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Brockman, Clarence H.,
Clarence H. Brockman oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Michael Hirsh.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (68 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (25 p.)
Concentration camp liberators oral history project
This interview was conducted as research for The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust / Michael Hirsch (New York: Bantam Books, 2010).
Interview conducted August 20, 2008.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust concentration camp liberator Clarence H. Brockman. Brockman was a private first class in the 80th Infantry Division when it liberated Buchenwald on April 12, 1945. Arriving in Europe in the summer of 1944, after D-Day, their first battle was the Battle of Falaise Gap. After that, the division made its way through France, Luxembourg, and Germany on the Central Europe Campaign. While on the way to Buchenwald, Brockman and three others were the first to find a small camp near Weimar. The division encountered several other smaller camps before and after Buchenwald. Brockman describes his experiences at the camps and his reaction to what he saw. He also tells of several incidents where he took German soldiers prisoner.
The Liberators: America's Witnesses to the Holocaust (New York: Bantam Books, 2010) and Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project, University of South Florida Libraries, 2010 Michael Hirsh.
Transcripts, excerpts, or any component of this interview may be used without the author's express written permission only for educational or research purposes. No portion of the interview audio or text may be broadcast, cablecast, webcast, or distributed without the author's express written permission.
Brockman, Clarence H.,
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
Infantry Division, 80th (1942-1946)
v Personal narratives.
Buchenwald (Concentration camp)
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
World War, 1939-1945
Personal narratives, American.
World War, 1939-1945
Crimes against humanity.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Concentration camp liberators oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Michael Hirsh: Can you give me your full name?
Clarence Brockman: Clarence H. Brockman.
MH: And whats yourB-r-o-c-k-m-a-n?
MH: And whats your address?
MH: And your phone number.
MH: And your date of birth.
CB: Long time ago. (laughs)
MH: Yes, I know.
CB: June 26, 1920, 5:30 Saturday morning.
MH: Nineteen twenty?
CB: Nineteen twenty.
MH: So, you are
CB: Eighty-eight and two months.
MH: Eighty-eight, two months. Where were you before you went in the Army?
CB: Before I went in the Army, I drove an eighteen-wheeler after I graduated high school in forty . I drove, and then I got that letter in forty-two : Greetings. So, I went in the 80th [Infantry] Division on July forty-two . I stayed with them ever since, until they kicked me out in October forty-five .
MH: So, how did you go overseas?
CB: Queen Mary.
MH: Yeah. What was that trip like?
CB: Oh, up and down and around. Five and a half days; took five and a half days for us to go across.
MH: Thats moving fast.
MH: So, there was no convoy.
CB: No, no convey, because they could move thirty, thirty-five mile peror knots, whatever you want to call itand submarines can only go fifteen.
MH: So they could out run them. Did you believe it at the time?
MH: Did you believe it?
CB: Yeah, I believe it because they had on the ship, they had these spotters stationed all over. Their job was to look out over for a periscope. So, this Corporal Gwear I told you about before, he was a comedian. He says Hey, Brock, look at that pipe stickin out of the water out there. This limey here says, Where? Its out there. But the wave were so big, it took the northern course, I guess, over therethats going up around close to Iceland, then swimming down into England, that way. And it went fast.
MH: Whered you land?
CB: The Firth of Clyde in Scotland.
MH: And then what did they do with you?
CB: Put us on a train and sent us down to an area around Birmingham, the biggest town; it was called Ashton-in-Makerfield at Gorton Park.
MH: And when theyd finally send you to Europe?
CB: Thirty days later.
MH: This is 1940
CB: Forty-five I mean forty-four .
MH Forty-four .
CB: Yeah, forty-four  and we landed in Utah Beachhead, thats where we went in.
MH: This was after D-Day.
CB: After D-Day, it was after D-Day; we went into Utah Beach and from there on, we went down to the Mainz area where the Germans made a counter-attack of Montcourt. They tried to cut our supply lines in half, but they didnt succeed. And our first big battle was at Argentan-Falaise Gap.
MH: Say that again?
CB: Argentan-Falaise Gap. And thats where we caught something like 55,000 soldiers, Germans, completely wiped out. They caught them in this here valley. They bombed and strafed, and theywe was up on top of the hill north of the town of Argentan and the airplane spotter was up there. Hes telling his artilleries, back down to these artillery men, tell them, Fire left, fire left, and the lieutenant goin there says, Make up your mind. He says, Just shoot, youll hit something. (MH laughs) And we was a little bit worried, because when we got on land, we put our gas masks away.
MH: Whyd you do that?
CB: Everybody did. I dunno; it was too bulky to carry em. Big things. And here come the French people out. They got all excited and they said, Gas! Gas! Now, we asked, Whaddya mean? The guy by the name of Bertram Gay from Maine was a Frenchman. Couldnt speak English, but he couldthey put him up in the Army, you know. Okay, he says, Whats the trouble? He saw that our red grave registration was going down in that valley, pickin up bodies, and they had gas masks on because they couldnt stand the smell. Okay? So, then he said okay.
Then from then, we started across France and was fifty miles below Paris when it was liberated. And we went straight over to the Moselle area between Nancy and Metz. And we fought across there, getting across that Moselle, we lost a lot of men at that river crossing, and in fact we got across that river and went up a valley and the Sergeant Boock come around and told me, Brock, we gotta go back. I says, Why? He says, Well, the Germans slipped in behind us. They slipped in behind us. Well, thats when they got into 318ths CP [command post] and practically wiped them out.
