Second World War - European Theater

Explore the Oral Histories from Ypsilanti area Veterans who served in the European Theatre

  • Schmidt, Leonard T.

    At the age of eighteen, Leonard and his buddies tried to enlist, but the government closed enlistments at that time. He was able to "convince" his draft board to draft him. Soon after he entered the service, Leonard volunteered for Jump School (an extra $50 dollars per month was given to paratroopers). Sickness prevented him from going to the South Pacific. He was then sent to demolition school, and was eventually assigned to the 542nd Regiment and sent to England. While in England, Leonard was assigned to the 101st Airborne, but missed going to Normandy because there were not enough planes. Leonard's commander had given him a choice: S2 Intelligence or machine gun training. Few people wanted to do the machine gun training since gunners were always the main target of the enemy. Despite this, Leonard chose the machine gun training. Leonard jumped into Holland and was part of the "Market Garden" offense. He was very impressed with how grateful the Dutch were for being liberated. Eventually, Leonard fought in the "Battle of the Bulge" where he was wounded and finally evacuated to an Army Hospital. When he was first sent to a Mash unit, the doctor wanted to remove his leg. An old classmate was working as an assistant and talked the doctor out of the amputation. Leonard spent more than two years in various Army Hospitals before being discharged in 1947. He returned to the Michigan area and went to Art School. He worked at various modeling jobs for all the Big Three. He talked about how many people resented him as a veteran. He returned to civilian life two years after the War had ended and peopled treated veterans differently by then. Leonard received the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, the Infantry Rifleman's Award, and the European Theater with two Battle Stars. Leonard feels that he had a guardian angel watching over him: once when a gunner was shot and killed right next to him; another time when in Holland, two soldiers on either side of him were shot and killed; he felt lucky that his old classmate was able to talk the doctor out of amputating his leg. Leonard finished his interview by saying: "I'm proud of my service and I'd do it again."
  • Ripple, John A.

    (Ann Arbor News - June 5, 2004 - Jo Collins Mathis) Ripple was a 20-year-old kid from Monroe who had never been out of the country, and rarely been in a boat or used a gun, when he was sent to participate in the greatest invasion in history. As he headed for the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944, Ripple remembered what a general has just told them: This would be easy. By the end of the day, nearly 5,000 Americans lay dead in the surf and on the beaches. "On the morning of D-Day, I saw more dead soldiers in an hour than most soldiers see in a year," said Ripple, 80, sitting in his ranch home near Pleasant Ridge Elementary School in Saline. Ripple said he would have been killed as soon as he got off the landing craft, had he not bent over to help retrieve a machine gun that a fellow soldier had let slip into the water. That soldier was killed minutes later, as Ripple hurried ahead to the high-water mark. "It's very hard to explain," said Ripple. "But once you smell the smoke and have the bullets flying over your head, all you want to do is, you want to go kill. They train you to kill or be killed."
  • Reeber, Charles

    Charles Reeber was drafted immediately after high school graduation. Although he was registered for the college program, he was rejected because of his eyesight. He was assigned to a mortar squad and carried the base plate. Charles was put on the line in Belgium. Things were quiet until the Germans attacked on December 16. His platoon leader was killed and left the group disorganized. His group was captured and after marching for several days they were put on trains. Eighty prisoners were stuffed into each train car and since there were no markings on the trains, Allied planes strafed them, killing several prisoners. The group was without food for several days. Charles became sick but his friends saved his life by giving him soup. Prisoners were stacked on shelves, 50 to a building. While marching to different camps, they saw stripped prisoners, Jews. One ran to them asking for help. The Brits gave him an extra uniform and he continued on with them. On April 19, 1945 the Brits liberated his camp. He was asked if he was "tortured, what was it like? "He responded, “no, however they didn't feed us for several weeks.” After being liberated, he was returned home in April of 1945 and discharged in November of 1945. He went to work at Ford where he retired after 35 years. He and his wife were married for 55 years (in 2005).
  • Post, Raymond L.

