Ralph Bartels, World War II veteran

Lansing, IA

I was born in Maynard, Iowa, and graduated from Maynard High School. I enlisted in the U.S. Army on March 13, 1943, at Camp Dodge in Iowa. My boot camp training was at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in Little Rock, Ark. After basic I was sent to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana for engineer training. We lived in tents near a swamp amidst the snakes and alligators.

In June 1943 I was reassigned to Yuma, Ariz., for training. While at Yuma we built hospitals and had desert maneuvers. On Sept. 28, 1943, I reported to Camp Shanks in New York in preparation for movement overseas. In October 1943, my unit {333rd Special Service Engineers} boarded the troopship James Parker. The ship was double-loaded and we got two meals per day. We had 12-hour shifts, a bunk for twelve hours and on deck for twelve hours.

On the 18th of October the ship arrived in Liverpool, England. The engineers built camps and set up tents for the units arriving after us. Our job was port construction. On June 6, 1944, the invasion on the beaches of Normandy began. 19 days later the 333rd engineers landed on Utah Beach with barges full of equipment. On June 26 the port of Cherbourg was captured. The following day we moved in. We built the first retractable Bailey Bridge at Cherbourg. There were 4,500 POWs there along with 500 civilians. For the eight months we were there, we used the German POWs for labor for our construction projects. They were glad to work because they got more and better food than before they were captured.

In February 1945, the engineers moved northward to Le Havre, France. A month later, on March 10, they loaded into 40&8 railroad cars and moved to the German border. The 40&8 designation on the cars meant that they would hold either 40 men or 8 horses. For the 40 men it was standing room only, as the cars are somewhat smaller than American railroad cars. Being five to 10 miles from the front lines, our job was to rehabilitate railroad lines and bridges. When the war ended we had crossed Germany and were preparing to enter Austria.

The Army released me on Dec. 3, 1945, as a Tech 5 corporal. I was awarded campaign medals for the Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland and Central Europe campaigns. Three of my brothers also served during World War II. My brother Harold was in the Navy, and Vernon and Richard were in the Marines. Vernon was wounded and back home by the time he was 19. My father died while I was in Germany. I was notified about two weeks later but wouldn’t have been able to get home anyway. In 1947 I married a Lansing girl and moved there in 1949. I went to work for her father, who owned a plumbing, heating, and hardware store along with his brother. The two brothers were World War I veterans. I am a life member of the VFW, a Legion member, a 40/8 member, a volunteer fireman and am on the city council. One of my three children (Steve) served on a destroyer during the Vietnam War.

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