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US Army

World War Two Experiences of Gerard J. BASZNER

World War Two Experiences of Gerard J. BASZNER
 
 Story submitted by Christian W de MARCKEN
 
This very exceptional story was told to us at 2:00PM on 27 September 2001 by Gerard and his wife Marjorie Baszner, who lived at 100 Benson Road in Whitinsville, Massachusetts, 01588-1202, U.S.A. 
 
Gerard (Jerry) Baszner was born in Whitinsville on 8 May 1925. His mother was Aurore M. Lapierre and his father was Edgar P. Baszner, who was the Controller at the Foundry Office of the Whitin Machine Shop, which manufactured textile machinery.  Gerard had one brother, who was one year older and one sister ten years younger.  Gerard and Marjorie (St. Andre) married on 21 September 1946. They have two daughters, Andrea Mae born in December 1949 and Gail Marie born in October in 1951. 
 
It should be noted that the U.S. Army records are mostly incorrect; they list Gerard J. Baszner as "Gerald J. Baszner." 
 
Marjorie Baszner recalls that young married they could not afford a home, they lived with his parents; they survived on her "Minimum wages" while Jerry was attending the College of Pharmacy at Wentworth Institute in Boston.  He pursued a Degree in Pharmacy thanks to the G.I. Bill of Rights.  He later transferred to the Boston School of Pharmacy on Beacon Hill.  He graduated from the New England College of Pharmacy in 1950. 
 
Gerard was inducted on 20 August 1943 and entered active service on 20 August 1943 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.  From there he was moved to Camp Grant located in Rockford, Illinois; from there he was sent for further training as a Medic, from 7 January to 1 April 1944, at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC., where he successfully completed the "Enlisted Specialist Course for Medical Technician". 
 
Then he was assigned to a Replacement Depot Unit, which left for England on 29 April 1944.  His unit crossed the Atlantic Ocean on the SS Washington.  He was a member of a large group of Medics, who were shipped to England, where the Medics were assigned to various U.S. Army units spread all over England. 
 
Finally only six (6) Medics were left of the roughly four hundred who had arrived in Liverpool, England.  The handful of Medics were kept busy by performing non-medical duties, such as KP (Kitchen Police = Cleaning trays, dishes, pots and pans.) Jerry told his buddy that he had enough of this nonsense and was going to volunteer for the next job, whatever it was.  He did not have to wait too long and a call came for a volunteer.  At this time it should be noted that Gerard J. Baszner was a very young man, he was not very tall, he could even be called skinny, and he wore glasses.  The sergeant in charge ordered Jerry to gather his gear and get into the back of two and a half ton truck, which the soldiers called "Deuce and a half".  Dusk crept in and the truck drove off to "Who knows where?" After quite a while the truck stopped and Jerry was told to get off and jump into another truck, again he was not told where he was heading for. 
 
Sometime during night the truck stopped in front of an "Orderly room", which is usually the main office for a Company.  A sergeant ordered Jerry off the truck then opened the door of the Orderly Room, and Jerry faced an Officer sleeping at his desk.  As he woke up the Officer looked at Gerard Baszner and said: "What are you doing here?".  Jerry responded: "I do not know Sir, I have no idea where I am Sir." Gerard was asked if he always wore glasses.  His answer was: "Only when I want to seen Sir!" 
 
The Officer immediately shouted: "No one in my unit wears glasses." At that time Jerry realized he was facing an 82nd Airborne Officer, who then asked him what was his MOS, ( Military Occupational Specialty.) which is the specific number assigned to each and every enlisted man's  military skill; in this particular case it was the MOS assigned to all "Medics". 
 
When the Officer heard this number, he immediately knew he was talking to a "Medic".  It should be noted that very few Medics volunteered to be paratroopers.  The Officer's next sentence was: "You are now a paratrooper!"  This of course was not at all what Jerry wanted to hear. 
 
The next morning he was shown how to drop and roll, then ordered on a truck, which had the tail gate open, as the "Deuce” and a half reached the speed of five (5) miles per hour, Jerry was ordered to jump off the truck.  This went on in increments of five miles.  By the time he successfully jumped out at thirty five (35) miles per hour, he was tapped on the shoulder and declared a "Paratrooper".  That was the total extends of Jerry's ground training.  Since he never had any formal training, another paratrooper folded the parachute for him. An ingenious sergeant took some good old American "Duck tape" and taped Jerry's glasses to his face.  The crisscrossing of the tape only left two (2) little holes through which Jerry could see. 
 
