Annette and Buddy McMahon of Whitefield are pictured here on Long Island shortly after getting married almost 71 years ago. Buddy is Whitefield's last WWII veteran. Annette taught at WMRHS for 31 years. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
August 25, 2021WHITEFIELD — The last WWII Veteran in Whitefield, Buddy McMahon, 94, has left town along with his wife, longtime White Mountains Regional High School English teacher Annette McMahon, 90.
The pair, who have been married for 71 years, has moved to the Cape to be closer to family. With that said, their time in Whitefield was meaningful and impactful to many.
Buddy was part of the 42nd Infantry Division, serving in the European Theater, dubbed the 'Rainbow Division.' Before his time in the war, the Rainbow Division landed in Marseilles, France, then made its way into Germany. He joined the unit at that point, later taking part in the liberation of Dachau concentration camp, near Munich.
The young soldier was just 17 when he had plans to enlist, however was drafted first.
His wife, Annette, mentioned the graphic nature of WWII and had this to say, "Believe it or not, I didn't know until maybe 15 years ago how bad it was where he was stationed because he never talked about it, but did start to have nightmares like so many do."
Buddy explained, "I was there right when people began to be liberated and had to do clean up. There were corpses everywhere and it was just horrible to see the ovens, it was just a horror show."
Keep in mind that at the time, Buddy wasn't even old enough to graduate high school.
He recalls going to the place where Hitler had been hiding out and seeing everything that had been destroyed. On one occasion, Buddy was with a group who stumbled upon a cave filled with ammunition. It was too big to be transported in any rapid manner.
"We just tossed a grenade in and destroyed it that way," he said.
When asked how the war impacted the rest of his life, Buddy kept it simple, commenting "When I came back, I wasn't afraid of anything."
His wife further explained, "Back then, they just didn't talk about it. It wasn't until late in his life when he got involved with the VFW that he even started to acknowledge his service."
In 1982, he became the first commander of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post.
Annette brought us back to 1982: "There was a post in Lancaster and one in Littleton, and each of them had bars. The guys didn't want to go to one where there was a bar because there was always some kind of to do. They founded one and held meetings in our real estate office when they first started."
Later, the building and land adjacent to the real estate office was donated for use as the VFW.
The McMahons also share a great love story, having met the very day Buddy was discharged.
Telling the story the way a great English teacher does, Annette said, "I was ice skating with my friend Dorothy on Long Island, where we lived. I was 15. There was this beautiful little pond and it had streams that went through the woods. They all froze up naturally."
The story continued, "The two of us came with our sled and our ice skates and were out all day on this pond. We finally got so tired, and it was late, so we decided to take a bus home."
"When we were at the bus stop, one of the boys from high school came by with his car. His name was Herman. He asked us if we wanted him to bring us home. You know back then it was a big deal when you had a car," she joked.
"I climbed into the back seat, and Dorothy sat in the front because she knew him better. Herman was surprised when he saw his friend Buddy step off of the bus in his uniform and offered him a ride too," said Annette.
Buddy climbed into the back seat.
"I was petrified," recalled Annette.
"I lived across from the school so all of the kids would come over all of the time. Buddy just started showing up with Herman one day. At one point, he stopped because there were too many other guys coming over and he was shy," she said with a laugh.
Back then dating was different, where the kids would go to proms and that was really it, according to Annette.
"Proms were a big deal," she said. "We did go to night clubs. I was 15, and we would go see all kinds of musicians play. I tried to order a champagne cocktail, but someone's father snitched on us," she said.
The couple was married four years later. Buddy would work at a lighting and power company, and Annette at the phone company while also going to college at night to earn her teaching degree.
"Back then, you couldn't get a phone easily. You had to order them and apply, and it could take months to years to get one. My job was to tell people when they came in. There was a plant that had all kinds of wires, where the calls would come in and those days, they had operators that would connect calls," she explained.
"Two phone users, Elizabeth Taylor and Mike Todd who were having an affair at the time. One operator would listen to their conversations and tell everyone what they were saying," she recalled.
During a trip to New Hampshire in the late 1960's, Buddy fell in love with the mountains, saying they reminded him of his time in Austria. In 1969 the pair moved to Whitefield. Annette began teaching in Littleton, then moved over to WMRHS in 1971.
While at school during her first year, she took her class to the library and happened to find a book on loan from Pennsylvania. In it, was a photo of the Rainbow Division ,42nd with a photo of Buddy.
"It was funny because here I am sitting in Whitefield, looking at a photo of him in Austria before we had even met," she said.
While Annette was teaching, Buddy ran the Inn they owned in Whitefield. Due to so many patrons asking about property, they thought real estate would be the next best idea. Both would become licensed with Buddy focusing primarily on that and Annette teaching and doing the accounting.
Annette retired from teaching in 1996 and became very active with the North Country Chamber Players and both became more involved in church.
The couple says that they'll miss the mountains and the quite way of life but will be back to visit.
When asked for her best piece of advice, Annette said, "Take it easy. Don't overdo anything."