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August 17, 2008

Our War: Belleville vet can still see the eyes of his attacker

Andrew "Andy" Brown came home with five Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars. He also came home with a long, white scar on his neck after he nearly lost his life to the trench knife of a German soldier. Brown, 83, of Belleville, joined Gen. George Patton's Third Army in the 26th Infantry Division's 101st Infantry Regiment.

Andrew "Andy" Brown came home with five Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and two Bronze Stars.

He also came home with a long, white scar on his neck after he nearly lost his life to the trench knife of a German soldier.

Brown, 83, of Belleville, joined Gen. George Patton's Third Army in the 26th Infantry Division's 101st Infantry Regiment. The regiment landed at Cherbourg, France, 12 days after the D-Day invasion.

"Every Friday, we marched 26 miles," Brown said. "We'd leave at 4:30 a.m. and get back around 7:30 p.m. Of course we carried a full pack of ammo, gear, everything."

A full pack weighed about 60 pounds.

"The first time I ever met (Patton), I was leaning against a tree and someone poked me in the back and I thought it was one of the guys," Brown said. "I turned around and saw all those stars and knew it was Patton. He was a tough old bird. You never heard anyone cuss like he did. Every other word out of his mouth was a cuss word, but everyone liked him."

Brown fought in the Battle of the Bulge where he nearly lost his feet to frostbite and watched many of his friends get killed.

During the Army's trek across Europe, Brown served as a demolition man, rifle man, flame-thrower and machine gunner. His job was to find mines and destroy them before advancing troops moved in. There were no high-tech devices to find the mines. He had to do it the old-fashioned way, with steady hands and nerves.

He found the mines by crawling around and poking the ground with his bayonet. When he found one, he had to uncover it and detonate it.

A German soldier found Brown lying on the ground and snuck up behind him.

"He got me in the back with his knees and put his trench knife up against my neck," Brown said. "When I turned around he grabbed my head and cut my throat. He was determined to kill me. I managed to pull my .45 and shot him through the chin."

Brown showed the scar he received from the knife and pointed to the bottom of his chin where he shot the attacking soldier.

"After 60 years, I still see the look in that man's eyes when I shot him," Brown said.

He marched through Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Italy and Sicily but never saw the sights in any of those countries. He was too busy dodging bullets and living in foxholes.

"We were always in battle, and we were hardly ever relieved, not with old Patton leading us," he said. "It scared the hell out of me. I was one of the biggest cowards out there. I'd run every time I'd get the chance, you'd be crazy not to. Those Germans, they were pretty rough characters. I think if it had been just the Americans and the Germans fighting, it would have been a different war."

His days were spent at the front line, rising before dawn, marching or fighting and bedding down in foxholes well into the evening hours.

"If we were lucky, we'd get something to eat in the morning, either steal it or kill it," Brown said. "We killed and ate a lot of chickens. They always tried to get our food up there to us, but a lot of times, they just couldn't. We were on the front lines and it wasn't easy to get to us."

One of the men in his unit was a butcher, so the men enjoyed frequent meals of fresh meat.

"We had a lot of sheep and goat, sometimes a cow or a calf," Brown said.

When meat wasn't available, they always had a few tins of rations stuffed in their pockets.

He remembers Austria as the worst fighting.

"We were pushing (the Germans) back all the time, and they really started getting tough as we got closer to Germany," he said. "They were protecting their homeland. They were just doing their jobs, just like we were."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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