The next he knew was that he was fitted with a parachute and was told to climb in a C-47 "Dakota" twin engine transport plane.  Jerry told us that he was scared to death and was not at all ready to jump out of the plane.  He was shown how to hook up to the cable stretched along the ceiling of the plane, this would assure that his parachute would be pulled out as soon as he left the C-47.  Jerry went on to say that he was more than frightened and was not about to jump out, when the jump master literally kicked him in the butt, and that really hurt, said Jerry.  He was thrown out of the twin engine and fainted.  He only woke up as he hit the ground.  This very scary training was repeated another time.  Again Jerry suffered through the same exercise. 
 
He now was officially a Paratrooper/Medic of the 505th PIR = Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division.  His third (3rd) Jump was early morning (around midnight) over Utah Beach, Normandy on 6 June 1944 also called "D Day." Usually the C-47 flew between 600 and 800 feet above ground level; on 6 June 1944 the German "Flack" = antiaircraft artillery at Omaha and Utah beaches were so intense that the C-47 planes were flying at 400 feet.  Jumping at that altitude is very dangerous; the parachute has barely enough time to deploy before the paratrooper hits the ground. 
 
Jerry remembered that while flying towards Utah Beach in Normandy in the very early hours of 6 June 1944, he saw two paratroopers at the door of his plane being sucked out of the plane by the deflagration caused by the exploding German Flack shells = antiaircraft artillery shells.  They were never seen again. 
 
At one point during the battle of Saint Mere Eglise on 8 June 1944, an Officer was calling for three men and a Medic to volunteer for a very special mission, Gerard Baszner was chosen not only because he was a Medic, but also because he was small and skinny; the task required a Medic capable of going into the Church tower and climbing out a narrow church window, where the stain glass windows had been before they were blown out during the bombing of the area. 
 
Most people remember seeing pictures of the Sainte Mere Eglise church steeple; where still today a fake U.S. Paratrooper is still hanging by his parachute.  Soldier John Steele was injured by the German as he was coming down over Sainte Mere Eglise in Normandy on "D Day”.  His parachute unluckily hooked itself to the church steeple.  Gerard Baszner was the Medic who went to the rescue of the paratrooper, who was injured in the hip and the ankle, the injured soldier was dehydrated, Jerry immediately gave him an I.V. (Intravenous) shot, then he dressed his injuries the best he could and with the help of the other paratroopers cut the parachute lines and brought down soldier John Steele, who survived the ordeal. 
 
Gerard J. Baszner remembers fighting in the Normandy "Edge Rows". These are little fields and pastures surrounded by raised earth, which with time have been covered by bushes and trees.  These edge rows were a nightmare for our Infantry and Armored vehicles, they were literally natural antitank barriers; the Germans could hide machine gun nests and ambush our infantry soldiers.  He was going from one injured soldier to another, he was taking care of their injuries, when all of a sudden his patient said: "Look this German soldier just slit the throat of one of our fallen men and he is pulling a ring off the finger and going through his personal belongings, take my rifle and kill him" Jerry answered: "I cannot fire a weapon, I am a Medic". 
 
The response of the injured soldier was: "Your job is to save my life!  Are you going to let this German kill us?" Jerry realized that he had no choice; he took the rifle and fired three bullets in the German's chest.  Jerry then ran to see what the German was really doing, sure enough he found out that the Kraut had slit the throat of one of our soldiers and had already collected watches, rings, etc.. from dead Americans.  Then Gerard Baszner added "I had no remorse, I had done my duty to protect my injured fellow soldiers."  
 
After the battle of Normandy the 505th P.I.R. was sent back to Nottingham, England for more parachute training.  On the second training jump Jerry was badly injured; a knee injury which was serious enough not to allow him to be a paratrooper.   He was transferred to the 130th General Hospital, which specialized in treating "Shell Shocked" infantry men. 
 
Before ending the Paratrooper episode, I should mention that the original encounter between Gerard J. Baszner and the 82nd Airborne Officer was at Nottingham, England. 
 
Also it should be known that they were two reasons Jerry was injured during his last training jump.  First the wind was much too strong and secondly paratrooper always carried excessive loads because they were always landing behind enemy lines. 
 
