Veterans Day Tribute to My Father
I don't know how my grandmother lived through it. Nana was an Italian immigrant who followed her husband to West Virginia where he found work in the coal mines. All 4 of her sons served in World War II. ALL FOUR. Uncle Mim, Uncle Tommy, Papa Joe and Uncle Carl. They all came home, thank God. I had no idea what happened there. The Greatest Generation did not discuss those things. When Uncle Tom passed away, this article from March 3rd, 1945 was found with his things. I didn't even know it existed. I'd like to share it with you. We truly are the home of the free because of the brave. Thank you Veterans & God bless.
I transcribed it below:
JOE BALLER WAS WOUNDED AT AACHEN
by Dorothy A Baer-Wheeling News Register-March 3, 1945
“I guess my number just wasn’t up”, exclaimed the Elm Grove youth as he told how he miraculously escaped death in France. “My Guardian Angel must have been working overtime. said this ‘guy named Joe’.
It was July 3, and my 19th birthday---we were between St. Clair and St. Lo, France. I was told by my sergeant to dig a fox hole in a certain spot but I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the whole thing.”
“In the first place, I didn’t like the idea because there was no protection around that area and the spot was too far from the rest of the men. In the 2nd place there were holes about 25 yards away that had already been dug by the Germans who were there before---so I told the ‘Sarge’ about it and he finally said that my buddy and I could sleep in the foxholes that had already been dug. Three minutes later after a terrific blast, I looked up slowly from the ground I had been hugging in a foxhole and saw that 4 German shells had found their target---the exact spot that I was told to dig. I thanked God for the most wonderful birthday gift I had ever received---life itself.”
Yes, it’s a “Guy named Joe” Baller, who is home on a 30 day furlough from Kennedy General Hospital, Memphis Tennessee, where he is being treated from an arm wound he received in Germany. Joe was a number 2 gunner in an 88 millimeter mortar squad and a member of the 29th Infantry division.
He said that Brest, France was about the toughest battle he had been in. We thought that it would only take us about 6 days to take Brest Penisula but all in all it took us 5 weeks. The Germans didn’t have much artillery but they were very well dug in. They had strongly fortified forts and the dugouts were so deep that you couln’t see them until you were almost on top of them.
Taking Fort at Brest
“Fort Montabury was our objective. It was a French Fort and so strongly built that even 200 lbs of TNT did little damage. By the use of flame throwers and Churchill tanks operated by the British, we surrounded the fort. There was little cross fire and the krauts knew we had them surrounded but they wouldn’t come out. A young German about 16 finally came out of the fort and we told him that they better surrender because we had cut their supply lines. The boy reported back to his officer in the fort but came back out saying they would not surrender. “
“We tried everything to bring the Germans out and finally succeeded by breaking down the entrance of the fort with a piece of artillery. They started pouring out of the fort after that with their hands up and those that wouldn’t come out were gone in after. Upon investigating we found out that they had had enough food and ammunition in the fort to last 4 months. They had even been using part of their Navy as infantry men at Brest.”
“Vire, France following the battle of St. Lo was another tough position”, said PFC Baller. “Every time we took a certain objective, we were forced to give it up again by night. We took the objective and were pushed back 3 times, but on the 4th day we took it and went on. We walked for 4 days without firing a shot. The enemy was retreating SO fast that we had a hard time catching up to them. AT one place along the way, we stopped at a German farm house where the German tgropps had been a half hour before. They had cut up a couple of cows and hadn’t had time to eat them because they had to move so fast. We finally caught op with them at Vier.”
Joe’s 2nd Close Call
“My buddy, who was number 1 gunner and I, road to Aachen, Germany by jeep. The krauts there threw everything at us, and really had strong resistance. I was in battle only 5 days when I was hit, explained Joe “One day I was standing in my for hole taking my gun apart to clean it. My buddy who was in the same hole was sitting down writing a letter. Everything was pretty quiet at that time, but all of a sudden there was an explosion. A shell blew up about 25 feet away. It knocked me down but I didn’t know what had happened until I felt my arm. It was numb and the blood began rushing out. From then on, everything was a blank until I found myself in a German house. A German girl who must have been a nurse, stopped the bleeding right away. There were 2 other members of the family there and they treated me very well until I was taken back to my battalion’s aid station. From there I was taken to a hospital in Holland by ambulance, then to Belgium, France, England and Scotland. Within 2 weeks, I had been in 6 different hospitals, from Scotland I was flown back to the states in 27 hours and arrived Dec. 9 at Kennedy General Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.”
PFC Baller who was overseas for 9 months, was in the same platoon as PFC Joe Baric, of McMechen. He wears the European Theater ribbon with 2 campaign stars---Brittany and Normandy, the purple heart and the infantry’s combat badge. A son of Mr. & Mrs. James Baller of 2339 Lumber Avenue, Elm Grove. He is a graduate of Triadelphia High School in 1943, where he was a football star. He entered the service in October of that same year and received his training at Camp Wheeler, Georgia, before going overseas in April of 1944. He first went to England for 2 months, France for 3 months, then Germany. Joe’s 2 brothers, Corporal Dominick Baller and PFC Tom Baller, are both with the 6th Marine Division in the South Pacific. All three brothers are former football stars of Triadelphia High School.