On those days, Fronebarger said he and his brothers would break away from their chores on the family farm off Highway 108 at Moores Mill Bridge near Waleska and pass the day pitching horseshoes and boxing with the neighbors.
Now 88 years old, Fronebarger recalls those times fondly, but three quarters of a century later the holiday that celebrates freedom has a deeper meaning to his family than simply time off work and a chance to pass a carefree day.
In addition to being the last living of the 13 children in his family, Fronebarger also has the distinction of being the last living of six Cherokee County brothers who all served in World War II at the same time.
Fronebarger said his parents weren’t necessarily happy to have their youngest son join his brothers in the war that was turning out to be one of the nation’s bloodiest, but little could be done about a draft notice.
“There wasn’t much they could think about it,” he said. “When you get drafted you gotta go.”
In 1944, Fronebarger spent his days the way he always had: working the Fronebarger family farm in Cherokee County. His parents, John and Mary Fronebarger, settled there years earlier and made their living growing corn, cotton and peas — or, Donald said, whatever they could grow enough of to feed the increasing number of mouths in the home.
Fronebarger said at the time he was planning on staying and working the farm for a few more years.
After that, maybe he’d get married and move away like some of his other siblings had.
When he came of age to be drafted, he said he was told it was unlikely for him to be called to serve anytime soon, and he thought his plans for a civilian life might come true.
But then, at age 19, Fronebarger said he was moved up in the draft and got his notice.
“They just needed somebody, I reckon,” he said.
The Fronebarger brothers
Donald was sent to Germany in late 1944, where his brothers Jay, Fisher and Max had already ended up. Two other Fronebargers were stationed in the United States: Fred in Texas and Leroy in Louisiana.
Donald counted as the sixth of the Fronebarger brothers all born in the same “shack” off Highway 108 in Cherokee County to enter the war. But their time serving together was short lived.
Just two weeks after Donald signed on with the U.S. Army, Leroy died.
Donald said Leroy was the oldest of his brothers in service and died at 36 years old from an untreated stomach ulcer.
“The doctor thought his appendix attacked, and he was gonna operate the next morning,” Donald said. “He died during the night.”
Donald came home for the funeral, but was quickly sent back.
In Germany, he was given the job of a machine gunner.
In his year-and-a-half of service there, Donald said he was lucky and saw almost no combat.
But one late-night battle just before the war ended in 1945 was enough to send him home with a Purple Heart.
Donald and the men of his platoon were crossing the Ruhr River in western Germany when they were attacked by German soldiers.
Donald said he was hit in the hip with a shot of flak, a type of ammunition used by the Germans.
“I thought it was tracer bullets,” he said. “It turned out it was flak, they call it. Ordinarily, they use flak for anti-aircraft.”
Donald was sent to a hospital in Paris, France, but by the time he recovered, World War II had come to an end.
After being released from the hospital, Donald went to Bammental, Germany, for a year and worked at a ration depot setup sending out supplies to residents displaced by the war.
Coming back to Cherokee
Donald was discharged from the Army on June 25, 1946, and went back home, where his older brothers had all already returned.
After the war, Donald and his brothers spent time together when they could, but in all the years that passed, he said they rarely talked about their time in the war. Even his brother, Max, who was shot in his hip and through his hands, never told him how he got the scars.
Donald has also never joined any veterans organizations like many of his fellow American service members who were enlisted during World War II.
Almost 70 years have now come and gone, and time has taken many of Fronebarger’s memories of World War II away from him.
There are still others he may like to forget.
“I don’t care about thinkin’ about it,” he said. “It’s been an honor to go and get back without any major problems.”
While Fronebarger stays modest and quiet about the time he and his brothers spent in World War II, other members of his family, such as his only child, Donna Grogan, are happy to share the story.
Grogan has in recent years done exhaustive research looking for documents and souvenirs from her father’s military service.
On a day in late June, Grogan sat in her home in White listening to her father tell stories from his time in World War II.
As Donald spoke, she looked through some of prized artifacts she has collected from father’s past: the Purple Heart, the discharge papers, a book he sent home from Germany and a photograph of one of the most treasured Fronebarger family relic of all, a medal Grogan said was given to her grandparents from the United States government for lending their six sons to serve their country.