Recognizing the military service of men and women from Arenzville, Illinois.
Jack Burrus was a company aid (medic) with a machine gun platoon of the 69th Infantry Division. He began active duty on November 9, 1942, received basic training at Camp Grant in Rockford, IL, and additional chemical lab training at Fitzsimmons Hospital, Denver, CO. He elected to enroll in the Army's special ASTP training and was sent to the University of Iowa for 9 months of engineering courses. However, the Army cancelled the program (according to Jack, "they discovered that they needed infantrymen worse than they needed engineers") and he was deployed to Camp Shelby, MS, where he joined the Fighting 69th and completed training as a company aid officer.
On November 15, 1944, he departed New York Habor on the MS John Ericcson, the former Swedish luxury liner the Kungsholm, built by the Germans in 1928. He was a member of Company D of the 272nd Infantry Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division and traveled with the medical detachment to England.
"We were below the water line, which I didn't care for," writes Jack in notes he made in 1986 about his years of military service. Not accustomed to sea travel, many of the men became seasick on the high seas. "For two or three days it was a mess. The only 'safe' place to 'feed the fish' when you felt your food coming up was on the very top deck. Consequently the railing there was always crowded elbow to elbow. On the lower decks, you stayed back away from the rail against the outer walls of the staterooms (officers only) until the very last second. Then you would dash to the rail, feed the fish, and dash back to the wall hoping that the fellow just above you didn't get the same urge at the same time!"
The division was stationed briefly at Camp Lopcomp near Salisbury, England. Jack obtained passes to visit Salisbury, Winchester and London and was impressed by the British fortitude. "They took a tremendous beating. They were all alone there for awhile. I came away with a lot of respect for them. Boy, they took a pounding. Boy!"
One day he took a taxi ride around London. "The driver took us down near the docks and pointed out one particular area where the Germans had come over with a fire bomb raid one night and burned out dozens of blocks of workers' homes. He proudly told us that 90% of the workers showed up for work the next morning even though they had lost everything the night before."
One day, all the battalion medics were asked to help unload a hospital train of casualties from the continent. "We got a quick education of what war is really all about. I helped unload a medic that had been with an infantry company and had a chance to quiz him as to what it would be like when we went 'on the line.' He told me that when they first went into France and were up against the regular German army that they pretty much respected the medical insignia (a white circle with a red cross on all four sides of your helmet and a white armband with a red cross -- the German medics actually wore a white vest with a large red cross front and back), however if they were up against some of Hitler's SS troops they seemed to use the red crosses for targets, and it came more prevalent the closer that they came to German territory. He had been machine gunned while treating a casualty and was in a body cast from his ankles to his neck. He gave me a couple bits of advice that I remembered when we went into combat. He told me to smear mud on the red cross on the front of the helmet but leave the others alone so your own men could see you. Then take off the white armband and pin it on the side of your sleeve -- again so only your own men could see you."
On Christmas Day 1944, the division received orders to establish a post at Forges-les Eaux, France. By mid-February, the troops had assembled in areas near Monteneau, Belgium, and awaited orders to relieve the 99th Infantry Division. On February 12, 1945, the Division commanded the entire section known as the Siegfried Line. Through the remainder of 1945, they moved across Germany toward the eastern front, engaging in major offensive battles at Weissenfels and Leipzig.
"The German army breakthrough in the Ardennes forest in Belgium, later known as the Battle of the Bulge, was the final contributor to a 'blue' Christmas. [My brother] Chas had already been missing in action for nearly 3 years; my last letter from home said that Dad had been taken to the hospital with what they thought was a heart attack (it later turned out to be bursitis). With the breakthrough, we knew that we would soon be committed to action, and then one night while listening to a German broadcast about the fighting in Belgium, I heard them brag that the 'glorious armed forces of the Fatherland had totally destroyed the 7th Armored Division.' That was [my brother] Bud's division! It was at least 6 weeks before I found out that he survived, but with badly frozen feet."