Julius Gaab

Julius Gaab, 96, of Mandan, is a World War II veteran who saw action in Germany with the U.S. Army. Gaab is shown at the entrance to his home, where he keeps a flag, his military medals and other memorabilia on display.

Julius Gaab has the most decorated doorway in his apartment complex hall.

It’s filled with memorabilia from his days serving in World War II, including medals, certificates and an American flag.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army from his home on a Richardton farm. He left his job coal mining to train in preparation for the war. A staff sergeant picked Gaab up from camp, and they spent several weeks together waiting for other newly minted soldiers to show up before going overseas.

"He got himself drunk and then he was busted," Gaab said. "Then I was his superior."

In his new position, he oversaw munitions for his entire battalion, three rifle companies and two heavy weapons companies.

They went to Dusseldorf, Germany, where the Rhine River snakes around the western edge of the city.

"There was a big bridge, and neither side wanted to destroy the bridge," he said. "Either side needed it to advance."

Bombs dropped from the sky for three days and three nights.

"You could never know when a bomb would hit you," Gaab said.

The Germans eventually retreated, and American forces took the bridge.

Elsewhere in Germany, he encountered another horrifying sight.

"We took over an airplane factory," he said. "It was all manned by Jewish people under the Germans."

The workers lived in a concentration camp.

"If they got too tired and too weak, they put them out in the perimeter," Gaab said. "They'd die faster."

The bodies were then cremated in a storage building nearby.

"That was horrible," Gaab said.

When the Americans arrived, they freed the prisoners.

Gaab later moved through the Netherlands and Czechoslovakia, where he was at war's end.

"When the war was over, I had to collect all the ammunition," he said. "We took them out on a vehicle and shoveled them into a lake."

He was allowed to bring home eight rounds and a clip, and he has one bullet left that he's kept track of for decades. He also brought home a bayonet and a samurai sword from Japan.

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He traveled by ship to Japan after the war to remove ammunition from the hillsides. On board, he'd go to the commissary and buy items for his 25 men.

Problem was, no one seemed to have enough money to pay him back.

"When I got off the ship in Japan, I had 20 cartons of cigarettes," he said with a laugh.

He recalled a day setting out straw and drenching it in aviation fluid to burn 30 Japanese airplanes. The tires went up in flames along with the aircraft.

"I thought at the time we sure could have used some of them on the farm back home," he said.

Gaab was discharged in early 1946 and returned home with the same watch on his wrist that his wife had given him before he left four years earlier.

"It worked all the way through the war," he said. "Back home, I swear it started gaining time."

He transitioned back into civilian life, working at a gas station and a meat market. He later opened his own meat market with his brother.

Several years ago, he went on an "honor flight" to Washington with other World War II veterans from the area.

His daughter, Judy Spier, describes her dad as "very patriotic."

"He's the first to stand when the colors go by," she said.

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(Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or amy.sisk@bismarcktribune.com.)