In this case Jerry was carrying extra medical supplies in a special leg bag, unluckily due to the wind and the prop-wash his leg bag wrapped around his leg and when the parachute snapped open all the muscled above and below the knee were stretched and damaged.  Jerry was a patient of the 312th General Hospital.  As he could not run and kneel he was removed from combat duty and transferred to the "Red Ball Express". This very large outfit was a transportation unit, created by General George S. Patton, who wanted to give top priority to the transportation of supplies to the front line troops. 
 
General Patton wanted to have fuel, ammunition, weapons, and food provided on a twenty four hour per day system.  He ordered a circle "Red" steel plate attached to the front of each vehicle assigned to the "Red Ball Express." 
 
The MP (Military Police) soldier, assigned to any intersection, was given orders to wave through any vehicle carrying this insignia.  Example: If a jeep carrying a General and a "Red Ball Express" truck arrived at the same time at any crossroad, the MP waved the truck to pass first. 
 
Gerard Baszner remembered driving a two and half ton truck, he was assigned to move gasoline and ammunition from Omaha Beach to the front lines.  One day one of the front wheels of his truck slid off a LST (Landing Ship Tank) ramp, he had to have his truck towed off the ramp. 
 
As his knee muscles improved Jerry was reassigned to the 130th General Hospital, which specialized in treating "Shell Shocked" soldiers.  He remembered going to Spa and also to Liege to get supplies from the 98th General hospital. 
 
The 130th General Hospital was moved to the Mont de la Salle Seminary in Ciney, Belgium, where it stayed until VE Day, which means Victory Day in Europe or 8 May 1945.
 
The 130th General Hospital at the Mont de la Salle, Ciney, Belgium
 
Because of his experience Jerry was assigned to the operating room and he was also responsible for the central supply of the unit.
 
The U.S. Army 130th General Hospital consisted of 450 enlisted men, 40 Medical Doctors, and 160 Nurses.  All the Doctors and Nurses were Officers.  As the Germans pushed along through southern Belgium, their goal was to cross the River Meuse in Dinant, Belgium; Ciney was on the path leading to Dinant.  It was obvious that the Germans were going to reach Mont de la Salle, which had to be evacuated towards France.  It was a policy to never leave nurses behind the lines for fear of having them raped by the Germans.  At the Battle of the Bulge Gerard J. Baszner volunteered with a group of Medics to stay with the roughly hundred and sixty (160) injured soldiers, who were gravely injured and could not be transported out of Ciney.   So about eighty (80) Americans and roughly eighty (80) POWs (Prisoners of War) were left in the Seminary, while the rest of the 130th General Hospital was moved to France.
 
Lieutenant/Nurse Rose Dewing felt that the Medics needed assistance and she managed to hide in the large ward.  The Germans surrounded the Hospital, however they were too busy fighting to investigate and search Mont de la Salle.  Jerry remembered those difficult days, as the Germans were progressing towards the village of Celles the Hospital was in the German hands, the next day Americans liberated the area, this did not last long, the Germans again overwhelmed the area, finally after forty eight (48) hours the Krauts were forced out.  During that time the Medics and the Nurse took care and fed Americans and Germans alike. Jerry said: It was funny days."   The Medics managed to hide the Nurse from the Germans.
 
In the evening of Christmas day a U.S. 2-1/2 ton truck brought in a Belgian lady, who was ready to deliver her baby.  Doctor Jesse Frankel a Medical Doctor from New York called Gerard Baszner, who knew some French, he had attended Parochial School, where French was the second language taught every afternoon.  The two of them helped deliver a little girl.  At the time the mother said to the U.S. Officer that she would name her daughter Jessica in his honor.  During the following battle the 2nd Armored Division fought in the outskirts of Ciney, Jerry was asked to jump on a halftrack, which was being used as an ambulance able to negotiate the fields and the rough terrain.
 