    Raymond Post was born in Detroit, Michigan. After attending high school, he went to the University of West Virginia. After his third year in college, General Motors offered him a job. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Raymond enlisted in the Air Corp with the hope of becoming a pilot. The Army decided that he was not meant to be a pilot. Although that was discouraging, he felt is saved his life because practically all the people who were in training with him were killed. Raymond was sent to Virginia where he sailed for Naples, Italy. The trip over took 11 days. Besides zigzagging to avoid subs, it was stressful due to sleeping on five-high bunks, four decks below the water. There was a fire on board but they were told to stay put. Fortunately, the fire was extinguished. When they landed in Naples, they were bombed by the Germans but escaped any real damage. Raymond spent a year in Naples in an Air Operation unit. Their job was to check out the fuel and cargo, plus filing flight plans. He had a chance to go to the Palace of Justice in Nuremberg and sit in on Herman Gering's trial. Also, while in Italy he took courses from the University of Florence. Although Raymond does not have a degree, he has had extensive studies including many courses given by GM. When he left the service, he returned to GM and worked his way up to Regional Manager. Through GM, he and his wife hosted many trips to Europe, Hawaii, France and New Zealand. Raymond married his wife while he was in the service and they spent 59 and one-half years together before she suddenly died. Raymond feels that he has had a great life and is thankful for his time in the service of his country.
  • Peterson, Lee Maurice

    Lee Peterson was born in a very small town in Iowa. After graduating from high school, he enrolled at Iowa State University. After his first year, he went to Ypsilanti, Michigan, to work in the B-24 Bomber Plant in Willow Run. While there he received his draft notice. At the time they were recruiting for all branches. Lee requested and received the Army Air Corp. After basic training and Gunnery School training, he was assigned to the 8th Air Force, 92nd Bomb Group, 326th Squadron. Lee is part of the "Lucky Bastards" group. He flew 35 missions without a scratch, plus five that were not counted. His is most proud of his DFC which he earned on a bombing raid into Germany. His B-17 lost two engines, on the same side of the plane, before reaching the target. A third engine went out over the Channel. There was an emergency air strip in Dover, England, but they decided to push on their base, 15 minutes further. They made it. The ground crew replaced all four engines, tested them in flight, and had the plane ready for another mission the next morning. During the flight back to England, Lee shot down a Me109 that was trailing them. Lee related a story about a training flight in which one engine failed. The pilot feathered the engine, but when they were approaching the field to land, the pilot gave the feathered engine full throttle, against the instructions of the flight engineer, Lee Peterson. The crew had to bail out. At the inquire, the pilot blamed Lee, but all of the other officers on board did not agree. That pilot flew 20 missions with Lee and never said a word to him other than when they were in flight. Although Lee has expressed enormous respect for that pilot's skills, he also knew that the pilot prevented him from getting promotions. After that pilot was replaced, Lee received two promotions in a very short period of time. Lee returned to the U.S. before VE day and was an instructor for flight engineers. After discharge, he returned to Ypsilanti and worked at the Kaiser Frazier Auto plant. When they went out of business, he got a job at Wayne State University. He started as a one-man department and before he retired, he had three separate sections that related to the Engineering and Liberal Arts Departments. When he retired, they held two parties because the one ballroom that held 800 was too small.
  • Nurkkanen, Martin

    Martin Nurkkanen was born October 20, 1920 in Kaleva, Michigan. He was married in 1942 and in 1943 his son was born. Martin was then drafted into the army in February of 1943. He received basic training in Little Rock, Arkansas at Camp Robinson and then went on to Camp Phillips for additional training and finally Arizona for desert maneuvers. At the time of training, his unit, the 80th Infantry was to be deployed to North Africa, but by the time they were ready to deploy, that front was closed. Instead, Martin went with the 80th over to Europe on the Queen Mary, and then on to France. Martin’s unit landed at Omaha Beach, after the D-Day invasion, and proceeded through France. While at the Falaise Gap, Martin narrowly escaped being killed by a German shell by jumping into a ditch. The blast left his backpack in shreds and he was injured by the shrapnel. After being treated for his injuries, he was told he could choose not to go back to the front lines, but he decided to rejoin the 80th as he believed they still had a job to finish, and he wanted to help finish it. Along with the 80th, Martin relieved troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. Martin’s unit crossed into Germany, liberating a concentration camp and then went on into Czechoslovakia. After the war ended, Martin traveled back to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin and was discharged. He then returned to his job at Ford Motor Company as a quality control employee.
  • McAndrew Jr., Atwood Richardson