Then from there, we come back, and you know, it took us two months to get back at that area again, fighting those towns, small towns: Moselle. We went to Bchy, Maine, Faulquemont, and the river crossing there atcourse, they were creeks to us, but the rain had swollen up the river. River size, (inaudible) river crossing, and they forgot to blow the bridge.
And this Major Burnett, he was a big loud-mouthed guy, and he says Everybody up on the tanks, were gonna cross that bridge. And he connected two 22mm shots, one in his neck and one in his chest. He lived till he got back to Division hospital. I dont know what happened to him after that. Well, then we got up to Farbersviller and we went as far east as Forbach just outside of Sarreguemines and we got put in reserve. We come back to Saint-Avold, stayed there for two weeks getting new supplies in and refreshments from repo depot. Then we got word to go down around, just west of Bitche, Germany, and we was to go in attack across the Siegfried Line there, and where we was headed for was one of the biggest training areas of the German army. I thought, Oh, this is gonna be murder.
Then we got the call to go to Luxembourg. And we got called to Luxembourg, went up to Luxembourg and did our fightin up there in Luxembourg from December to Januaryall of Januaryfroze my butt off. Excuse the expression, but thats exactly what it is. And I got shrapnel from tree burst. I got a hunk of shrapnel right here in my finger, right here. You can feel it right there. Its still there. Thats Krupp steel. And then from there, we went northeast of Clairvaux towhat was the name of that town? Hosingen or something, the last town right there in Luxembourg. Then we got orders to go south down across, across over the river again until Saarburg.
MH: Let me ask you, at this point what did you know about the concentration camps, the death camps, did you know anything?
CB: We had no inkling whatsoever at what was going on, up to that time.
MH: How could that be? Thats the part I dont understand.
CB: I dont understand it, either. Because they never told us or anything like that. All I know is that the thing was bad, about us and them too, that you didnt want to take a prisoner back in that snow, cause youve gotta walk them down to the prisonPW campand walk back. You took em over the hill and shot em. And there was quite a few of them that was shot, on both sides, more so on their side than our side. Because the order came down, were to take prisoners now. No more shootin em. Take prisoners.
Well, then, I think the first inkling we knew about concentration camps was before Buchenwald. There were several small ones in between from Kassel to the road, went out to Gera, Unna, Weimar. Weimar wasten kilometers from there was Buchenwald.
MH: Did you see any of these small camps?
CB: Quite a few of em. They were small.
MH: Tell me what they looked like?
CB: They were more or less labor camps than anything else.
MH: So, as youre walking by or driving by?
CB: Walkin by and driving by.
MH: What do you see?
CB: We saw the camps, usually the guys ahead of us would take the camp, you know, and just clean em up and getting the prisoners that was in there and trying to doctor them up. And you couldnt feed em anything, cause itd kill em. Rich food, too much rich food was bad for em. And then
MH: Did you go into any of those camps?
CB: We didnt go in those camps, no. Ill tell you, there was four of us together all the time, and then I got the job driving the three-quarter, which we stole.
MH: Whod you steal it from?
CB: I dunno if we got that off of headquarters, division headquarters, or somebody back that line. Went back there and we didnt want to walk, so we rode.
MH: Changed the number and everything?
CB: Changed the number and everything. Wiped it off, painted it over with white camouflage paint. (laughs) We had that the rest of thefrom Kassel on, all the way east to Chemnitz. And when we got to Buchenwald, Weimar, we asked the people, you know, Wheres the booze? You gotta have booze. But the people in the city did not have booze compared to what farmers had. So, you went out to a farm and they always made schnapps.
MH: So, this is youre four guys in the truck.
CB: One guy was Pete Siberelli, from Altoona [Pennsylvania]; the other guy was Harry Billman from Williamsport, PA; the other guy was Harry Eckrel from Baltimore [Maryland]. I think theyre all dead now.
MH: What was your rank at that time?
CB: PFC [private first class]. At the time I was PFC, two days after I got in until I got out.
MH: Okay. So you decide you gotta go on a search for booze.
CB: Yup. It was on a back road; the guy told us to go on the back road. He says, Theres two farms on that road. Check them out.
MH: This is daylight?
CB: Broad daylight. And
MH: You werent needed by your unit? Were you told
CB: Yeah, more or less, but we kinda sneaked around like that, you know. When youre stalemated, thats when you do all that. Yeah, we got
MH: Were you stalemated at that point?
CB: Yes, because it took, you know, two regiments to take that Weimar. And well, we had three regiments that did leap-frogging, okay. And then we got there and we asked the people, you know, about the booze, where do you get it? And this one, she says, Well, there is awe call em state source here. This woman took us up the night before, about eleven oclock at night. She says, Now, if you go to the back door, theres a cellar door down there. Youll get the booze down that cellar. We was a little late; there was other guys down in there already.
Then the next day, we inquired again and they told us about the farms. These farmers make schnapps. Its powerful schnapps. And so we was drivin down the road to the second farmhouse and Id say it was in about, lets see, from Weimar to the camp was about, what, ten kilometers, isnt it? About ten kilometers. We got just a little over half way and we sawand I told the other guys. Corporal Billman, I says, Corporal, they got monkeys over here? He says no. I said Well, whats them up in the trees ahead of us? because you know, their outfits were blacker thanand whatever they had on, it was dirty. He says, Oh, theyre civilians.
MH: What kind of trees were these?
CB: Like a scrub oak, little bigger than scrub oak trees. I dont know exactly what thatwasnt pine trees.
