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Local Reflects On World War II Service

September 30, 2011

Staff photo/Beth Lipton: Ralph Boerger poses with a display of the medals he was awarded for his service in World War II. Boerger served in Italy during World War II.

NEW BREMEN — Ralph Boerger spent 753 days on the front line during World War II and this year is celebrating his 66th year since his discharge in 1945.

The Fort Loramie native was drafted in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army as a medic in the 45th Infantry Division.

“I treated hundreds of men,”  Boerger said. “I was assigned to L Battalion, and I was a medical aid. I walked right with the infantry and slept with them and everything. If somebody got wounded, they’d holler, ‘Hey medic, we’ve got somebody over here,’ and I’d go over and treat them.”

After his training, Boerger was assigned to the European Theater.

“I landed in Africa,” he said. “We started out in Sicily. We were up in Italy, Switzerland, France and ended up in Czechoslovakia.”

Boerger noted that aid stations were usually set up in basements and in churches to protect them from gunfire. According to rules set by the United Nations, medics were not to be shot at while they were treating another soldier and were identified by a red cross on their helmets and armband. Boerger said the rule did not always protect them.

“You’d still see shots hitting the ground,” he said. “They didn’t always abide by those rules.”

Boerger earned a Silver Star, the highest honor that the Army gave out, for his actions when an aid station was in danger. A trailer loaded with gasoline was left next to the station, and Boerger said there was enough gasoline on the trailer that it would have killed them all if it were to explode.

“I got my helmet on and got my jacket on and my captain said, ‘Where you going Boerger?’” he said. “And I said I was going to hook one of our jeeps to the trailer and pull it away.”

Despite protest from his captain, Boerger went to move the trailer to save everyone at the aid station. He was able to move the trailer, and just as he was heading back, a shell landed on the tarp covering the tailer.

“Shell fragments are hot and you can’t touch them, they’ll burn you,” Boerger said. “The trailer set on fire just as I left.”

When Boerger returned to the station, his captain told him that he had saved their lives.

“He shook my hand and said, ‘You saved our lives,’” Boerger said. “They all shook my hand and everything. I got a letter from the Army Department saying I was awarded a Silver Star for that action. I am still very proud of it.”

Boerger noted that the highlight of his army career was when he was able to visit his brother, Clarence, in Italy.

“He (Clarence) was with the 34th division, and we were side-by-side in Italy,” Boerger said. “I asked my officer, ‘We’re quite near where my brother is, could I have a pass and go see him?’ And he said, ‘Why not? I’ll give you a three-day pass.’”

Boerger was able to get a ride from an American Jeep that was headed toward where the 34th division was. After a day of traveling, Boerger was able to find his brother.

“He (Clarence) looked and me and said, ‘I never thought I’d see you here. I thought I’d see you back in Ohio,’” Boerger said.

The brothers had the opportunity to talk and enjoyed some wine they got from a civilian. Boerger stayed the night with his brother in a foxhole before returning to his division in the morning.

Boerger said he often is asked what the scariest moment was for him, and he recalls a time when the aid station was surrounded by Germans.

“We were surrounded by Germans, and they called in U.S. tanks to come and shoot the Germans because they were well protected from gunfire,” Boerger said. “The tanks came and they got around and the Germans started leaving, but they had an armor-piercing shell — most shells had a detonator on the end and when they’d hit something, they’d explode — this had an armor piercing shell and they’d hit the tracks of the tank so it couldn’t move.”

The Germans struck the tank with an armor-piercing shell, and Boerger was called over to the tank to help a soldier that was wounded from the shell. After a struggle to get the man out of the tank - they had to hook him to a tow cable to get him out - Boerger saw the extent of the soldier’s injuries.

“Finally we raised him up, and the shell went right below his knee and just the skin was hanging there,” Boerger said. “We got him back to the station and the captain said, ‘Well, he lost his leg.’ He (the captain) took a surgical knife and he cut the skin — the bone was already broke — and he handed me the leg.”

Boerger was told to go bury the leg right side up because if the leg was not laid to rest peacefully, the soldier would experience pain the remainder of his life. Boerger noted that he told the story to a class of students who said it was gory.

“That was part of your duty,” Boerger said. “It was all a part of army life.”

Boerger was officially discharged on Oct. 1, 1945, after serving on six campaigns during World War II. Boerger said he arrived back in the United States a week before he was officially discharged.

“After I was home, they were so busy with discharge papers, I had seven days to report back to camp to get my discharge papers because they were so busy,” he said.

Boerger went home during that week and attended a dance.

“During those seven days I was home, I wore my uniform,” Boerger said. “I went to a dance in Minster and I met a lady, and we’ve been married 62 years now. I was very fortunate to meet her.”

Boerger said he was proud of what he had done and of his time serving in the U.S. Army. He now enjoys reminiscing about the good times with friends at the American Legion and has spoken about his experiences to area groups and school classes. Boerger noted that of all the men that he left the United States with, only three returned home together.

“Out of the ones we originally went oversees with, only three of us went back home together,” he said. “The rest of them got wounded or passed away.”

Boerger recited a daily prayer while he was serving and said he thinks he had help to make him one of the three men that made it back unharmed.

“I had a daily prayer they had issued to us when we were in the Army, which we could carry with us, and I said that prayer everyday,” he said. “I think I got help from somewhere to pull through all that, and I really appreciate that.”

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