In Honor of D-Day: Remembering the Life of Paul R. Bertrand
Updated: Jun 12
As told by PFC Paul R. Bertrand, Serial No. 38 263 3641, U.S. Army, Nov. 13, 1942- Oct. 16,1945, F 8th Infantry Regiment, 4th Division and recorded by his son, Thomas D. Bertrand
I was inducted on Friday the 13th of November 1942 at Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. I spent 3 months in basic training in California (521). I then spent 10 months training as a rifleman with the U.S. caliber 30 M1 rifle. I frequently disassembled, cleaned, and reassembled the rifle and practiced target acquisition shooting. I qualified as a marksman. I also underwent rigorous physical training to learn how to take advantage of camouflage, cover, and concealment. Additionally, I served as a light machine gunner in the European Theater (604) for 5 months. I was also a mortar gunner (607) for 2 months and worked as a munition handler (607) for 7 months.
On the day of June 7, 1944, my division was sent to Normandy Beach as reinforcements, the second wave of attack on the day after D-Day. We went inland to liberate France, the home of my immigrant forefathers, from the German Nazi occupiers. We defeated the enemy through air power, bombing, and ground assault with infantry, tanks, and artillery. The French Resistance underground forces were allowed to enter the French towns before U.S. forces and were the ones hailed as the liberators, which didn't settle too well with some of us G.I.’s.
We then went to Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany. We were in the Ardennes Forest when the German counteroffensive known as the Battle of the Bulge started. We could see trees falling to the ground as gigantic German King Tiger tanks rolled over them with ease and never slowing down. These tanks were hundreds of yards away, and we could still hear trees cracking and see them falling to the ground. Then, enemy artillery and mortar fire started landing all around, in front, in back, and among our troops. Machine gun and rifle fire were nonstop hitting the trees, dirt, and anyone exposed out of his foxhole. We fell back and dug in to try to call for air support, but the weather was contrary with snowfall and clouds hindering the air support's ability to fly. We called in Sherman tanks and tank destroyers to help out. The majority of our armored vehicles couldn't stop these huge German tanks as the cannon projectiles would bounce off their thick, slanted armor, whereas the German tanks' 88-millimeter high-velocity projectiles from their cannons would completely destroy our tanks and armor. We fell back again once more to dig in.
Then the weather cleared up, and our air support came forward and bombed and bombed and bombed the enemy. We couldn't stand up because the bombs made the earth shake so violently that we would fall back down again. The bomb racks were falling just a few yards in front of our company. We learned later that Company C was bombed out of existence due to a miscalculation with the enemy.
We moved forward to find tanks upside down, blown apart, and German soldiers who couldn't speak or blink from shell shock. We moved forward again to make contact with the enemy. We encountered an American U.S. jeep with four high-ranking U.S. officers coming from enemy lines. Our lieutenant saluted and spoke to these officers about their business in this area. One officer in the jeep spoke perfect American English and said they were observers of the troop strength ahead of us. We later heard these officers were German imposters acting as American officers, while spying on us troops.
We later came to a dense evergreen strip of forest about 100 yards wide and a half mile long. Our company was told to belly crawl in the grassy field around it while our fellow company would ease through the trees under covers of the evergreen branches. We were halfway around the forest when the sky fell. The enemy had every artillery and mortar piece zeroed in on the forest where they expected all our troops to be advancing. Our fellow company in the forest were blown apart, quite literally. We advanced and took most of the enemy by surprise, routing them into a retreat. We then came to a small town that was occupied by the enemy. We dug a trench and took up positions outside of it, taking sniper fire, now and then. Our Lt. was looking over the trench with binoculars and said the sniper was in a burned-out church bell tower. We heard a few more sniper shots and saw dirt kicking up, here and there. Our Sgt. asked Lt. if he should try to shoot him out of the bell tower. There was no response. Upon examination the Lt. was dead with a bullet hole through both sides of his helmet, hit just above the insignia on his helmet. Then the Sgt. called in a tank destroyer, which blew the entire tower apart. There was no more sniper fire. We mobilized and called in four more tank destroyers to send volleys of 9-millimeter projectiles into the town.
When the last T.D. cannon fired, the first T.D. cannon was firing again. The five T.D.’s fire one after the other in constant sequence. Later we saw a white flag in the town, so we advanced and took many prisoners. The ranking German officer wanted to see our automatic artillery which was actually just the five T.D.’s firing in sequence.
I was in battles in Belgium, Luxemburg, and (Rhineland) Germany and saw more of war than I care to talk about. However, I did find an extremely old and one of a kind violin “Fiddle” in an old abandoned farm house we bunked in. I sent it back home in pieces and had it reassembled when I returned home.
Dec. 20. 1944 I received the Purple Heart when an artillery shell exploded overhead as I was jumping in a foxhole with a friend. I jumped in face down and my friend jumped in on top of me as the shell exploded. He didn’t make it, as all the shrapnel went through him and into me. I had numerous shards of shrapnel in my back and a large piece (half dollar) size went into my leg and was lodged under my knee cap. It is still there, as the doctors couldn’t remove it without crippling me. And I walk fine with it in my knee as a reminder and souvenir of World War II, it doesn’t hurt or cause problems. I was awarded the good conduct medal and ribbon. Aug. 1, 1944, I was awarded the Combat Infantry badge, European African ribbon, Middle Eastern medal and ribbon with (5) Bronze Service Stars.