MH: So its a tree that spreads
CB: Yeah, yeah. And they was up there where you could grab a hold of the branch, because a pine tree you cant climb up; the branches will break on you. So they was up in there and there was about, oh, ten or fifteen of em.
MH: In different trees?
CB: Yup. And theyre scared of us. They saw us first before we saw them, and so they jumped up in the trees to get away. We got under
MH: How did you know who they were?
CB: We didnt.
MH: So, how come youre not takin the guns out?
CB: Well, the guy came down. He come down out of the treewe called em down, and of course with our broken German and their broken English, we got along pretty good. Theres quite a few of them who talked English. And they explained what was on ahead of us.
MH: Whatd they tell you?
CB: They told us about the camp that was up there about three kilometers away. So we got em in a truck
MH: Wait. What did these guys look like?
CB: Oh, they didnt look like people. They was, you know, thin, emaciated and everything else. They had all kinds of diseaseanything, they had it.
MH: Howd they find the strength to climb the tree?
CB: Dont ask me, cause how they find the strength to stay alive all this time? To answer that question is to know what mans like. But some of them were used in their factories. And they got one or two more spoonfuls more of the broth than the other guys, lets put it that way. But they gotthey went there, we saw them. Now, the camp was already empty of German guards, three days before.
MH: What did they tell you? Did they tell you the guards had left?
CB: They told [us] the guards had left, theres no guards down there. Three days before that happened.
MH: How manydid they tell you how many prisoners there were?
CB: No, they did not say anything about that.
MH: Did they give you any idea of how big this camp was?
CB: No, not whatsoever. They just got down there and told us where the camp was. We took em down there to the gates, and they saw us, and they started rushing at us. I said, Whoa.
MH: The gates were open?
CB: The gates were open.
MH: So theres four guys, four Americans in a three-quarter-ton stolen truck.
CB: I said, We cant go in that camp whatsoever. So we beat it back to Weimar, got a hold of Captain Root, which is our CIC [Counterintelligence Corps] officer.
MH: CIC isCIC stands for? I used to know.
CB: I did, too.
MH: Ill find out.
CB: CIC officer. And he was, he was fairly old; hes about forty-five years old. Hed been around the world, and he knew Japanese. He could speak Japanese, cause hewhen we got down to Fssen, he started teaching us. Well, then, thats the last we saw the camp because they got everybody come down. [George S.] Patton was there, [Dwight D.] Eisenhower was there.
MH: So, you never went back to the camp?
CB: Never went back to the camp. Never went back to the camp. And we run across several of them guys laterthey come down into the town, the prisoners, you knowand they were kinda tearing it apart.
MH: They were tearing up Weimar?
CB: They were tearing up Weimar, yeah.
MH: They were looting it?
CB: We just let em go.
MH: Did you see them do this?
MH: Tell me what you saw.
CB: They would walk in the house, in the storesmostly stores is what they hunt for, cause thats where the food was. And theyd just went in there and take what they wanted and walk back out. The German population wouldnt touch em. They didnt know
MH: They were wearing the striped suits?
CB: Some had stripes; some had something like a black outfit. Thats why we saw the ones in black on the trees; they didnt have the striped suits on. We run across them later on and I said, I just cant believe it, you know, that man would treat man like that. Its hard to understand. But we were more or less, after all the fighting wed done across France and that part and everything else, was used to blood. You know, your buddy and everything else, some of em were killed, like Corporal Danny Worth, one of the best guys there was in this world. He never swore; hed blush when hed go out with girls. He got it right here in the throat, shrapnel in his throat, down in France. Its hard to understand like that.
Well, then I got my Good Conduct medal; it was the day I was discharged. Because the guy says, You dont have your Good Conduct medal. I says, No, I wasnt too good.
MH: I never got one.
CB: And I says no. Well, Im gonna give you one anyway. So, I got that Good Conduct medal there at Indiantown Gap, and four weeks later I got another one in the mail. Ive got em both at home now.
MH: So whatdid you ever see the prisoners when they were in Weimar, catch any of the German guards? Catch any of the German people?
CB: The only thing I saw was when in the store they shoved the civilians out of the way. And thelike I say, the poor storekeeper, he couldnt do anything cause he knew that Americans there was there defending the prisoners at that time. So then
MH: Were you told to defend them?
MH: Were you told to defend them, or let them do what they wanted to do?
CB: No, no. Wereafter you see all that, what happens, you dont have to be told what to do. You do it, automatic. And then if you saw a German mistreating them whatsoever in the street or anywhere like that, anyplace, then you stepped in between.
MH: Did that happen to you?
CB: We were in apartment buildings down there in Weimar, fairly decent apartment buildings. They hadnt been touched by war. And they come down the street down there and they started shoving the people aside, making themactually making them get off the walk and walk in the road, and theyd walk the walk. And some Germans resented that and they started fightin them back, and then thats when we stepped in. Usually wed fire a shot in the air and thatd settle it. Everybodyd be calm.
MH: It was clear what side you were on.
CB: It seems strange, though. The Germans would not run. They would get away from it. You fired that shot in the air. But those poor PWs, when theyd hear a shot, boy, theyd scram. I mean theyd beat ittheyre gone. Because they didnt know if they was gonna get shot or not. And then itfrom there on, there was several other camps, too, after Weimar. We hit one up there north of Gera, a camp up there. But it was more or less, it wasnt an extermination camp, it was more a labor camp.
MH: Was that Ebensee?
