Editor’s note: Teri Hirschfeld writes, I am submitting a story that a late friend of mine, Douglas Bruns, wrote about his late father, William Bruns, who was a U.S. Army officer and POW in World War II. Douglas, a World War II history buff, passed away last January and entrusted this story to me.
William U. Bruns (1917-1985)
William Urban Bruns was a young man, really not much more than a boy, but he was a commissioned officer in the United States Army in World War II. One early October evening in 1944, in Northern France the Allied Army was on one side of the Mosselle River and the Germans on the other. Lt. Bruns was ordered to take a group across the river that evening, set up a position and in the morning they would be relieved and sent to the rear for some well deserved rest.
It was raining like hell and Bruns was told not to expect much resistance, if any. The crossing went as planned and the men settled in for the night. About midnight the Americans were attacked by a full division of Nazi Tiger tanks. When cold hard steel meets human flesh, the steel wins every time. The American lines quickly collapsed and the order from across the river came to surrender. Lt. Bruns Sergeant was to his left leaning against a tree but his head was gone. PFC. Bates was about 20 feet in front of Bruns with his legs severed and screaming for his mother, he quickly died.
Scant minutes later Lt. Bruns was kneeling in the mud and blood with hands behind his head with a German officer standing over him shoving a pistol in his face and shouting at him in a language he did not understand. I wonder what was going through his mind. The POWs were put on a train headed for Northern Germany to a prison camp, they were put around a 125 or so per cattle car … they would have to stand for four hours and then they got to lie down for two. I’ll leave it to your imagination what the procedure was when one had to relieve himself. On the trip North, the train was bombed by an American bomber, it had no idea what the contents of the train was.
During World War II, bombing from 40,000 feet was a hit and miss proposition, mostly miss, but when a United States Army Air Corps one-ton blockbuster bomb hits within 50 yards of a target there was hell to pay! Luckily for Bruns he was in one of the rear cars for the bomb went off near the engine and the carnage can’t properly be put in words. His fellow comrades-at-arms toward the front, shall we say their luck ran out.
Bruns spent the brutal winter of 1944-‘45 in a German POW camp with little heat and less to eat, usually a half of a potato. To make matters worse he contracted diphtheria and when he was liberated by the advancing Russian Army he weighed 80 pounds. He was taken to a field hospital where he was nursed back to where he could travel and was taken to Berlin where he joined a group of soldiers and they made their way to London. Then they boarded the Queen Mary and sailed the Atlantic; on the passage he won $5,600 playing poker that paid for more than half the cost of the house he and his new wife were to build in St. Marys.
As I had wondered what his thoughts were that night in the mud and blood in France, I also wonder what went through his mind when he first saw the Statue of Liberty. He was met at the dock by his new wife, Rosemary, and brother Herb.
He lived and raised his family in St. Marys never talking about his experiences much unless asked.
All veterans are heroes!