Norman Livingston was born in Hamilton County, where his parents had a farm on the Leon River, on November 16, 1925. Norman was one of seven children, all of whom worked on the farm; he remembers that they had “horses all over the place,” so when his father traded 21 horses for a J.I. Case tractor, they still had plenty left over.
When Buchanan Dam was finished in 1937, the Livingstons would come down and camp along the shore (there were no buildings there yet). The following year, when Norman’s older brother was going to get married, his father decided that he wouldn’t have enough help to continue running the farm. He decided to sell it, and the family moved to Lone Grove the day before Norman’s 13th birthday.
Life was quite different in the small but thriving community of Lone Grove, which was then on the main highway (still a gravel road) from Austin and Burnet to Llano. Norman’s father built a small store, one of three in business there in the late 1930s (Logan Templeton and Forrest Ross operated the other two). Small farms lined the Little Llano River then, and more than 100 children attended the five-room Lone Grove School, which was famous for its excellent tennis and basketball teams.
Norman had a number of different jobs at his new home. In addition to attending school and playing on the basketball team, he pumped gas (there were no electric pumps back then, he had to actually pump gas by hand; regular cost 16 cents a gallon), fixed flats, greased cars and waited on customers (“whatever a kid could do,” he recalls) at the store. And, because his father leased land to run cattle and farmed a little for feed, there were other chores to do, as well. Norman remembers that when the family was “pulling corn,” they would load their 1936 Dodge pick-up truck and let him drive it home and unload it.
This was before electricity was generally available in the countryside, and the Livingstons used a 24-volt Kohler “power plant” to light their house and store. Their store was the only one in Lone Grove with an “ice house.” The Livingstons would buy 300-pound blocks of ice from Llano, and re-sell ice to residents as needed. Up until the time that the co-op brought electric lines to Lone Grove, the family used a washing machine which was powered by a small gasoline engine.
Local mail-carrier Jim Overstreet made the most of his regular trips to Llano; he picked up other items, as needed, for the little stores. One frequent item was bread, which sold in Lone Grove for 9 cents a loaf. Jim’s son, Pete, was one of the Livingstons’ regular customers; he was one of the first people Norman met in Lone Grove, and he would stop almost every morning to visit and buy two Prince Edward cigars (for a nickel) before he started the day’s work at his county job. Pete and Norman became good friends, even though Pete was 16 years older.
Another regular customer was the Robinson Bus Line, which stopped every morning and evening on its run from Austin to Brady and back. Lone Grove residents could buy a ticket and catch the bus at the Livingstons’ store.
It didn’t take long for Norman to get to know everyone in Lone Grove and most everyone from the surrounding towns: Bluffton, Tow and Llano. He and his good friend, Nolan Nobles, would deliver ice during the summer for residents from North Llano (the north side of the river didn’t yet have electricity) to the lake. They would even deliver ice to the Clendennen family on Shaw Island, although that meant rowing halfway across the lake at no extra charge!
As a teenager, Norman often made the eight-mile trip along the gravel highway into Llano (“You couldn’t go over 40,” he recalls). Sometimes, his father would send him into town to pick something up for the store; sometimes he would catch a ride with one of his friends from Bluffton or Tow, who always stopped at the store on their way into town. One of the best memories of Llano was his Saturday trips to the “picture show” at Lantex Theater; he was often accompanied by a cute tennis star from his class at the Lone Grove School, Maudine Templeton.
On a cold day in 1941, Norman gathered with others in his class to listen on the radio to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who announced that the United States was at war with the Empire of Japan. “Don’t worry,” the teachers told him. “That thing will be over before you’re out of school.” The teachers were wrong.
Just over a year later, Norman Livingston, Pete Overstreet and five or six other young men from Llano County boarded a bus for the U.S. Army induction center in San Antonio. Livingston and Overstreet were the youngest and oldest (at 18 and 34) of the approximately 125 men in their company; Overstreet was married and already had a son.. They went through basic training together at Camp Swift, in Bastrop, then headed for New Jersey to be trained as “communications specialists” (“I had learned some Morse Code,” Livingston explains. “I can’t remember why.”). They sailed together to Europe in the fall of 1944 as part of the 260th Engineer Combat Battalion.
“Pete always looked out for me,” Livingston recalls. “His wife would always mail packages, with chocolate or fudge or something, and he’d share it with me.” Through a miscommunication, the battalion spent six weeks in England, learning a little French and German while they waited for orders; they finally arrived at Cherbourg, France, landing on the beach with Landing Ship Tanks (LSTs) because the ports had been destroyed. It was the day after Christmas in 1944, and the Germans were mounting their last major offensive of the war (the Battle of the Bulge) about 400 miles to the east.
“I thank the good Lord for being with me every day,” Livingston says. I missed D-Day, and I missed the Battle of the Bulge.” The 260th crossed the Rhine River in Germany on March 28, 1945, but didn’t reach the front lines until a few days later, when the Germans put up a fight at a small town on the River Main, called Aschaffenburg. It took four days of steady shelling to subdue the town; by then almost all the buildings had been destroyed. When the Americans finally entered the ruins of Aschaffenburg, one GI called it “the most beautiful German city we have ever seen.”
For the last few weeks of World War II, Livingston spent much of his time doing reconnaissance ahead of the American lines in “No Man’s Land,” while the engineers of the 260th built bridges, repaired roads, swept for land mines and removed explosives from the few remaining bridges, set up water distribution points, and even took a few prisoners. “The Germans blew up bridges so the engineers would have something to do,” Livingston remarks.
By then, there was little organized resistance, but there were still a few casualties in the 260th. A Captain Rodgers was killed on April 23, and the engineers named their biggest project, a 270-foot bridge over the Salzach River in Austria, after him. It was not completed until May 19, after the war was finally over.
In the meantime there were a few highlights (the capture of a wine factory, and of enough Opel cars so that the whole battalion could ride) and lowlights (the discovery of the horrifying death camp at Dachau on April 29). Livingston was one of the first Americans to enter the concrete building, and tells of wearing a gas mask to inspect the chambers. He also vividly remembers the cattle cars full of dead bodies (“stacked like cordwood”) on the railroad track next to the camp.
As the war came to an end, Livingston had the opportunity to explore Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” retreat at Berchtesgarten, and the V-2 rocket factory inside the mountain on the other side of the Koenig’s See (King’s Lake). He stayed a while in Salzburg, where one of his missions was to check on the condition of the famous Lippizzaner Stallions, which had been evacuated to the Alps to avoid bombing raids. “The scenery was beautiful on those trips,” he remembers.
After the war, Livingston married his childhood sweetheart, Maudine Templeton. After a few years in the Air Force, they moved to Austin, where he worked in electronics for eight years. When the opportunity presented itself, the couple moved to Llano, where he worked 31 years for CTEC. They built a new home on Wright Street in 1960. Although Maudine passed away in 1995, Norman still lives in the home that she designed, and still thanks God for the nearly 50 years they spent together. He has one son (Mike, who lives in Austin) and two grandsons.
Through the years, Livingston had never spoken publicly about his World War II adventures. It was this year that librarian Sandra Parker convinced him to tell his story at a Memorial Day event in the Llano Library. We’re glad she did; we appreciate his service, along with the service of all the others who made up America’s “Greatest Generation.”