CB: No, no. Ebensees down in Austria. And those people up there were fed a little better, because they had to work in factories. They had to keep them alive because they were specialists, more or less, in that camp.
MH: Did you go into that one?
CB: No, we didnt go in them, no. They told us, more or less after we hit Buchenwald, Stay out of them, because theyre full of disease. You never know what youre gonna get, what youre gonna pick up. Mostly lice, though. Oh, jeez.
MH: Typhus. Did you get to Ebensee?
CB: Ebensee? No, I never got into Ebensee. I think that its either 318th or 319th went to Ebensee. Yeah, 318th, Im pretty sure.
MH: And your unit was what?
CB: 317th, yeah.
MH: And you were carrying what, M1?
MH: Whatd you get the Silver Star for?
CB: The Bronze Star.
MH: Oh, Bronze Star. I thought
CB: Yeah, that happened in France, just before we crossed the Moselle River at the town of Dieulouard. Theres a road that goes up past the church, then it makes an S-turn like that, up at the top of the hill was the OPs [observation post] place. And they had the artillery OPs, operators up there. We had a guy by the name of Sergeant Kelly; he says Ill go up there and see whats goin on, because the German had thrown the 88s on that OP.
He went up, and he says [to] myself, these four guys with me, and about seven or eight other guys with us, he says, Stay right here by this great big apple tree. Brock, you go out there by the S-turn here and dig it and be a spotter there, you know. Well, its only about forty feet away from that tree, my position, so I started digging in a little bit because theres 88s right there in that turn. And I happened to look down the hill by the church, and here comes one of these here command cars, they were called at that time, going to come up there and it was full of officers.
CB: Americans. And I throw em a gun to cross the bush and I fired a shot over top of their heads and said, You keep that damn, that goddamn gun Oh, sorry
MH: Thats okay, you can say that.
CB: I says, You keep that thing right down there if you want to stay alive. Well, they were about fifty yards away. So they stopped, and Im there, I think I was there about two hours in that position. I was still diggin. Im going down there, Im gonna get out of there. I was back of a bush like, and theyd fire an 88I dont know if they was aimin at me or not, but hit that road, oh, about as far as the other side of that light down there. And it hit. And I says, I wonder whats going on here. I couldnt hear the other guys.
So, I happened to look over across the field and here come a German patrol across there, and they werent supposed to be on that side of the river. Thats supposed to have been cleared. Here a German patrol come, about nine guys in it.
MH: And theres only one of you.
CB: One of me. Im right there in that position. So I started firing. I hit the last guy first and then like that, the first three I knocked off. The last three, rather, I knocked off. I says, Why arent the other guys firing? Here somebody come up and told them you gotta get out of here and those guys got out and they didnt tell me. Now were only about thirty, forty yards apart, you know, and they didnt tell me. Im there all by myself. So I got the Bronze Star for defensive position.
MH: Did you ever find the booze?
CB: Oh, the booze up there? No, we never did.
MH: You never got the booze.
CB: No, we went back down to town there and we got a hold of that girl again and told her where that state store was, like a state store, you know, I says, They didnt have no booze. So she took us to another place there, and they had booze there. So, we liberated the booze.
MH: You werent old enough to drink.
CB: Hey, I was twenty-four.
MH: Oh, never mind.
CB: I was the old man in that crowd. They called me the old man. (laughs) I was twenty-four at that time.
MH: So, this is now sixty-three years after you were at Buchenwald, and you saw what that does. Does that come back to you?
CB: I was a history buff at school. I loved history. I studied way back. And then I read and read, I was continually reading. Our study hall in high school was in the library, and Id sit back there and Id just read books. I did a book report on the Encyclopedia Britannica. I did a book report on it. Now thats somethin to do. I read books. Id read and read and read. And when I got over there, Id get some books, too, that were wrote in English and German. Id try translating as much as I could, you know. I read all the time there. I still do today. And crossword puzzles. Okay.
So, then I read this story about Buchenwald. I forget who it was that wrote that.
MH: Elie Weisel. The book was Night?
CB: And thenyeah. No, it wasnt that. You remember [Stephen] Ambrose, the guy down in New Orleans? He had a good bit on Buchenwald, too, and I watch him on TV and Id watch stories on TV. And time hed come up about Buchenwald and the concentration camp, I was right there in front of it. Oh, the one camp, what was the name of itit wasnt Buchenwald; it was before Buchenwald.
CB: Im layin on the couch watching this story. I kinda dozed a little bit. My daughter was watching it. She was about seventeen or eighteen years old at that time. She says, Dad, theres you. I looked, and there I walked right across the screen at the concentration camp and there was a pile of bodies in there. Everybodys walkin across, and I come right across there as plain as day.
MH: And that wasnt Buchenwald?
CB: No, before Buchenwald. Let me think.
MH: We only liberated one camp before Buchenwaldthat was Ohrdruf.
MH: Ohrdruf, O-h-r-d-r-u-f.
CB: Oh, okay.
MH: On April 3rd or 4th. And it was a Buchenwald sub-camp; it was near Buchenwald.
CB: Okay, maybe that was it.
MH: And they did shoot newsreel footage there.
CB: Yeah, got the footage on there of me. I wrote to the station about that to see if I could get a copy of it, never got no answer back. Just as plain as day.
MH: So, you were in a camp before Buchenwald?
CB: Thats right. Ohrdruf.
MH: O-h-r-d-r-u-f. It was liberated by the 4th Armored.
CB: Well, thats whowe followed the 4th Armored.
MH: 4th Armored, and I forget what other unit was there.
