SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- Norten Dablemont never envisioned himself signing books about his role in blunting Hitler's fierce attempt to push the Allies out of Europe in the winter of 1944.
Dablemont didn't even learn to read or write until after he returned home a decorated veteran from serving as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division in World War II.
But Dablemont was busy autographing copies of "Ridge-Runner" and greeting old soldiers over the weekend at a Springfield restaurant. The book is based on Dablemont's life but was written by his nephew.
"I couldn't read or write, so I would sit by the bulletin board and wait for someone to grab me and tell me where we were going," said Dablemont, 79. "They thought I was volunteering for everything because I was always right there."
The book traces Dablemont's life -- from trying to eke out a living hunting and fishing along the Big Piney River in southwest Missouri to fighting in the Battle of the Bulge.
A fellow soldier gave him the nickname "Ridge-Runner" while he was in basic training. In the Ozarks, a ridge-runner was an old long-legged coon that stripped the cornfields and outran the hounds, Dablemont said.
"I could run really fast. The Army took note of that," he said. "I became the company runner. It was my job to take messages back and forth."
'Miserable, terrible mess'
Dablemont doesn't remember some details of the fighting 58 years ago at the Battle of Bastogne and in the frozen Ardennes Forest. There are some things about those battles that he would like to forget.
"Bastogne was a just a miserable, miserable, terrible mess," Dablemont said. "A lot of us went in, and very few of us came out."
Dablemont kept his stories of being one of the "Battered Bastards of Bastogne" mostly to himself over the years out respect for his father, a strict but practical man who never understood his son's decision to enlist in the U.S. Army. Dablemont would not have been called to duty because his first wife had tuberculosis.
From time to time, when the catfish weren't cooperating and the conversation lulled, Dablemont would open up to his nephew as they floated on the Big Piney River in southwest Missouri.
Larry Dablemont is an outdoor writer whose columns appear in 28 newspapers in Missouri and Arkansas. His initial plan was to write a book about his uncle's exploits as a fishing guide.
"He has been a guide for 65 years -- he started when he was 12," Larry Dablemont said. "He only missed two years during that time, and that's because he was in Europe."
More than a fishing guide
As they talked, Larry Dablemont realized that he had more than a tale about a legendary fishing guide.
His uncle was 21 when he landed in December 1944 in Holland to reinforce 101st Airborne troops that had been fighting since mid-September.
The ensuing battle was one of the most famous of the war, epitomized by an American general's one-word response of "Nuts!" to a German surrender demand and the dramatic rescue of surrounded troops at Bastogne, Belgium, by Gen. George Patton's 3rd Army.
Dablemont was wounded three times, but he survived to march in the victory parade in New York at the end of the war.
"There were so many who had not survived and so many others marred and crippled for life," Dablemont said in the book. "My foot hurt a little toward the end, but I kept on like I didn't even notice it. I was marching for those men too, a few that I knew and a thousands that I didn't."