    Atwood McAndrew Jr. was born on July 2, 1920 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. In his senior year of college, Atwood enlisted in January, 1942 and was allowed to graduate in May. He was sent to Notre Dame, Indiana for indoctrination and then to Tower Hall in Chicago, Illinois for three months and came out as a line officer. Atwood was allowed home for Christmas and after New Year’s Day was sent down to Miami for training in anti-submarine tactics. He was then taken to Quebec to commission the U.S.S. Haste as a stores officer. Progress was delayed because the St. Lawrence River was frozen, but they set out for Boston after two months. Atwood returned to Miami, Florida for more schooling and after two months was sent to Norfolk, Virginia to become an anti-submarine and gunnery officer on the DE48 U.S.S. Doppler. The Doppler's job was to escort convoys made up of Liberty ships across the Atlantic to North Africa and the Mediterranean. It usually took three weeks to cross due to the speed of the Liberty ships. Atwood remembers that on their first trip they watched the film "Casablanca" and then landed in Casablanca in North Africa. Other ports in which the Doppler docked included: Tangier, Oran, Algiers, Tunis, Bizerte, Gibraltar and Palermo. The Doppler's convoys never lost a ship, distinguishing the Doppler as the first escort to not lose a ship in the Mediterranean. One event that stuck out in Atwood's memory is when the Doppler was attacked near southern France by torpedo bombers. The Doppler crew was able to shoot one bomber down. The Doppler also served as a submarine target ship in New London, Connecticut for two months. The Doppler was decommissioned at the Brooklyn Ship Yard at the end of the war. Atwood was transferred as a lieutenant serving as executive officer to the DE102 U.S.S. Thomas which served as a mother ship to a captured German U-Boat. The Thomas was involved in the Seventh Bond Tour that sailed from Norfolk, Virginia to Key West, Florida to the coast of Texas. The Thomas was decommissioned in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Atwood was mustered up to Chicago, Illinois where he was transferred to the Naval Reserve on April 13, 1946, ending his service.
  • MacGregor, Mildred A. Radawiec

    Mildred MacGregor was born November 2nd, 1912 in Detroit, Michigan. After graduating from Hamtramck High School in 1931, she got her Registered Nurse Degree from St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1934. She did Private Nursing Duty for eight years at the University of Michigan and St. Joseph Mercy Hospitals until World War II was declared on December 7, 1941. Mildred joined the United States Army Nurse Corp on October 30, 1942 and went overseas on December 7, 1942. She served with the Third Auxiliary Surgical Group, a new experiment in war to operate close to the front line, as a surgical nurse to save severely wounded soldiers who might not otherwise survive. She served in the Tunisian, Sicilian, Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland, and Central Europe Campaigns. She was discharged in February of 1946. Her decorations and citations include: Meritorious Unit Badge, American Theatre Ribbon, EAME Theatre Ribbon w/one Silver Battle Star and two Bronze Battle Stars, five Overseas Service Bars, and the Victory Medal. ASR score on September 2, 1945, was 102.
  • Lund, Ralph Quentin

    Ralph Q. Lund was born in Alpena, Michigan on October 2, 1925. He enlisted in the Army on August 12, 1943. After basic and specialized training, he was assigned to the 1255th Combat Engineering Battalion. Ralph was sent to the European theater. He eventually was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. Before leaving Service, he was awarded the European Theater Ribbon and the Army of Occupation. When he was finally discharged on April 2, 1946 he returned to Alpena, Michigan.
  • Levenick, Richard Leo

