The U.S. Army didn’t waste much time recruiting former Illinois resident Louis Brod when he turned 18 on Nov. 11, 1943.
The nation was in the grip of World War II, the largest military conflict in the history of the world, and every American was called upon to support the war effort.
“I was drafted a month and a half after I turned 18 at Ft. Sheridan in Illinois,” said Brod, now 86 and living in Alterra.
From Ft. Sheridan he was sent to Camp Blanding in Florida, where he spent 14 weeks in basic training.
But the night before he was scheduled to ship out from Boston, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. All soldiers who were only 18, including Brod, had to stay home.
“They called out a bunch of our names,” he said. “President Franklin D. Roosevelt said he had been getting too much flack from mothers that 18 was too young.”
Brod ended up spending a year stateside.
“Personally, I didn’t see a whole lot of difference between being 18 and 19,” he said. “Nineteen is still young.”
It was that one-year delay that led to Brod participating in one of the most important advancements in the European Theatre that ultimately led to the Germans surrendering to the Allied Forces on May 9, 1945.
When he finally shipped out, it was with the 89th Infantry Division.
Called the Rolling W for its emblem, a W surrounded by a circle, the 89th Infantry Division began its offensive on Jan. 25, 1945, at Le Havre, France, on the English Channel. In its 400-mile advancement eastward through Europe, the troops marched across France, Luxembourg and then into Germany.
They ended their heroic mission, sometimes under the command of Gen. George Patton, 15 miles from the Czechoslovakian border where they met Russian troops advancing west in May 1945.
They were among the American troops who liberated concentration camps in Germany.
Brod said he was shocked when he saw the camps, despite seeing so many other terrible things during the war.
“The only ones who survived were the ones who weren’t there very long,” he said of the prisoners.
Like so many of the WWII veterans interviewed by Tom Brokhaw for his book The Greatest Generation, Brod doesn’t say much about his war experiences and needs a little prodding from his wife, Mary.
“The problem with Louie is he needs to tell people about what he saw,” she said. “There is a movement on the Internet that the Holocaust didn’t exist. He needs to say that’s not true. He needs to say it happened.”
Brod said one of the biggest accomplishments of his division was crossing the Rhine River in Germany, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star, a military decoration for bravery and valor.
He was one of two soldiers in his squad who survived intense gun fire from German troops on the hills above the river banks as troops crossed the Rhine.
Brod, however, doesn’t see his heroism as anything making him special.