WWII Service recalled

Published 8:40 pm Saturday, May 23, 2015

Few former soldiers will tell you their most rewarding memory of their service was a visit to a house of prostitution.



But that’s exactly the story Ben Ames of Suffolk tells without cracking a smile.

The Driver native finished high school at Chuckatuck in 1942 and was able to squeeze in a year of education at Virginia Tech before being drafted.

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He went through basic training in Fort Bragg, N.C., and was shipped off to England. After celebrating his 19th birthday in England, he was sent to France six days after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

Because his specialty was not much in need on the front lines, Ames was re-trained as military police.

And that’s where the story of the house of ill repute comes in.

Though prostitution in France isn’t illegal, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had put the establishments off limits to American servicemen, Ames said.

He got a call one night from a madam, who told him, “We have a soldier who says he’s going to throw a chair through the chandelier if I don’t let him have one of my girls,” Ames recently recalled.

He tried to find someone else to respond to the call but wound up going himself. He found the young man in the company of about 15 women in a home with a very nice chandelier.

He took the soldier outside and asked what he was doing in Paris. The soldier said he had been given a two-day relaxation pass and had come from the front lines.

“I said, ‘Get in the Jeep, and don’t let us get another call about you,’” Ames recalled.

After the war ended in Europe, Ames was shipped to the Pacific theater. He was still on his way in August 1945 when the atomic bombs struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

They arrived on the Philippines and stayed until Christmas Day. He finally arrived back home at the end of January, having been paid a lump sum for most of his service.

“They gave us so much money, I didn’t know what to do with it,” Ames said.

By March, he was back in Blacksburg to register for classes. He stood in line behind another young man who — through what Ames now believes was divine intervention — would later introduce him to his future wife, Ellen.

Ames went on to become vice president of the German Club and, during his senior year, president of the student body. He graduated in 1948 with a degree in business administration and set off on a successful career in retail management, first with Thalhimer’s department store — where he rose to vice president for personnel and retired after 20 years — and later with Cohoes Specialty Stores, which he co-owned with a partner.

“He knew a lot about fancy clothing,” Ames said. “I knew how to count the money and sweep the floor. We were very fortunate.”

Ames sold out to his partner at the age of 62, affording him and his wife an earlier retirement that enabled them to see all 50 states.

“We retired while we could still go,” he said.

Last fall, Ames returned to the campus of his alma mater to be inducted into the Order of the Gavel, which honors alumni leadership and service. During his visit, he took a campus tour, had a front-row seat for the Corps of Cadets’ pass in review on the Drillfield, and was a guest in Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands’ box for the Hokies’ defeat of Western Michigan in Lane Stadium.

These days, he lives at Lake Prince Woods retirement community.

Though he landed in France without a scratch, Ames — along with many other former military members — will be remembering his fallen brothers this Memorial Day.