    Richard Levenick spoke of his early memories attending high school in Michigan when WWII started in 1939. He started studying chemical engineering in college in Wisconsin when he enlisted in the Army. He was tested while in the Army and was selected for a top-secret program developing "Auto Pilot" systems for the Army Air Corp. His training was done in the middle of the night in a classroom. They were not allowed to take any materials to or from the training areas, and they had to memorize everything. Dick talked about being shipped out to England with the 18th Bomber Squadron of the 34th Bombing Corp. He was stationed in the countryside in England just north of London. He was tasked with checking the auto pilot systems before and after the bombing missions over Germany. Dick said he recalled seeing thousands of planes flying overhead on the day that D-Day began. He recalls the bombers would return and then leave many times during the initial invasion and throughout the next few days. He also remembers when the Battle of the Bulge began and also remembers V-Day quite vividly. Dick recalled that after the 100th bombing mission, the group was allowed to throw a party. He talked about how wars will always exist unless humans can "evolve" past conflict to settle disputes.
  • Krieger, Charles Allen

    Charles Krieger, a native of Berrien County, Michigan, enlisted in the Air Force in 1942, immediately after high school. He received training in Miami Beach and Arkansas. He was eventually assigned as a tail gunner in a B-17 bomber after receiving further training in Biloxi. In the summer of 1944, he was shipped to Europe with the 413th Squadron, 96th Bomber Group. The Group began bombing runs in January 1945. By that time, the Allies had control of the skies, but there was always plenty of anti-aircraft fire. In one raid, the B-17 was so severely damaged that the pilot told everyone to bail out. This was Charles’ first jump. He was careful to not open his chute too early, because the lack of oxygen at that altitude would surely be fatal. When he did pull the ring, nothing happened. At 125 mph, he had to act quickly, so he tried several things and the chute finally opened. Charles ended up in a tree, about 15 feet from the ground. A group of German farmers with pitch-forks waited for him to get down and captured him. He was put in a small shed until they were able to turn him over to the Luftwaffe guards, who then put him in with a group of other American prisoners. They marched to Munich from Nuremberg. While the POWs were enroute, Allied planes shot and killed six POWs, because the Allies thought they were Germans. Conditions in the camp were deplorable. The camp was finally liberated in late April of 1945.
  • Koerber, James H.