CB: Yeah. Could have been. It dont ring a bell to me, but I know we had a camp. And I walked right across the screen like that. She says, Dad, there you are. Just plain as day. Nice clear picture.
MH: They alsoEisenhower came there on the day that Buchenwald was liberated, April 12. Eisenhower, Patton, [Omar] Bradley were at Ohrdruf. And thats when they hadtheyd set up a table that had all this bad stuff, shrunken heads
CB: Ilse Koch was
MH: She was at Buchenwald.
CB: She was at Buchenwald, yeah. Yeah.
MH: But theyd set up a table at Ohrdruf. So then your daughter saw you walk across the screen that day?
CB: Yeah, she sawso it could have been Ohrdruf. There was a camp thereand thenWeimar, yeah. We stopped at Gera, as far east as we got. The next town was Chemnitz and we was getting ready to take that, and they said no, the Russians was gonna take it. So, then, oh, boyI probably got it in my book. I got a book from day to day of the 317th at home with all the maps and everything else on there, all the stories we did.
MH: Does having seen that kind of thing come back to you?
CB: Well, it dontthats a good question, because due to the factit dont come back to me, because I already know it and remember it. It dont have to come back. Im there today. I can go right back today and remember from day to day from the first day I went into the service until I come out. And thats another story[from] the first day I went in and when I come out in October forty-five , I never had a day of sickness due to anything. I never missed a day of training. I never missed a day of combat due to sickness. Soon as I got home and got married, they started cuttin me open all over the place.
MH: Whatd they take out?
CB: Appendix, gall bladder, and hernia.
Unidentified Man: Hes a little guy, he couldnt stand all those (inaudible).
CB: Aw, geez.
MH: You got hit one time?
CB: I got hit one time, right there. Thats Krupps steel right there; you can still feel it right there, still there today. The doctor says, Ill take it out of there, and I said, You touch that, youre going through the ceiling.
MH: You wanted the
CB: Now, thatsthis was different. Five years ago when I had my heart problem. That used to be white. And as soon as they put me on blood thinner, see, it turned dark on me. Yeah.
MH: That was the only wound you got over there?
CB: It was in the back. It was up in Heiderscheid [Luxembourg], Niederfeulen [Luxembourg]. I was on the road to Scheidel [Luxembourg] and they took three bursts on us. And thats when the captain says, Brockman, youre a driver. I says yeah. He says, Get that truck out of here and take her around and put it back over the hill. Theyre firin at us. I had to go out, right out on a bend like this around there, and thats where the Germans were firing across from Scheidel into that bend with their 88s. I had that thing floored and it was just going putt-putt-putt-putt-putt. It was missing, and it started smoking.
I stopped in the field, throwed the hood up, see what was burning under there. What happened was a piece of shrapnel went in and took out the drain plug on the carburetor there, and it was drippin down on the manifold. Thats what was steamin. And, also, it took out a spark plug.
MH: So, how do you fix this?
CB: I didnt. I left the thing there and called the motor pool. Â They got a hold of it.
MH: That wasnt the stolen one?
CB: No, no, that wasnt the stolen one, no. And then, as that happened, here come two Germans across the road about seventy-five yards in front of me, going from woods to woods. And thats scrub oak over there. And they were goin in there, and we had our second battalion over here to the right on that road, and they saw those two Germans going in there so they started firing into the scrub oak from the hip. I said, Whoa, wait a minute. You got the 1st Battalion on the other side of these woods. Somebodys gonna get killed by your shot. I said, Wait a minute, Ill go get em.
So, I charged into the woods and I flushed em out. The one German had a grey coat on and everything else, and he had a P38 strapped to his back, back here. When we saw that, we got kinda mad. This other guy with me, he says, Whatre you gonna do with them, Brock? I says, I dont want em, you want em? He says, No, well shoot the bastards. Cant help it. We was getting ready to do that when here come a Jeep down with four war correspondents on it, and they took the story down and they put it in the Stars and Stripes magazine. I got a copy of it at home. The Stars and Stripes.
MH: So you didnt shoot some guys?
CB: So, we went over to the dedication of Clairvaux monument, when they put that GI statue up. And after it was all over, we was going up to Kassel for the wine reception. Some guy taps me on the shoulder and I turned around. Boy, this guy was dressed fit to kill. He says, You remember me? I says no. He said, You took me prisoner up in the woods up there. I says, Oh, my God.
MH: He doesnt know how close he came.
CB: I says, Wheres the other guy? He said, I dont think hes alive. I says, What happened? Well, see, we had the PW camp down in Niederfeulen; it was in the barnyard where they have the stone walls around. Well, this guy from Michigan, he didnt like em and they put a line in front of his Jeep and he took em back to the PW camp. But instead of him going into the gate, he gunned it and went straight for the wall, hit the wall; those two Germans went over top of it all of a sudden. The big guy, he didnt go over, he hit the wall, and the little guy, he went over top right into the cow manure, you know.
So, he tapped me on the shoulder and he says, You remember me? You took me prisoner. I says, Whoa, howd you remember? He says, You havent changed a bit in all these years. I said, Youre a little fatter now. He says, Well, the German army didnt feed me too good.
MH: Where was this?
CB: Up at Clairvaux.
MH: Clairvaux. And it was a reunion?
CB: It was a dedication of a monument to GIs they put up in that statue more or less; thats where the 28th Division was. And with Colonel Fuller, he was in charge of that regiment there. And so then we wrote back and forth together all these years, and at last trip over, I took a load of guys over in the bus, and I drove the bus over there. And we went to Munich and I said, You guys can do what you want, you and your wives can do what you want, were going to go up to this place here and see this guy.
