By John Veasey
Times West Virginian
Alfred Corbin of Fairmont is well aware that today is Veterans Day.
“I’m in favor of honoring veterans, but I’m against them honoring people like me and (others individually), and I’ll tell you why — because it took teamwork to win. If you hadn’t been my buddy or helping me, we never would have won.
“I’ve been honored a lot because I helped save that bridge in Holland. I’ve been honored plenty. But if people hadn’t helped me, I couldn’t have done it,” Corbin added.
The “bridge in Holland” played a major role in Corbin’s life. He was a paratrooper in World War II.
“Did you ever see ‘A Bridge Too Far’?” he asked. “I’m the guy who jumped to save that bridge. I jumped to save it so that the Germans couldn’t blow it up.”
“A Bridge Too Far” was a 1977 war film based on the 1974 book of the same name by Cornelius Ryan. According to Wikipedia, the film tells the story of the failure of Operation Market Garden during World War II, the Allied attempt to break through German lines and seize several bridges in the occupied Netherlands. The name of the film comes from an unconfirmed comment attributed to British Lt.-Gen. Frederick Browning, deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army, who told Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the operations architect, before the operation, “I think we may have gone a bridge too far.” The film featured Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Sean Connery, Liv Ullmann, Elliott Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Ryan O’Neal, Robert Redford and Maximilian Schell.
Corbin learned it was difficult to hide from the Germans.
“They got to me and I became a prisoner of war for 10 months,” Corbin said. “Our allies couldn’t get to us in time and we had to surrender. We saved the bridge, but we couldn’t save ourselves. We were 119 miles behind the lines. I was a prisoner of the Germans for 10 months. I lost about 45 pounds during that time.”
Corbin showed some compassion toward his captors when it was mentioned that he wasn’t fed very well as a prisoner.
“They didn’t have food themselves,” he explained. “They had potatoes and turnips. Over in Europe, potatoes and turnips are like our corn. They could raise it and feed it to their cattle, but they couldn’t raise corn.
“One ol’ German brought me a piece of bread every day when I was a prisoner,” he recalled. “He would lay it over in a corner and I would see it and would go by and pick it up and eat it. But they didn’t have much to eat themselves.”
Corbin was in the Army just short of two years and was overseas for 22 months of that time.
“But we won the war, and that’s what counts,” he said with a smile.
Corbin is residing in the Heritage Inc. nursing home in Bridgeport, and until the past few weeks, the military veteran had lived in Fairmont all his life.
He lived during the Great Depression and likes to talk about his family. He was one of 12 kids, and seven of the Corbin kids are still alive — “I’m third in line,” he said.
“One of my friends would stop by the house every day and eat dinner with us,” he recalled. “He always said that my mom was the best cook there was. She was a ‘neighborhood mother.’”
His mother also played the piano in church. His father worked in the coal mines and farmed.
“I lived in Williams Crossroads for 88 years,” Corbin said, “except for the time I was in the service.”
Corbin likes to walk, and said the fresh air makes him feel “really good.”
“I would walk out from where I lived and out the Speedway,” he said of his years in Fairmont. “I always walked where people could see me. I didn’t walk in any alleys. You fall in an alley and no one can see you. ... I’ve walked as long as I was able to do so.”
Corbin also likes sharing the story of how he met his wife.
“I met this girl, and in a roundabout way we dated for two years. I told her I couldn’t promise her anything — only a house. So I built her a house and we got married, and I had 53 happy years.”
The Corbins had two children, a boy who now resides in Fairfax, Va., and a daughter who passed away at the age of 48.
Corbin said he enjoyed life as a barber.
“When I was knee high I was planning on being a barber,” he said. “I had a barber’s license for 57 years, and had a three-chair shop for 49 years.”
He isn’t sure how many haircuts he did over those 57 years.
“On a rainy day, you sometimes had none. When the sun was out you had more than you could handle,” he said.
Email John Veasey at email@example.com.