Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Remembering A Veteran

To honor all the veterans, I am printing here, made public for the very first time, another piece of my Grandfather Joe's writings about his service in World War II.

This is a little long and this is not all of it.

You may read the first part here, if you like.

The Push: February 11, 1940
By Joe Bruffy

After two days of forced marching and hitting small pockets of resistance, the Company came to a small bombed out village that had been held by a company of SS German soldiers. They had traveled approximately 50 miles through mud and rain and without food except K rations. The commander, Captain Scott, ordered a rest stop.

Joe, John, and Tony found an old dugout cellar filled with moldy hay - at least it was dry.

They hung a wet blanket over the entrance, got out their K rations, built a small fire by burning the K ration wrappings, and with water from their canteens made themselves a cup of hot instant coffee. Joe opened a can of canned heat that come from K rations. He laid a piece of heavy string cut from his undershirt in the top of the can and with his trench knife pushed it in to a slit in the canned heat, lighting it with his cigarette lighter, and made a small candle. John had found three sugar beets somewhere along the way. The men cut them open and scrapped out the pulp with their trench knives. Tony said he had never eaten a better salad.

Orders came down from the C.P. for everyone to dig in for the night, that they were staying all night. Lt. Nolan came by and told them to put out a guard and stay where they were, that their position was as good as any place along the line.

Joe took the first watch, standing just outside the entrance. Tony and John went to sleep. Joe woke Tony up in four hours to relieve him, and he took Tony's bed. The night passed without action.

The next morning, Joe had contracted some type of a cold and was coughing and sneezing bad. He figured it was caused by sleeping in the moldy hay, but it caused an asthma reaction for years after that.

About 7 a.m. the Company kitchen had caught up with them and had sent up hot pancakes with apple butter and the kitchen Jeep. There were three pancakes to the man packed in clean garbage cans. John said he had never eaten better pancakes and he didn't know he loved apple butter so well, especially out of a garbage can.

That afternoon orders came down to get ready to move out; the Germans were driving out of France across the ziefrig line into Germany,and we were going in after them. After 3:30 p.m. the company moved out. Hitting some small resistance, accompanied by tank destroyers, they traveled approximately 60 miles.

The company had lost approximately 20 men wounded to K.I.A. on the advance. On the last 10 miles the going was very rough, as it had started snowing and had fell about four inches deep. Third squad had lost three men just before dawn. They had come out of the woods into a small meadow. There was a rock wall around the meadow.

Don Cory, the squad leader, gave orders to cross the meadow to the woods on the other side. The moon was in full and with the light snow it was like daylight. Joe told Don that it would be suicide to cross the meadow by going through.

Don said we haven't met anything in the last four hours. So in a staggered group of three they started across, Don and Spitler and Oads in the front, Joe, John and Tony were to follow, with McBeen and some others bringing up the rear.

After Don and the other two guys got approximately a third of the way across, John said let's go, but Joe said give them a little more time. No use all of us getting knocked off by STS. When Don was about half way across the Germans spotted them and opened up with 88 mortar artillery. All three of the first guys got hit.

After the artillery stopped they could see the three soldiers laying on the ground. By that time it had clouded up and began to snow heavy, plus it was beginning to get daylight. Joe told the others to go out one by one with five minute intervals. He would go first.

He came upon Spetzler, who was hit in the thigh. Motioning John to come on, they carried him to the other side. Don was dead, with a piece of shrapnel between his eyes. Oads was hit in the shoulder.

Joe motioned for the rest of the squad to come on. A couple of the guys got Oads, and Don's body was carried across by the rest of them. After getting across and giving Oads and Spetzler first aid the best they could, they finally located the platoon.

Joe got in touch with Lt. Nolon, and gave him an account of what happened. Lt. Nolan told Joe you are to take over the squad with the rank of staff sergeant. Joe said in no way will I be responsible for this squad. I have a hard enough time keeping myself alive, and I am not a glory hunter. After some cursing and raising hell, the Lt. sent Sergeant Clem Crawley out of the second platoon over to replace Don.

Sergeant Crawley was an old combat infantryman coming out of the 45 infantry and had seen lots of combat. He was a very soft spoken low key guy that never done anything without discussing it with Joe, John and Tony, as they were his three right hand men. The push continued on through the day without too many casualties and not too much excitement.

During the day several young replacements had been sent in to the Company. One, a young guy by the name of Bumgardner, was sent to the third squad. Clem put him under Joe's care. That night the Company was halted and told to dig in. About the time they started digging in the Germans opened an artillery barrage.

Bumgardner was helping Joe to dig a hole. The shells were hitting the trees and shrapnel and tree bursts were flying everywhere. Joe pulled Bumgardner down in a rootwall tree hole and waited until the shelling stopped. After a while it quieted down. They finished the fox hole and Bumgardner got sick and turned pale.