Unidentified Man: Maybe he ought to chat with you even more. You can seemy wife said you wanted to findI was a prisoner.
MH: I know. Ill talk to you tomorrow. Thank you.
Unidentified Man: Okay, tomorrow we can talk.
CB: And so we went there. His name was Werner Steinke. And I went up to his house; he has a beautiful apartment. He has two daughters, both registered nurses. And his wife had died, and he went to workafter he came out of the German army, PW, he went on to work with the U.S. government. And he worked with them all these years, and we wrote back and forth together, and he died three years ago in March. Three years ago, he died.
MH: Whatd you do when you came back to the States?
CB: First day back, I went over to the library and got a job in the mine. Consolidated Coal.
MH: Whatd you do the rest of your life?
CB: Thats what I did for forty-two years.
MH: You were a miner?
CB: Yeah. My wife was treasurer-bookkeeper in Duquesne Light [Company].
MH: So you werewhere was this, Pennsylvania?
CB: Pittsburgh, yeah, and I stayed there forty-three years; retired in eighty-four  because they shut the place down, they closed down. And the wife, she stayed in there until she was seventy years old.
MH: Do you have kids?
CB: Yeah, two.
CB: One. Shes going to Williamsburg College, and this is her second year. Shes gonna be a schoolteacher, I understand. I said, Where you gonna get a job? She said, Not in Pennsylvania; either in North Carolina or out in Chicago because they pay the most.
Unidentified Man: Brock, how are you?
CB: How you doing man?
Unidentified Man: Barbara sent me the video on you getting your medal. Very nice.
CB: Thank you. I got them out there. There in the room.
Unidentified Man: Good.
MH: Anything else to tell me? Or are we covered?
CB: Last Friday they had the doins for the Veterans of South Pennsylvania. Politician, he passed these medals out to us from the State of Pennsylvania. And also, they pulled a surprise on me. After fifty-three years, I finally got all my medals collected in one place. They put em in a showcase for me. Then I got the card from the Holocaust group from Massachusetts, I got that. They give me that. That was kind of a surprise. I was really shook up about that.
But the whole thing is, my daughter, shes a whiz on computer, okay? Well, she tookIm walkin across the stage carrying this plaquewell, its a box. Its got a window on it and everything else with all my medals and everything else: Combat Infantry Badge, stars, what-cha-call-it. But sittin on that box is my little dog.
MH: Oh, she did it with Photoshop?
CB: And hes down sitting at my feet, and hes presentin it to me and it looks kinda strange, you know. Hes a cross between a poodle and a Shih Tzu. Hes only a year old. And he was scratchin and hollerin and everything and he wanted to come down here today.
But as far as combat concerned, our family goes way back toI got a great, great ancestor, buried down in Chester, Pennsylvania, in a cemetery down there around Chester, he was buried in 1690. Had ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War, fought in the Civil War. In fact, I got my great-great-grandfathershe was in the Civil War, and I got a whole list of his company men, names and everything, from Southwest Pennsylvania, where they were from. They fought mostly around West Virginia and down in Winchester. Down that way is where they fought, Shenandoah Valley. And then I got one from the Spanish-American War.
Our family tree goes back to the year 1205. Im entitled to wear the shield with the deer and the dagger through his head, which means that your ancestors fought in the Crusades. My sister traced that back. Okay, the Brockman manor is still upit was built back in the 1700s in England; its still up today. And we got kicked out of Germany for 200 years because it was the wrong, I think, politics. We spent 200 years in Germany, thats where I get the German side. And then they wenttheres a Brockman County, Brockmanville County in Germany, which weve located. And also the name Brockman means man who lives by the water. Thats what it means in German.
When we was up in Kassel, Ihringshausen is the main city that wasits just north of the main city. Thats where they throwed the Tiger royal tanks at us. Just came out of the factory; the paint wasnt even dry. We knocked out the first five and the rest of em went back to the factory. All right. And one of the guys by the name of Igarfer of Staten Island, New York. He says Brock, come on out here. Look at the name on this here house. It was Dr. Brockman.
So, the caretaker was still there in that house, and I said, Wheres Dr. Brockman? Id like to meet him. Oh, hes on the Russian front. Thats strange. Every time we get in a town, wed ask the womenfolk of these towns, Where is your husband? Oh, hes on the Russian front. If all these guys were on the Russian front, who were we fightin?
MH: Its like saying, Nicht Nazi. I wasnt a Nazi, nobody was a Nazi.
CB: No, no. Did you vote for Hitler? No. I says, How come he got 99 percent when they voted? Yeah, howd he get 99 percent? And then after the war was over, I come home and got married and everything else. I still grab a book, and she get mad because I got my nose in a book all the time. But its mostly about history, or about a war or something. Had to be action.
And then there was oneI forgot what the devil that movie was. I wrote em and I corrected em, you know. I said, No way, this outfit was never there. Well, a lot of outfits werent there. But did you see that plaque they got from Buchenwald in the room up here? Those outfits were in different camps all over. And then they got theI just couldnt believe it.
The one that hit me most was the camp that was down in Austria. Not Ebensee. This was athis was a camp that I think it just was a labor camp. Before ObendorfObendorf was where the Silent Night song was written, that town. You know how they wrote that songsome mouse got in the organ and he chewed a reed out, one of the reeds out, so they didnt know how toso he adapted the music to a guitar, Silent Night was music from a guitar, thats the way it come out. And I found that out.