    Suffolk, England, has a long history of war. From the time of the Romans, when Emperor Claudius launched a successful invasion across the fields of lower England. Suffolk was among the first areas that saw brutal combat for control of the island of Britain. In 1939, Wattisham Airbase in Suffolk threw its bombers to the sky, only hours after the declaration of war against Germany. By 1942, this sleepy college-like town became the major refueling center for the entirety of the United States Army Air Force operating in the European Theater. Wattisham was home-away-from home for thousands of American flyers in Europe in the Second World War and remains one of Britain's largest air bases to this day. James Koerber, a First Lieutenant in the United States Army Air Force, was among those pilots, and flew fifty-eight missions over enemy territory. As a resource for those that want a true glimpse of a pilot's life sixty years ago, Koerber's is a story that must not be ignored. James Koerber was born on November 1, 1922, in Detroit, Michigan. Koerber, the last of a long line of brew masters, spent the early years of his life with his family, producing family label Friars Ale in Iona, Michigan. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Koerber answered the call to arms and joined the Army Air Force. For the better part of the next two years, Koerber trained in the United States, England, and Scotland to fly fighter aircraft and was awarded his 'wings' on February 8, 1944. Training was a grueling ordeal. After two months of preparatory Pre-Flight training, those with demonstrated ability were sent to Primary Training with the twin wing Stearman aircraft, where they received their first instruction in solo flying. Following this 'trying out' phase, new pilots were sent to Basic Flight Training in Georgia, where they flew their first combat-aircraft, the PT-13 "Vibrator." Following Basic Flight, pilots were broken into two classifications for their advanced training: multi-engine bomber flying, or single engine fighter flying. Koerber elected the latter, which he identified as the more popular, because of the freedom and sheer power of the fighter aircraft, but was nearly denied admittance to the program. At six-foot, one inch tall, Koerber was several inches over the maximum height limit for a fighter pilot, a statistic pointed out by a shorter pilot wishing for his slot in fighter school. But after a run in with a sympathetic medic, who asked whimsically "can't you bend your knees?" When on the scale, which made him five foot eleven, Koerber was off to advanced fighter pilot training in Alabama, where he flew the AT-6 and P-40 aircraft. After his training, Koerber was assigned to the 8th Air Force, stationed at Wattisham, England, and began to dig into the daily life of a pilot. It was hardly glamorous. After a roll call at five in the morning and briefing, pilots finally arrived for breakfast just behind the "ground pounders," or land-side service and administration personnel who did not receive their level of briefing, and likely ended up at the back of the line. Fighter missions could be slotted at virtually any time after that, but involved a fairly predictable routine. After takeoff from the dispersal area, a pilot had to contact the rest of the group, or the aircraft which had taken off before him. Missions for fighters typically involved providing cover for heavy strategic bombing aircraft, fighting at close range with other fighters, or 'strafing' ground targets. Before entering a combat situation, a pilot first fired a burst from the Mustang's .50 caliber guns to "clear the throat" and ensure that his weapons were in working order - occasionally with poor results. Sometimes the test failed; during others the empty shells hit neighboring aircraft in the formation, and when multiple nationalities were involved, such a racket could be considered an attack, as happened to a Russian aircraft over Munich assumed to be attacking. This particular incident, though not directly involving Koerber himself; nevertheless, grounded his squadron for the last three months of World War II. Koerber himself had an additional task to perform, besides basic assault and support. His plane was equipped with a K-25 camera, which could be used to capture reconnaissance data for the Corps command staff. At an order from "Colgate," or the 8th Army Command, Koerber would answer as "Lakeside Camera" to group commander "Lakeside Highway," and swing low for close photographs, provided he had ample "elbow room," or fuel in the Mustang's five-hundred-gallon tanks, remaining after an engagement to do so. Either way, a pilot would have ample time to explain his actions in the daily mission debriefing before he was allowed to race the ground pounders again for his evening meal. When not on active duty, Koerber was allowed to take his P-51 on leave and travel across Allied territory with ease. In this manner, Koerber was able to track down his brother Clarence, a pilot in the 7th Army Air Corps. Clarence was flying from coded locations, providing support for General George Patton's army, which was advancing through France. Koerber's P-5l Mustang had a story in its own right. Koerber had originally been slotted to receive a used P-5l nicknamed the "Rough Hustle" from squad Captain Pickering. However, just before Picker was due to step away from active duty, the Rough Hustle was shot down while in the care of Captain Muller, while on the way back to Wattisham. Muller survived the engagement and escaped to Allied lines but was forced to bail out of the aircraft. This procedure was complex in its own right. Pilots wore a "G Suit" over their uniforms, designed to insulate them against the extreme cold of high altitude flying. This garment was bulky and limited movement, making any jumps even riskier than normal. Moreover, pilots flew with a .45 Colt 1911 automatic pistol in a holster beneath their left arms, an equal hindrance, and as much a danger to be captured with behind enemy lines as an asset. In the event of parachuting, pilots were given an "Escape Kit" with highly detailed silk-screened maps of France and Germany, 'button hole' compasses, high energy bars and fishing tackle, razor, and small self-photos for possible identification paper forgery, to help them make their way to Allied lines. In the event that they were shot down over Russian territory, pilots were also given American flags and instructions to shout "Ya Amerikanets," or "I am American" as they parachuted to the ground, in the hopes of avoiding Russian fire. With Captain Muller drifting slowly back to British soil, Koerber would need a replacement aircraft in short order, and was accordingly issued the next P-51 to go into service. He named his airplane the “Betty Jean,” after his wife. In August 1945, James Koerber returned to America aboard the Queen Mary, the first ship to enter New York harbor since the end of the Pacific War. The scene was tumultuous. Amid thunderous applause from crowds of New Yorkers, who crowded the docks for hours at a time, the pilots of the 8th Army Air Force exited the ship with fifteen thousand combat troops, returning to their homes for the first time in years. The celebration of America's heroes continued all the way into New Jersey, as Koerber traveled south to reunite with his wife, Betty Jean. Koerber returned to Michigan and lived in Port Huron for many years. He currently resides in Gibraltar, meeting occasionally with the friends that he made many years ago. He is still as patriotic as he was on the day that he enlisted to fight for his country.
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