Joe asked him what was wrong and he said his left arm was numb. Joe split the sleeve of his field jacket from shoulder to wrist; Bumgardner's shirt and sweater was soaked with blood. Joe called the medic, who came and administered first aid. A piece of shrapnel had went through the bicep of his left arm. He was sent back to a field hospital and never did get back into combat.

After about 8 hours rest, the company was ordered to move out. They had now crossed the ziefreig line and was in German territory. The T.D.S. came up and the combat infantry was loaded on them and into Germany they started. After about ten miles they had caught up with the retreating Germans and a battle started.

Lt. Harris was hit in the legs with machine gun fire trying to cross a railroad. He was pinned down between the railroad ties. Ferrier, the little yankee boy from Brooklyn, zigzagged his way under heavy fire and pulled him back to safety. He was awarded the silver star. After several hours of heavy fighting and severe company losses on both sides, the Germans retreated. The CO gave orders to move out to the next village. The squad moved out without out incident, traveling about 20 miles. The company was halted for a rest and to eat K rations. The third squad stopped by an old barn. Everyone was worn out. The men all sat down, leaning against the wall of the barn.

Sergeant Crawley leaned his rifle against the wall and went to sleep. He slept for a while and woke up. He started to stretch out his legs and kicked his rifle; it fell down and accidentally went off, hitting him in the leg. The third squad never saw him no more after that. He had been a top notch sergeant. Again Lt. Nolan approached Joe, Tony and John, wanting one of them to take over the squad. All three refused.

The squad was kind of looked after by Lt. Nolan after that, without a squad leader. The three men kind of took the squad under their wing and it went along without a leader for a few days.

Finally Frezer was sent out of the second platoon to lead the squad; he led it until the end of the war. About the middle of March the snow was melting and spring was beginning to come; the apple trees and peach trees was in full bloom. They were in the Rhine River Valley and pushing on into the heart of Germany.

The company moved on to the top of a ridge. The third squad was on the extreme left, advancing up the hill. Just before getting to the top, they had hit some small arms fire. John and Joe were approximately 30 feet apart, crawling on their bellies. There was a small bush about one inch thick in front of John's nose, and he looked over at Joe and said he wondered how he was going to get around it.

When he turned his head back, the bush was gone. A German rifle bullet had cut it off at the top of the ground, and John went into one of his praying spells. After getting up the hill, the third squad dug in. A couple of young recruits not over nineteen was sent in to third squad as replacements. One of the young men was put with Joe, the other went with Tony.

Joe, knowing from past experience the first watch was the safest, put the young soldier on guard duty the first part of the night while he tried to get a couple hours of rest. After 12 o'clock he got up, and the young recruit laid down in the hole and went to sleep. About 2 a.m. the Germans opened up with 88 mortars and screaming mimmies. The shells were going over head as they did not have the range yet. The young recruit woke up and, hearing the shells and artillery, he went completely berserk and started out of the hole screaming.

Joe hit him in the jaw and got him quieted down. The young fellow sat sobbing. Joe went to the next hole to the phone, called the CO, he said to bring him down to the C.P. This was done by Joe and Tony; they never saw the young guy no more. They didn't even know his name.

3 comments:

  1. This was so great...to read history from the "ground up" vs just as a collection of events along a timeline. Thanks so much!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing these stories. As a housekeeping note, is the date correct on this post? Americans weren't fighting in Europe in 1940 were they? Anyway, not a big deal.

    I did read both of your posts, and they brought back memories of my WWII history class at Roanoke College. Our assignment was to find a WWII veteran or someone who contributed to the cause and interview them for their life history. I did find a WWII vet and spent a few hours chatting with him. Very insightful man and very rewarding for me. I was honored that he spent time talking to me. It is a shame that so many will take their stories to the grave. America missed a huge opportunity to preserve oral histories from that time period.

    I also have a unique perspective on WWII that I wish I had had more of a chance to explore. My grandmother was a war bride. She was from Plymouth, England, so her brothers and sisters fought for England during the war. One of her sisters was a look out for the RAF during the Battle of Britain, and one of her brothers landed on Normandy on D-day. My grandfather was in the 29th Division and landed on Normandy on D-day. I was hoping to acquire his service records, but unfortunately there was a fire where these records were kept and his along with many other soldiers records were destroyed. He was never one to talk about the war, and I was too young then to really take it all in or ask him questions.

    I'm sorry I've hijacked your blog. I'll hush now. Thank you again for sharing the stories. I'd love to read more of them.

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  3. Thanks for sharing. My father-in-law, named Victor because he was born Nov. 12, armistice day, would tell us stories of his time in WWII. He worked for close to 40 years for the Wall St Journal, but that didn't mean half as much to him as those years in the trenches. He maintained very close contact with some of the men he was with in the war. I am glad many of those guys were able to share their stories with us.

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