By David Fleet
Hadley Twp.-Army Pvt. Howard Brandt recalls the war torn rural countryside of Europe in 1945.
“We sailed from the United States and landed in Le Havre, France,” recalls Brandt, who just celebrated 98th birthday. “They loaded us troops on cattle cars pulled by a steam locomotive. It was a rough ride for about five hours. We had to sit on the floor and I drank a couple bottles of wine the night before—so I was a little woozy. The door was open and we could see mostly farm land—I remember people out plowing fields with horses as we crossed the French countryside. Everyone over there treated us Army men well—for them the war was over. Many of the people were homeless in France, they were just trying to get back to normal.”
Brandt’s reflections on France about a year after the Allied invasion represents a waning glimpse of history both locally and nationwide.
Brandt is the last current WWII veteran who is a member of the Ortonville VFW Post 582.
When the Post 582 was chartered in 1984 more than 200 veterans joined from several wars, said Dennis Hoffman, post commander.
“At that point—37 years ago we had 72 World War II veterans—about a third of our members,” said Hoffman, who served in the Army during the 1960s. “Now it’s down to one. We’ve lost Dane Guisbert in September, a World War II veteran who had served in the South Pacific. If there are WWII veterans still in the area but not members of the post—we’d like them to come join us. ”
According to US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 240,329 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive in 2021
It was a different mindset back then, said Hoffman.
“World War II was a big war that included millions of people,” he said. “Many of the WWII veterans came home to be farmers or worked in the factories then folded back into society. It was a different world back then. So often the men that saw combat just never talked about the war or their experiences. Many never applied for veteran benefits either; they just went back to work—many still have benefits coming if they need them.”
The Post 582 WWII veterans have been community members for many years.
Brandt’s war story started when he enlisted in the Army in 1945. The Goodrich native was born in a home on Hegel Road and worked on area farms while attending high school. During his freshman year of school he suffered a debilitating paralysis on the left side.
“I missed so much school, I just never went back (to school),” he said. “I worked on the farm and then enlisted in the Army. The war in Europe had ended but the battles continued in the South Pacific toward Japan. I was not sure where they would send me.”
At 19-years-old, Howard married Louise (Allen) in 1943 and had a son Howard Jr. when he joined the Army in 1945. He did not go right away, rather stayed home until after the birth of his son.
“It was my duty to serve over there and do what had to be done,” said Brandt. “There was no objection to me going, my mother did not like it, but my family was happy for me to go and get it done.”
Brandt was assigned to the 1198 Army Engineering group in northern France.
“The French farmers had tractors which they used to drive into towns—no cars,” he recalled. “So they used horses to plow and till fields.”
Brandt carried a gun, but had no problems with the Germans.
“I drove an ambulance,” he said. “I was stationed at an engineering depot and POW camp. There was really no hard feeling toward anyone over there. They kept German prisoners for some reason even with the war over. They did not talk to us of course they spoke German—but many were happy the war was over. Each Monday I’d take some of them to the hospital in my ambulance. They never had any bad thoughts about Americans that I can remember.”
He was discharged July 19, 1946 and received the WWII Victory Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal. Howard and Louise had three children. She died in 2012. Howard still lives in Hadley Township.
Hoffman said the younger veterans just are not joining the VFW.
“We need Gulf War veterans,” he said. “We need to keep the voice of veterans going.” Call the VFW (248) 627-1065.