By: John Cuddy – June, 2018
A breakfast and lunch with this month’s hero is Henry Naruszewicz; his family also spelled their name as Narushof, and some family members used an Americanized spelling, Norris. I first had lunch on St Patrick’s Day with Henry and his son in law, U.S. Air Force Veteran Bill Flanagan at the Dracut American Legion, all three of us had some beer with heaping plates of corned beef and cabbage. Weeks later, I enjoyed an early morning breakfast with this 102-year-old Veteran of Patton’s 3d Army; our meal started with Henry telling me a riveting story over eggs and coffee. We were later joined by fellow World War II Vet Frank Polewarczk, of the 79th Infantry. Despite growing up a few miles apart, then fighting near each other in World War II, this breakfast at Shaw’s in Dracut, Massachusetts was the first time the two men ever met.
The story goes, Henry and Albert Lopiano, a nineteen year old fellow soldier from Connecticut, were tasked with repairing a damaged M3 Sherman Tank behind the lines. When finished, the two soldiers were separated from their unit, the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion, XXII Corps, part of the famous 3rd Army that General George Patton commanded in Europe. Not wanting to be left behind in the rear, the two of them then went tearing across the countryside in the freshly repaired tank, unsupervised, to rejoin their unit on the front. With nineteen year old Albert driving, the younger man constantly turning back, and grinning at Henry, in his twenties, who was in the turret. According to Henry both soldiers were having a blast the entire time. They were too young to be scared, too young to be worried about American Army Officers, German Army snipers, mines, or the Nazi Waffen SS.
Most Veterans of the unit considered April 6, 1943 the first day in the history of the 276th, as the first Officers and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers, also called NCO’s, joined the unit that day. To form the unit, reserve, active and National Guard soldiers were moved around, mostly men from the rural American south. An interesting fact, one hundred paratrooper candidates were taken out of jump training, at Camp Toccoa, Georgia (site featured in the film “Band of Brothers”) and re-assigned to the artillery.
To civilians who never served in the U.S. Military, the concept of enlisting in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper and later being moved to the artillery, whether willingly or unwillingly, is hard to grasp. Recently I had the privilege of speaking to a young woman who joined the U.S. Navy as a cook, later deployed overseas, and was tasked mainly with searching Iraqi women at U.S. Military check points in Iraq. She never cooked once the entire time she was in Iraq, never flipping a single pancake. During World War II, shortly after D-Day, June 6, 1944, and especially after the Battle of the Bulge, hundreds of clerks and cooks, found themselves reclassified as Infantrymen, and were quickly sent to Infantry units to replace killed, wounded, or captured soldiers.
Illustrating the sacrifice men and women make when enlisting in the military, in both wartime and peacetime, is an interesting story Henry told be at breakfast. Before the 276th even got to combat in Europe, seven of its members received the prestigious U.S. Army Soldier’s Medal. This was for saving the lives of their fellow soldiers who nearly drowned when their Army truck got stuck in a swollen creek at Fort Campbell, Kentucky during training. The seven soldiers rescued twelve of the fourteen men trapped in the vehicle, one man drowned, another was able to save himself. After completing unit training mainly at Fort Riley, Kansas and Fort Campbell, Kentucky, they moved to a staging base in New York, and were granted 12 hours leave in New York City, before departing for Europe on July 1, 1944.
On Friday August 25th, 1944, about two and a half months after D-Day, the Battalion went ashore at Utah Beach. A few weeks later on September 12, 1944, around noon, the unit fired its first ever “combat round” near Montot, France. 300 artillery rounds were fired on the Nazis that day, resulting in nearly 300 dead German soldiers and over 1,000 captured German soldiers. This is my fifth formal Veteran interview, and my fourth with a member of the Greatest Generation, all of them agree, that to a nineteen-year-old Nazi soldier, getting captured by the American Army in 1943, 1944, and especially in 1945 was better than winning the lottery. Nearly 100% of the German soldiers captured by the U.S. Army 1942-1945, survived the war. The same cannot be said for their comrades in the field, especially those fighting on the Eastern (or Russian) Front.
Veterans will joke among themselves, about rear echelon service, and front line service. Civilians who never served should not participate in discussions of this in service rivalry. The administrative officer, one of the most popular officers in the Battalion, U.S. Army Warrant Officer Dominick DiStasio, the S-1 or Personnel Officer, on November 25th, was talking with some troops when a German Artillery Round landed nearby, it exploded, and he was killed instantly. These men, mostly raised in the rural American south, were all young, and on the adventure of a lifetime. This casualty, one of many the unit experienced illustrates how dangerous war zone service can be, despite what job you are assigned. Once in a bar full of servicemen in New Orleans, I overheard some college students teasing a young Air Force Airman about being “desk bound”, almost immediately some U.S. Marines came to his aid, defending his service to our Nation, and his branch of service. Veterans can tease each other, but will defend every branch of the service if civilians join in.
With the end of the war in Europe in sight, in December the Battalion started firing leaflets at German villages. The practice giving German civilians some options, and some U.S. Army rules, that helped many survive the war. Rising U.S. Army casualties in the European Theater resulted in twenty-four of the Battalion’s Soldiers being reclassified as Infantrymen, and shipped off to Infantry units on December 16th. This was just before the last German Offensive of the war, the “Battle of the Bulge”.
On December 31st the Battalions total combat rounds was 41,203 artillery rounds fired from September to December of 1944. Fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed into Germany on February 20,1945. The eighteen artillery pieces assigned to the Battalion, fired 90,000 rounds of 105-millimeter ammunition to secure Victory in Europe. When Germany finally surrendered Henry Naruszewicz, was in Austria with the rest of his Unit on May 8, 1945 VE-Day. According to Henry, first and foremost on everyone’s minds was the upcoming invasion of Japan.
After 241 days in Europe, 224 of them in Combat, all Henry and his fellow soldiers could do was talk about Japan. I asked Henry point blank over breakfast, what he thought of President Harry Truman’s decision to drop the atomic bomb, President Truman would get Henry’s Vote if he ran today.
Discharged after the war along with his older brother Edward, a U.S. Marine, and his younger brother Harry, who one day was attending Lowell High, and a few months later, was piloting a B25 Mitchell Bomber in the Italian Theater of the War. He worked at the Arlington Mill in Lawrence, before and after the war, then embarked on a 31 year stint at 1400 Motors in Lowell, MA. This generation was equally loyal to their employer and their spouse, often staying in the same job, and with the same spouse for their entire adult lives. Henry Naruszewicz and his brothers, came home, got jobs, got married to Stella, Henry and his wife had a daughter Dorothy, and quietly lived their life, just like the rest of military Veterans of the “Greatest Generation”. After the war, these men did not need any more excitement in their lives. Listening to him talk of tearing up the German roads in a M3 Tank that he just finished repairing was a wonderful way to have breakfast.
Writing this article was made much easier, with the sharp mind of Henry Naruszewicz, who at 102 years old, not only still enjoyed corned beef for lunch, and eggs for breakfast, and could recall events from 1944 like they happened yesterday. Observing what this man likes to eat, at 102 years old, has given me hope for a long life. Much of the articles details, facts, and figures, came from Sgt. Bruce Palmer’s “The History of the 276th Armored Field Artillery Battalion” Second Edition, but Henry’s memory of events was invaluable.
John Cuddy is retired from the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions (known as the Seabees) after retiring from the U.S. Navy, earned a BA History and a MA Economics from the University of Massachusetts at the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 21 years. If you know a World War II Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com.