MH: Tell me about the camp.
CB: This camp, we could see it, it was down in the valley. We went down into it, and I went in the office, and they had all kinds of records thrown all over the floor and everything else, and somebody says, Hey, Brock, were moving. I says, Okay. And I came out. But that camp there, it was full of women.
MH: Do you know what date it was?
CB: No. This had to be after we crossed the river at Brenna, whatever date that was.
MH: Â So, its in very late April?
CB: If I have a book here, I could tell you exactly what day it was, cause I got it from day to day in there, in the book.
MH: Do you know in the book what camp it was?
CB: Well, those camps like that, they didnt have no famous name to em like the other like Auschwitz, Buna, Buchenwald. But it was aI know one thing: the fence around was nothing but barbed wire. That was all.
MH: And it was all women?
CB: It was all women. And they must have fed em pretty good; they werent exactly skinny.
MH: They might have just gotten there, too.
CB: Well, I was downtown Pittsburgh one day, and I got into an old bookstore down there. And I saw three books, pictures of World War II. And I grabbed all three of em and brought em home. And after leafing through em, and there I saw myself, a picture with two DPs. I think it was taken after Weimar. Some camp, townit had to be then because then we went south down into Austria.
MH: You could see it was you?
MH: For sure?
CB: The other guy in it was the name of Walden Garland; he was from Washington, and his face is in there. And thats why I found out it was me. And due to the fact, the little short guy, they were from Poland. And the tall guy was from Poland. But the short guy was tongue-tied. You try to understand Polish from a tongue-tied guy? No way. And that was, they had them in a building, right dead center of town, using them for labor, slave labor. And it was no concentration camp. They had camps like that all over Germany. They did slave labor. And this one girl in that camp, she came out, I mean her face was bloodied up, bruised, she had black eyeseverything. So we got a hold of [her] and asked her what happened. She says, Well, thats that German over there, SS man.
MH: The SS were still there when you got there?
CB: Well, he was underhe was a prisoner. She says, He tried to rape me and I fought back. I knew the Americans were coming, so I wasnt going to let him have me, and I fought back and he beat the heck out of me. And so one of the guys walked over and said, Is this the guy? She says Yeah. He shot him. Just like that.
MH: See, Ive heard stories like that from a lot of guys. That prisoners
CB: When you go through combat, the first couple of days it bother you. To think to pull your trigger. But you gotta realize that, you can see him and he can see youhes got a gun, too, pointing at you.
MH: But now youve got a prisoner, hes your prisoner.
CB: Hes a prisoner.
MH: And you basically say
CB: What make you more than anything else, these guys would fire their guns so theyd run out of ammunition and then smile, this way.
MH: What they smile and raise their hand?
CB: Thats what makes you mad.
MH: Right, and so you shoot em. Did any officer ever come along and say, you know, you cant do this, it violates the Geneva Convention?
CB: Told time and time again about it. But we did it anyway. Nobody said anything to us. And then like, we took thatwhat German army was it we captured down there? Two hundred thousand men we captured. That was, we didnt even bother takin em, we just tell em, Start walking.
MH: Start walking. That Ive heard, too. But Ive heard a lot of guys tell me We didnt take prisoners, especially if they were SS.
CB: Yes, especially in Luxembourg at the Battle of the Bulge. A lot of em were shot.
MH: Because of Malmdy or because it was just too much trouble?
CB: Just too much dang trouble, thats all. Like I say, when I took those two guys prisoner, I was supposed to walk em back and that was about three miles and then I had to come back. If you didnt have a ride or something like that, you know, and you dont feel like walking through that snow
MH: But when the Germans did that to the Americans, the Americans get all pissed off.
CB: Yeah. And then they started doin it, the word come down, Shoot all prisoners. It actually come back, Shoot all prisoners. If you dont want em, shoot em.
CB: And then about four days later, you gotta take prisoners. So, there you are. And you see all this blood spilt and your own guys bein killed and everything else, one way or the other, due to the fact they been shot and blowed up or something with artillery or in a tank or something, and from Utah Beach all the way across France, into these countries, you getyou get used to it. Now, my first prisoner was Polish.
MH: Howd that happen?
CB: Up in France. I was a point man, walking down the road, I was at a woods where they had a gas attack in World War I, and all the trees were bleached, chlorine, bleached white, and he come out with his hands up, but he had a different kind of uniform on. It was wine color. And I asked him what hes doingand he didnt have a helmet on, he had one of these caps on; we call em go-to-hell hats. He told me hed been here all day in these woods waiting for us. He says, I havent had a drink of water all day, you got some water? I said, I dunno. Water in my canteen was empty.
I called Sergeant Sawyer, who lives in Sewickley [Pennsylvania]; I dont know if hes alive or not today. And he speaks Polish. I says, This guys your compadre. See what he wants. And he says, Well, hes thirsty. I says, Give him a drink, youve got water. He says, No, dont give em nothing. Thats what he said. And that was my first prisoner. He was a Polish man. What he was a loader on a machine gun, and the lieutenant in charge of the machine gun was about fifty yards in back of him with a string, and hed pull that string to fire that machine gun. All they had to do was load it. Wasnt being aimed; hed just pull that, fire; course you know were gonna duck when you hear that machine gun take off. And so, that was the first prisoner.
And then, everybodysometimes we have to go to a school to give a speech about veterans and that. You know what the first question the kids ask you? How many mend you kill? I tell em, None.
