James Letton Jr. made some unique memories during his time served in World War II.

But one of his favorite recollections became the plot of Walt Disney’s 1963 film “Miracle of the White Stallions.”

Letton, who was a member of General George S. Patton’s Third Army, Second Cavalry, and the rest of his platoon rescued more than 500 prized Lippizaner horses during the final days of the war from German control.

Alois Podhajsky, who was the head of the prestigious Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Austria, informed Patton about the white, purebred horses. Podhajsky feared that the advancing Soviet Army would harm the animals because the Red Army would view them as meat.

Podhajsky and Patton made an agreement to help each other. The rescue mission, which was on April 26, 1945, was called “Operation Cowboy,” which is documented in Podhajsky’s autobiography, “My Dancing White Horses.”

“The biggest thing we did was save those horses, those white stallions,” said Letton, 95, of Cape May Court House. “We went in there and operated like a cowboy round up and brought the horses back (to safety).”

Letton worked at Pratt Food Company in Philadelphia when he decided to join the service. Letton, who was 18, said the nation needed teenagers.

"The war was on, the Japanese had just attacked us, and everybody was signing up," Letton said. "If you were home and walking down the street, people would look at you wonder why you were just walking down the street being a teenager."

But the Army wasn't his first choice.

Letton initially wanted to join the Air Force, but those that volunteered for that branch needed special training and had to wait for an appointment. After not getting an appointment right away, Letton volunteered for the Army.

Letton was told when the Air Force was ready for him, he would be transferred for the necessary training.

That never happened.

But he doesn't regret his decision to join the Army.

“I am very proud and happy that I did (join the Army)," said Letton, who lives with his wife Kay, 94. "It was an honor to help the country in the war.”

Letton served overseas from 1943-45, being deployed to Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes Alsace, Central Europe and the Czech Republic.

Letton takes pride that he served in the Second Calvary, the oldest active service since its formation in 1836.

And besides Operation Cowboy, Letton added that the Battle of Luneville (Sept. 1944) and its liberation was another highlight of his time served.

“The time I spent overseas,” Letton said. “That’s what I remember most.”

At one point during the Second Calvary's movement, the Germans had cut off their gasoline supplies, which prevented them from marching forward.

Letton and a few other men found where the planes were coming in, changed the markings on their vehicles and loaded up with gasoline.

"Our unit, the Second Calvary, was nicknamed the Ghost of Patton’s Army because we were the spearhead for Patton," Letton said. "Our job was to make contact with the enemy, and then pull back and let somebody else go in and take care of them. We had to move very quickly.”

Another memory Letton shared was, during his deployment in France, he once had a difficult time asking for drinking water.

“I took some French in high school, but no one knew what I was talking about because it was different dialects," Letton said. "I finally got through to someone. That was a tough experience.”

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PMulranen@pressofac.com 

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