Honoring the Memories and Sacrifices

St. Louis Gateway Chapter  •  Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge WWII  •  Saint Louis, Missouri

Bernie Schwender

Memorial Day Speech - 2012

Member Bernie Schwender was the keynote speaker at his hometown Memorial Day parade in Glasgow, Missouri. The following is the text of his speech:photo Bernie Schwender

Good Morning. Thank you, Mr. Louis, for the honor and privilege to be here today and speak in the town where I was born almost ninety years ago and spent eighteen years of my life.

I lived at 202 Commerce Street where my parents planted a tree after I had been in the service several months. I see that that tree still stands. My father, Anthony Schwender, had a barber shop on Main Street.

Glasgow was a wonderful place for a kid growing up. I attended St. Mary’s Catholic School where I was taught by the wonderful but strict Sacred Heart nuns. Then to Glasgow Public High where I played left guard on the football team. If I were asked what my favorite sport was, I would have to say fishing and then football, in that order.

When I wasn’t picking or selling tomatoes in my little red wagon, or delivering the Post-Dispatch newspaper on my bicycle, you would find me fishing at one of the various farmers’ ponds. Whenever I visit, my fishing gear is always in my car.

In 1939-40 the war was raging in Europe, and I knew that when I reached eighteen I would be drafted, so against my parents’ wishes I enlisted into the Army. On October 10, 1940, I was sent to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, where I received my six weeks of basic training and met the girl I would later marry. She was only sixteen and I was nineteen. She promised to wait for me and gave me the bracelet I wear today that says “Hands off, he’s mine, Loraine”. I lost her 13 years ago. We had three children. Joe and Patricia are both living in Colorado. Another little girl, Sandy, was with us for seven years when God decided He wanted her back home.

Although President Roosevelt had promised us that we would remain neutral and just help our allies in Europe with what they needed to fight the Germans, December 7, 1941 changed all of that when Japan made a sneak attack on our shipping in Pearl Harbor. I was sent to New Jersey where I helped to prepare housing for the new draftees and the returning wounded. Then to Columbia, South Carolina where I received my Staff Sergeant stripe; then back to New Jersey and off to England.

While in England a plane crashed nearby and some of the GIs landed in the trees. We climbed the trees and cut them down and went to help those in the plane. I was about twelve feet from the plane when a thousand pound bomb exploded and I was thrown through the air and blacked out. The next thing I knew I was in the hospital in England where I was on D-day with both ear drums gone and spitting blood.

When I recovered, one doctor who was a major, wanted to send me back to the States; but another doctor, who was a Colonel, said no I was to be sent to the front. When asked about the Germans using gas, like they did in World War I, and me, being without eardrums, meant death, he replied, “They are not using gas and if they did you’re dead.”

I was sent out and landed somewhere in France where I was attached to the 78th Infantry Division, 309th Regiment, 90th tank outfit. I honestly cannot remember or I try to forget all the horrors that I saw - my buddies killed, the frozen feet, the knee-deep snow and 30-40 degrees below zero weather. The fog, the screams of the wounded, who froze to death because the medics couldn’t get to them. To this day I have nightmares and flashbacks that bring it all back and I have to seek help from the doctors at Jefferson Barracks hospital. I cannot have my head under water as I have no ear drums. When I get a cold in the winter my ears run.

We have a Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge in St Louis. We pride ourselves as being the largest and most active chapter in the national organization, and the only one with a Ladies’ Auxiliary The chapter was formed in January of 1992 since the 50th anniversary celebration of the start of the Battle of the Bulge was to be held in St. Louis and the national organization needed St Louis people to host and prepare for it. On December 16, 1994 we had 2000 veterans and spouses in three hotels in downtown St Louis.

We are also proud of our Educational Committee that consist of four speaking teams that over the past 16 years have been invited to speak at many schools and other organizations. I am proud to say that I am on one of those teams. My greatest reward is to see the interest these bright students have, the questions they ask, and how they remember us year after year.

We also have one of the most beautiful mortuary services for when a Battle of the Bulge veteran passes away. Our numbers are dwindling every year as the national cemetery grows bigger.

When in St. Louis, one must visit our seven foot marble monument with its six foot tall bronze soldier keeping guard. It overlooks the beautiful Mississippi River in Jefferson Barracks Park with its museums and is the best kept secret in St. Louis. There is so much to see and learn about our history. Those with a computer can find this and more by going to gatewayvbob.org. We also have a book of the men’s experiences, personally autographed by each one, as well as DVD's for sale.

Thank you all for listening to an old man reminisces and for the pleasure to be here in my home town on this Memorial Day.

--Bernie Schwender