The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois on June 6, 1994 · Page 4
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The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois · Page 4

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Bloomington, Illinois
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Monday, June 6, 1994
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Page 4
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A4 THE PANTAGRAPH, Monday, June 6, 1994 LOCAL jd) A German sniper is searched prior to interrogation at a headquarters unit shortly after the D-Day invasion. V i & t , . The 13 men interviewed for these stories were not acquainted with each other, but all have a lot In common other than having been involved in D-Day. All came back from the war and finished college or immediately got jobs. Those who didn't already have wives and families, soon did. All but one are still married to their first wives. The one who isn't was left a widower eight months after he returned from World War II and is still married to his second wife. All are proud of having served, but none wants to do it again. All have vivid memories about their service. All but one wept at some point while recalling those memories. By JAMES KEERAN Pantagraph staff They say there are two rules of war. Rule No. 1: Young men will be killed. Rule No. 2: There is nothing you can do to change rule No. 1. Perhaps a third rule should be added: Those who aren't killed will remember those who were, and they will cry. When dawn came on the day after D-Day, the beaches of Normandy, yesterday the scenes from hell, were quiet for a battleground. The invasion was successful. Proof was that men on the beaches this day feared only the occasional artillery shell or mine. There were no machine guns mowing them down as they reached the shore. The wrecks from yesterday were still around and burning, the bodies were gathered as well as could be and field hospitals had been set up. Dal Estes was ashore and safe for the moment. So were Clifford Grimwood, Bob Monninger, Roy Nickrent, Bob Reeves, Henry Vertrees, Chuck Heins and Harold Pankey. Ken Hoffman, the farm machinery parts man from Dwight, was back in England by then, beginning the process of recovery. His war ended about an hour after he landed on Utah Beach. Hoffman, who became a father of twins after he was drafted and had never seen his babies, was in Normandy, France, on the morning of June 6, 1944, firing his rifle at a German machine-gun nest. A white flag came out, Hoffman said. The sergeant he was with jumped up to go over, "and they cut him right in half." So Hoffman and a couple of men with flame throwers tried to make a less obvious approach, but "they took us out with one shot ... It just knocked me flat ... When I came to, I was laying on my right arm and I didn't feel nothing, and I thought 'Oh my, it's gone.' But it wasn't." He crawled to a ditch and joined the two others. "There wasn't too much to do but just lie there." Several hours later the medics came by and carried his companions back to a naval aid station on the beach. Hoffman walked. Toward evening he boarded a landing ship converted into a hospital ship for the return to England. His war would be one of recovery in a series of Army hospitals back home. He saw his twins for the first time in August, when they were 8 months old and their mother brought them to Galesburg to visit him in the hospital. He was discharged Dec. 5, 1945, as a first lieutenant. He had a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit sNi vs -. f , vvt - r a,v, I m .V., i yA.rv- ! w-" ' tr. ' V " U.S. Army infantrymen took a break after advancing Citation and a family to support. Hoffman got his old job back with the farm machinery dealer. Later he became a crane operator and a truck driver. He and Mary, the woman he married in 1942 after flunking his first Army physical, had two more children. He retired from the U.S. Postal Service in 1974. "You know," he says 50 years later, "it's harder on the people that stayed home." But they don't have the memory of sitting wounded on Utah Beach, hearing the sounds of war on one side and seeing the setting sun and rising tide on the other. And they don't have the memory, as Kenneth Hoffman does, of watching the dead bodies of American servicemen come floating in on that tide. Roy Nickrent, the farm boy from Saybrook who parachuted into a tree behind enemy lines about five hours before H-hour on D-Day, was successful in getting to his first objective, a German gun emplacement, but when he and his companions did, they discovered another American unit had gotten there first and taken it out. At daybreak, Nickrent with a bazooka, and another man with a machine gun, went to a group of houses occupied by the Germans. As the other man kicked in doors and sprayed the inside with machine-gun fire, Nickrent put seven rounds from his bazooka into the roof of the barracks. German soldiers, Nickrent said, "came streaming out of there by the dozen ... " and the paratroopers " ... simply mowed them down and killed every one of 'em." i . . I' i to the protection of a chalk cliff during the D-Day Nickrent spent the next month pushing forward, town by town, until he was sent back to England to prepare for a jump into Holland Sept. 17, 1944. There he hooked up with a renegade Irish tank driver as a forward observer. After the tank took out a German sniper nest, the Germans counterattacked. Nickrent dove into a ditch and captured four German prisoners. Before the day was out, the tank and its American crew had killed 50 Germans and taken out two antitank guns and a German ammunition truck. They also helped take a total of 55 POWs. The story was spread throughout the world by a United Press International reporter named Walter Cronkite. By that December, Nickrent was in Bastogne, Belgium, for another brush with history. It was there on Dec. 22, 1944, that Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe, surrounded by the German army, issued his famous reply to a German ultimatum to surrender: "Nuts." Eventually, Nickrent remembers, troops led by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton broke through, and he lived to fight another day. The war in Europe was still nearly six months from over, and when it was, Nickrent was reunited with his brother Clarence for the trip back across the Atlantic. ; . He worked construction in San Diego for a year, then came back to McLean County. He married Mary Leisure in Bloomington on June 26, 1948. They have three children. Nickrent was Saybrook town marshal and water works superintendent for 14 years and a McLean County sheriffs deputy and radio operator for about seven years before retiring in 1982, and he still thinks about the war a lot. NBC television sent him back to Normandy in 1984 to shoot a special about the action at the German barracks on D-Day. He and Mary returned in 1985. "I'll never forget it," he said. "It leaves kind of a scar in your memory ..." Harold Pankey, the carpenter from Elkhart, earned his Bronze Star for bravery a couple of days after the landing: He and his foxhole buddy, Jim Schwets, were scouting near Saint-Lo about 10 miles inland when they ran into a German tank. One bazooka against a tank is not good odds. i rawing 1 sir' f , f J? jSCS ., 4 invasion of Normandy. Pankey aimed anyway, fired and missed, but the next five shots hit the tank, which slowed it down enough for the two Americans to get away. By September he was fighting house to house through Belgium on his way to Aachen, Germany. He and Schwets were second and third in seniority of their company of 220. In November, he was in the Huertgen Forest: "That's where war and all hell broke loose." Schwets took shrapnel in both knees. Later Pankey took it in the buttocks and got a trip back to Omaha Beach, where a field hospital had been set up. In a month, he rejoined his unit for the Battle of the Bulge, but his wounds became infected and he had to be evacuated again, this time to Paris for injections of a new drug, penicillin. Three days later, he was pronounced fit for battle again, and he rejoined his unit. Nothing stands out in Pankey's memory for the next few months, until April 17, 1945. He was fighting in the Rhineland, he remembers, when he took shrapnel in his left knee and his war ended. It was less than a month before it ended for the rest of his comrades in Europe. He was recovering in England on V-E Day. He saw the Statue of Liberty when he sailed into New York Harbor on June 21, 1945, on the Santa Rosa, a troop transport when it took him across the Atlantic the previous year and now a hospital ship. When he came home to Elkhart, U.S. 66 was a newly paved two-lane highway. Pankey had five Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and a girlfriend, Mary Lou Baugher, who married him that November. They have four children. He has had a dozen operations. Both knees and his left hip have been replaced. He needs a new right hip, he says, but nothing was going to keep him from returning to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. "My life was spared," he said. God saved him. "I got braver and braver as the war went on. I didn't think about my life ... I just felt protected. ... Only God got us out of there." Continued next page J K n , i i

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