I was born in 1915 and grew up in the coastal city of Coos Bay, Oregon with my six brothers and one sister. As a young man in the Depression years, it was hard for me to decide what I wanted to do with my life, but by December of 1941, it was clear.
At 27 years old, I enlisted in the army with a good friend after listening to the radio broadcast of President Roosevelt’s speech, “This Day shall live in Infamy.” My basic training was at Camp Swift, Texas, and after Officer’s Candidate School, I was assigned to the 146th Engineer BN as HQ-Company Commander and Battalion Motor Officer. Later, I was involved in the five European campaigns: Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes/Alsace, Rhineland, and Central Europe.
In December 1944, we were on reconnaissance near Malmedy, Belgium when we saw a big sign on a house with a picture of a T-bone steak on it. We thought, well, that’s for us, and stopped for dinner. While waiting to be served, the owner suggested that we move our Jeep around to the rear. It turned out that German SS Troops were in the restaurant the night before, and the owner was afraid they would see our Jeep and shoot up his establishment. We polished off our steaks in a hurry, and hightailed it back to report the incident to our Battalion HG at Eupen. We had occupied the territory for months, and these were the first German troops sighted in the area. Little did we know that the Battle of the Bulge was about to begin.
25 German divisions attacked, and made deep penetrations, or “bulges” in our American frontlines. It was bitterly cold at the Bulge, and I’ll never forget hearing the eerie sound of crunching, frozen snow becoming louder and louder with every footstep of either friend or foe. I also remember the artillery shells bursting on the trees above us, and the branches and treetops falling all around us. After the shelling, the German paratroopers would land in our immediate area and attempt to secure the key road junctions that we were guarding, by following the sound of each other’s cricket clickers and birdcalls.
Later on, we learned of the capture of approximately 90 or so American soldiers near the same place in Malmedy where we had ordered our steaks. The Germans lined up these American soldiers in a field and machine-gunned them. When their snow-mantled bodies were found, this became known as the Malmedy Massacre, the worst atrocity committed against our troops in the European Theater.
After the Battle of the Bulge, and the eventual liberation of Europe, the U. S. Army Engineers stayed on to help these newly liberated countries rebuild. In Pilsen, we helped clear the demolished streets and buildings of rubble, and rebuilt all of Pilsen’s utilities. I was named director of a school in Czechoslovakia teaching the Czech civil engineers the proper use and capabilities of our road-building equipment. They later went on to build a highway between Pilsen and Prague with their newly acquired equipment from the U. S. Army.
I’ll never forget returning home from the war. As our ship entered New York Harbor, I looked up to see what seemed like a thousand flags waving from every warehouse rooftop lining the harbor. The entire harbor was filled with ships of every description, all waving their flags and blasting their horns. When I saw the Statue of Liberty, my eyes filled with tears of joy for being home, mixed with tears of sadness for those we left behind.
Looking back at the war, I am happy to have served my country, and help rid the world of Hitler’s tyranny. We went to Europe to help these countries regain their freedom, and then rebuild from the scars of war. Many young men died fighting for this freedom, and since I returned from the war, I tried to figure out a way to make sure they were not forgotten.
I now volunteer as Director of the Legion of Valor Veterans’ Museum in Fresno, California, where we remind the public of the sacrifices made by veterans of every war. Let us never forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and the freedom of other people throughout the world.