's where I would have been."

Soll did land his barge, and the men made their way to St. Lo, France, where Soll saw a sky full of planes bomb and level the town. As he was packing to move on, he got shot in the hand and was taken out of action. His unit moved on to the Battle of the Bulge, but Soll eventually got to go home.

Because of his back injury during the tank rollover, Soll couldn't go back to work as a truck driver.

He worked in clothing and five-and-dime stores for several years before switching to a Ford dealership.

He spent 37 years with the company before retiring in 1986. He worked in service and parts management, making sure people had all the right pieces to get where they needed to go.

They Served With Honor

Some have said that 1,000 World War II veterans die each day in United States. History dies with each one.

"They Served With Honor" is a special project by the Star-Tribune to collect stories from Wyoming World War II veterans. We will feature one story each week, from Veterans Day to Veterans Day. 

If you would like to suggest veterans to be featured, please send their names, contact information and a summary of their service to Kristy Gray at kristy.gray@trib.com or P.O. Box 80, Casper, WY, 82601.

Next week's profile: Roger Conarty of Casper would rather fight in the city than in the country. The houses made in World War II were more substantial than today's. Back then, they could stop a bullet.

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