MH: And you say that because?
CB: They dont need to know. Its better for em if they dont.
CB: I dont know why, but thatsthats what we tell em now when they ask how many did you kill; we say, None.
MH: But thats not really giving them an idea of what war is like.
CB: No, its not. But we do tell em the dirty facts about artillery and that, killing and everything else that way. So then, I says, No, I will not tell you how many I killed. I spilt blood, lets put it that way. When they interviewed me at St. Vincent College, I says, I will not tell you dirty stories about shooting, killing and everything, the bloodIm gonna tell you about actually what happened on a patrol. You had certain guys do certain things, you know, when you move into town.
Guy by the name of McDermott from up in Boston, Massachusettshe could get a chicken and have that thing skinned and ready to cook in nothin flat. We had another guy, hed go around cellars looking for potatoes; and then another guy, he was looking for meat. You know, in those cellars over there, they make a trough out of wood, like this. And thered be about oh, ten, fifteen feet long. Thats where theyd throw that meat in there, that trough. Thats where itd stay all winter. And then my job was to get the booze.
MH: Were you good at your job?
CB: Ah, I was an expert. (both laugh) We got em, we crossed over into German there, (inaudible) and from there on we kept on goin. We got into this little town, they had a store, and we got there at night. And they was throwing mortar shells on us, oh left and right. So, we got down in the cellar of this store, and I got to rootin around and I said, Oh, looky here. I got me a bottle of white brandy. Not brandy but wine, white wine, and a bottle of schnapps. I was drinkin schnapps and chasing it down with white wine.
MH: That could cause a real bad headache.
CB: That caused a real bad headache and everything else, too. And I tell you, four of us got it and next morning, we got so sick. But I didnt stay in the cellar all night, because I got sick during the night, and we had about twenty guys sleeping there in bedrolls there, and mine was next to the wall out of the way, and I got sick, and I sprayed everybody across there. I went out the cellar door and they locked the door on me, wouldnt let me back in. I had to sit on the steps all night long with mortar shells coming into that town. But it was the worst damn long road for us, leaning against the wall there.
And here come the colonel, stopped right there and says, Whats wrong with these guys? to the sergeant, you know. Sergeant Kelly. He says, Whats wrong with them guys? and he says, Oh they got some bad C rations. (MH laughs) Thats enough to make anybody sick, that stuff would. But from then on, why we moved tothats when the guy, not far from that is when I got the Congressional Medal of Honor, [Day G.] Turner.
MH: When did you start talking to school kids about the war?
CB: Oh, why, I never talked in front of my family.
MH: You never talked in front of your family, to say what you saw?
CB: I dunno, it just never come out like that. They knew I was studying about the history of all that, and they never asked me, thats the main thing. Then the boy, when he come home, an Eagle Scout, he was an Eagle Scout. And he said, Dad, they want you to talk about the war. And I started talkingId tell them about when I first started in and everything else, training down in Camp Forrest and then up in Salinas, Kansas, up there to Camp Phillips, and out to desert training out there in Yuma, Arizona, and then come back from there. And then I says, I walked all over Tennessee, I walked all over Kansas, desert training. I walked all over that desert out there.
MH: Sounds like youre avoiding telling them about what happened in Germany.
CB: Yeah. So, then I got acrossI says, I walked all over England, because we had training over there. See, they had double daylight savings time over there. Twelve oclock, its still light out, so wed do our night problems then. And when I got over to France, I says, I went over Utah Beachhead. I didnt go to Omaha; I didnt get famous for that. We went Utah. We went across France. I went through the town where Joan of Arc was born and raised. Orleans, France, is where shes from. And I told em about that, and mostly I tell em about the towns and about history.
MH: Did you tell them about the concentration camps?
CB: I told em about the camps, I says, Its an ugly sight, period. I said, You have to get used to it and I told em all about that.
MH: Youre the only guy whos not mentioned the smell.
CB: (laughs) Oh, it was there, lets put it that way. Another thing, you talk about the smell. When that sun comes out, you got those animals out there dead, you got GIs and Germans dead laying around, and they get to swelling up, that stinks. And you get used to that smell.
MH: You get used to it?
CB: You will get used to it. You get used to it, it dont bother you anymore.
MH: But the concentration camp smell was different?
CB: It was more of a dirty smell, lets put it that way. Thats hardit just felt like, well, you know, like you had a bad case of the diarrhea all the time. It got all over you. Thats what they smelled like. And then, as you mentioned, it never dawned on me about it. Ill tell you another thing about it. Not bragging or anything, but when I come home I got the job in the mine. In the spare time, I helped an undertaker for fifteen years. So, then I had a dark room and I did wedding pictures in black and white when they color then I said forget it. I was a photographer, I know a little bit about this. And then three of us out there, we only work seven hours a day at the mine, so we got a lot of daylight to do. After 2:15
MH: Seven hours underground?
CB: No, no, in the clean plant, where the dust is, rocks and dirt and coal is crushed. So then the three of us, we got jobs in the summertime long as its daylight, wed paint houses, too, in our spare time. Now Ill tell you another thing; wes only working three days a week back here in the fifties [1950s]three days a week. You know we had money left over on payday after just three days a week. You try that today.
MH: When you worked in the mines, did you go in the mines?
CB: Yes. I went in the mines up there in Number Four mine and we went over to the library, Number Ten mine, thats where the good coal come from, the low sulfur and that. Those mines are done now. And the place that I worked, clean place where I was, Mine 160, isnow its an interchange.
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