In this week’s blog post, I’m going all of the way back to my first book – We Fought to Win: American WWII Veterans Share Their Stories (Book 1, World War II Legacies).
George Edward Buhler of Berne, Indiana, was among the first World War II veterans I interviewed.
He shared some poignant quotes which I’d still like to put on a coffee mug and offer it for sale. His patriotism is catching!
His photos were fun to look at too.
Thank a veteran today for his/her service.
In 1941 George Edward Buhler was drafted into the United States Army. A native of Passaic, New Jersey, Buhler, 22, reported to Fort Dix near Trenton, New Jersey, for basic training.
Since it was early in the war, the Army accommodated troops in tents because there were not enough barracks. “We trained in World War I uniforms and used broomsticks because there were no supplies,” he said.
Having ridden a motorcycle as a civilian, Buhler was assigned duties of a military policeman and issued a Harley motorcycle, .45 pistol and Browning automatic machine gun.
Buhler received training in maneuvers at Fort Jackson/ South Carolina; Yuma, Arizona; Needles, California, and Fort Benning in Georgia. He was assigned to the 1st Army, 8th Infantry Division.
In December 1943, Buhler disembarked from New York City for Ireland. “We traveled in a convoy of ships filled with American troops,” he said.
In the British Isles, the troops trained for three months, then in early June 1944, they prepared to cross the English Channel for an invasion. Buhler’s squadron boarded an LST (landing, ship, tank) to land on the beaches of Normandy, France.
As Buhler and other troops dropped into the cold water over the side of the LST, they were part of the massive number of Allied troops to hit the beaches since the invasion began on June 6. His group was directed toward Utah Beach where German troops waited with artillery behind cement compounds called pillboxes.
Many Allies were shot in the water and on the shore. “It was brutal,” said Buhler. “We were all so scared and numb, but we knew it had to be done.”
According to research done by the United States National D-Day Memorial Foundation, Allied personnel killed during the D-Day invasion numbered approximately 4,400.
In summer 1945, Buhler’s division moved to Brest, Germany. Brest was a major German submarine port in northwestern France that Allied forces hoped to seize. Securing it from the highly trained Germans had proved extremely difficult in the past. Now British troops dropped 2,000-pound bombs. “We stayed in fox holes to avoid concussion from the explosions,” said Buhler.
By September 1944, the Allies had recaptured the town. In September Buhler was part of the Allied liberation of Paris and performed traffic duty at the Champs Élysées.
That fall Buhler’s division encountered ferocious combat in Germany’s Hurtgen Forest, east of the Belgian–German border. “It was cold and brutal,” said Buhler. “Mud came up to our knees.” Casualties in Hurtgen Forest were said to number in the tens of thousands.
Buhler was next involved in the Battle of the Bulge, another violent melee in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. Sleeping outside for weeks in fox holes in record-low temperatures caused frostbite for many GI’s. “We lost a lot of people,” said Buhler. “There was a lot of misery.”
In March 1945, Buhler was involved with the taking of the railroad bridge at Remagen, Germany. Aware that the Rhine River posed the last major geographic obstacle to Allied troops, Hitler had ordered the bridge over the river be destroyed. “The Germans shot 18-inch shells from railroad cars,” said Buhler. When Allied troops managed to save the bridge, 8,000 Allied troops crossed it.
Buhler’s brothers – Arthur, Eugene and Fred – were also drafted into the United States military. Sadly, Eugene was captured when his B17 bomber was shot down by the Germans. “All our family knew was that Eugene had been imprisoned,” said George.
He, Arthur and Fred looked for Eugene in every German concentration camp they helped the Allies liberate.
Thankfully, Eugene was among the 250,000 prisoners of war liberated at the war’s end in May 1945. Weighing only 80 pounds after being fed rotten potatoes and cabbage, Eugene’s family feared for his life. However, medical care and treatment after the war saved him.
On September 15, 1945, George Buhler was discharged. The war had ended in Europe in May with a German surrender. All four Buhler brothers returned to their family home in New Jersey.
George Buhler worked in maintenance positions throughout his life until retirement. In 1947 he married and he and his wife Rose became parents to two children.
“The war was such a loss to the world,” said Buhler. “So many men and women of all nationalities lost their lives for the desire of one mad man to rule all.”