This is a tribute to my uncle, Guss Holbrook. He was born Oct. 22, 1917, and died Dec. 25, 2012.
On Dec. 20, 1941, Guss Holbrook entered the U.S. Army. He had been drafted and the one year of training that was planned was quickly reduced to six months. Guss went to Camp Roberts, California, for basic training.
Guss was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division. He attended jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Initially, the candidates made one daytime jump and one nighttime jump from a 250-foot tower. Next, they made a daily jump for five consecutive days. If those jumps were successful, the candidate was awarded his wings.
Guss admits, “I was scared every jump.” His lowest jump was 1,200 feet. He made one jump in combat. This occurred during the invasion of France. He always thought that a jump in combat would be the worst jump but it was actually the easiest. “When the shrapnel came up through the bottom of that plane, I wanted to jump out.”
After jump school, Guss headed to Italy. He traveled by ship for 13 days and 13 nights before arriving in Europe. He said the trip across the Atlantic was smooth en route to Europe but was very rough on the way home and “some of the guys actually looked purple.” En route to Europe, Guss was aboard an Italian luxury liner called the Santa Rosa.
Once in Italy, the troops made a beach to cut retreat from the Germans after Rome fell. Guss spent more time in France than any other European country. He was 35 miles from the beach of Normandy. He also spent time in Nijmegen, Holland.
Guss also survived the Belgium Bulge. He says he brought home a souvenir during that encounter. The “souvenir” is a piece of artillery shrapnel on his forehead between his eyes.
During the Bulge, Germans dropped in by parachute, wearing American uniforms and got behind American lines. It was confusing to determine who were the Americans and who were the Germans. Guss shouted in German to two men in American uniforms asking them where they were going. Hearing the question spoken in German, one of the men said to the other (in his native German), “He’s one of us.” Immediately, Guss was able to recognize them as German soldiers. This recognition and the subsequent “intervention” enabled Guss ’ life to be spared.
Undoubtedly, Guss was grateful for the knowledge of the German language he had acquired. Although he spent only three weeks in language school, learning to speak German interested him and he found the language easy to learn.
Of the weapons used, Guss’ favorite was his M1 rifle. He was proud of his skills as a marksman. Guss was awarded several medals, including a Purple Heart, an Expert Rifle Award and several combat ribbons.
Guss saw one concentration camp and he said, “That was enough!” The camp he saw was located at Dachau.
When the war ended, Guss was in Bonn, Germany, a city on the Rhine River. When the guns opened up as a salute to the end of the war, the men did not know at first that they were American guns. It was somewhat frightening until an announcement was made that the war was over.
Guss said the best feeling was seeing an American tank coming up the road. On the tank was a white star. A French officer was riding in the tank. The tanks had previously landed on the beach and traveled to Guss’ location.
After the war ended, the 82nd Airborne went to Berlin for the Army of Occupation for three months. All of the camps there were named for cigarettes. Guss was in Camp Lucky Strike.
Guss returned to the U.S. and was discharged in 1945 from Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg. From his company of 208 men, Guss was one of the only 13 who survived the war.