The stories which veteran Bob Grobelny of Westlake, Ohio, could tell of his Second World experiences would fill a book…or two.
Now 94, he saw action in France and Belgium and was in the thick of the fighting at the Battle of the Bulge. He was wounded six times.
Grobelny was employed at Reliance Electric Co. in Cleveland after graduation. He was living a conventional life when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour in 1941, the “day of infamy” which brought the United States into the war. He was drafted into the Army in October 1942 and found himself bound for basic training at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.
He and the rest of the 83rd Infantry Division spent nearly 18 months training before shipping out for Britain. They were supposed to be a portion of the D-Day invasion force but were told to leave their boats because the English Channel was too rough. He was lucky in a way because thousands of soldiers were killed on the beaches of Normandy by German fire. Grobelny and his unit followed 12 days later, also landing at Normandy.
After moving inland they encountered thick, overgrown hedgerows that he describes as terrible, as they gave cover for German troops. They cut down people, he said, remarking that his unit was made up of green troops in their first encounter with the enemy whereas the German troops were experienced.
Grobelny was wounded half a dozen times near St. Malo, France. He suffered mostly shrapnel wounds, with some metal pieces striking his left arm and traveling completely through his right calf. He was also hit in the chest by pieces of shattered brick from a wall hit by gunfire. He was evacuated to a field hospital in the rear lines and later to England for surgery then back to France for complete recovery from his wounds.
Grobelny said his unit had three captains killed in the three-month period between August and June 1944. He received the Purple Heart but cannot remember a ceremony. He thinks one of the doctors handed it to him. He was also promoted to a staff sergeant. He rejoined his unit in France in November. Soon they were in Belgium just before the Battle of the Bulge got underway when the Germans made their last major offensive.
He was sent on patrol almost immediately to link up with another company. On the return a German patrol was encountered, he recalled. They were lucky. All 12 of their number survived and none were wounded.
They jumped into some holes and ambushed the Germans. All of the surprised enemy soldiers were killed. Two more patrols appeared and all the enemy troops were killed except for one man who fled. Weather during the battle was brutal with very cold temperatures and snow.
Grobelny’s unit was supposed to ship home at the end of the war in 1945. He said, humorously, that his unit returned to France with first-class accommodation, a train box car with straw on the floor. They had expected to go home by ship straight away, but were delayed. They couldn’t get another ship for one month, Cleveland.com reported.
Grobelny received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, and the African Middle Eastern Service Medal. On November 17, 1945, he was honorably discharged.
Six months later, he married. He and his wife settled down until a few years ago when they moved to a retirement community.
He sometimes thinks of his term in the Army, of the men he had known and those who didn’t return. They were fine soldiers, he said.