Jerry remembered picking up a badly burned tanker, Jerry still could not figure out how he was able to find the vein of the tanker during the very bumpy ride from the front line to Ciney, Belgium.  "That intravenous shot was a real miracle." said Gerard Baszner.  Jerry also remembered looking up and seeing a German plane, which had engine problems, the engine was sputtering, the pilot bailed out and got impaled on the steel spikes of the fence surrounding Mont de la Salle, he was screaming.  An Officer sent a few soldiers including Jerry to relieve the pilot, they took him back to the hospital and treated his wounds; during all the time the Medics dressed his injuries he never said a word.  All of sudden one of the medics said: “Wonder if our airmen are treated as well when they bail out over Germany?" At that time the German Officer said: "I am afraid not Yank!" This Officer had been educated at Oxford, England and knew English fluently.  He admitted later that he had refrained to speak because he was not sure how he was going to be treated as a prisoner. 
 
Fifty five (55) years later Jerry asked us to try to locate the little girl.  You imagine trying to locate a fifty five year old lady, whose parents lived somewhere near Ciney, no last name, no location, and only a possible first name. 
 
I called my brother Pete, who in the 1950s was a jet fighter pilot flying a F- 100 Super Saber in the United States Air Force.  Pete married a Belgian born in Liege, Belgium. Pete and Olga de Marcken went to Ciney around lunch time, they walked down the short main street of this little town while peeking in all little restaurants; they were looking specifically for a table surrounded by elderly citizens. 
 
They found what they were hoping for.  Pete introduced himself and told these people what his brother, who is living in Massachusetts, U.S.A., was trying to accomplish. 
 
Peter and Olga were very lucky.  Amongst the people around the table were two men who very involved in recording the history of Mont de la Salle. The story of Gerard Baszner was most interesting to these Belgian historians.  One helped Peter arrange a very special ceremony for Lieutenant Rose Dewing-Young, who was invited by the Mayor of Ciney.
 
The other was Mr. Fernand Fisse, who lives in Baillonville, he accepted the challenge to try to locate the little girl delivered at the 130th General Hospital with the assistance of Doctor Jesse Frankel and Gerard Baszner.  The latter searched all the surrounding Town Halls to locate a little girl born at Christmas time 1944.  He finally found a little girl named Marie Helene, whose mother, Mrs. Renee Maltere had just left the village of Conjoux, where she lived in December 1944 and moved to Floriffoux, which is close to Namur.
 
Mr. Fisse contacted Mrs. Maltere, who stated that she had stayed in contact with Doctor Jess Frankel and his girlfriend, namely, Lieutenant/nurse Edith MacCafferty, who were living in New York City.  He also found out that the Maltere family always called Marie-Helene by her nick-name "Jessica".  Jessica was located in Tubize, Belgium.
 
She wrote a very nice letter to Gerard Baszner and to Christian and Jeanne de Marcken to thank us for searching for her.  While at the 130th General Hospital, Medic Gerard Baszner remembers a very sad incident; the 130th was responsible for treating "Shell Shocked" soldiers.  When asked what was his most memorable incident of the Battle of the Bulge and Gerard answered: "A sergeant of the 2nd Infantry Division, whose shoulder patch was a big star with an Indian Head, the sergeant lost his mind as he had his C.O. (Commanding Officer) in the sight of his rifle, he was ready to pull the trigger, when another G.I. shot and killed the officer.  The sergeant was so upset that he lost his mind, he felt cheated for not being able to bring the C.O. down." Gerard then added: "It took a few days to bring back the sergeant to his sense, he was then sent back to the front lines in Germany."
 
Medic Gerard J. Baszner came back to the United States in December 1945.  He was assigned to the O'Reilly General Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.  He was finally "Discharged" from the Service at Fort Devens, Massachusetts on 20 December 1945.  He immediately signed in at the College of Pharmacy at Wentworth Institute in Boston. Later he transferred to the Boston School of Pharmacy on Beacon Hill.  He graduated from the New England College of Pharmacy in 1950. He headed a well-respected Pharmacy in Whitinsville; on September 12, 2001, when we interviewed Gerard J. Baszner, he was still working two days a week, five hours a day at the Fallon Clinic Pharmacy.  Gerard married Marjorie on September 21, 1946.
 
Note that all the letters, records, pictures related to this very unusual story have all been sent to the National Museum of the United States Army, which is being built at Fort Belvoir. The present office of this Museum is in Arlington, Virginia.
 

Respectfully yours,

                                 Christian W. de Marcken

                                 Secretary and Historian, Chapter XXII, Central

                                 Massachusetts Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge.

 
Source: Emails received from Christian de Marcken on December 2014 and January 2015

T/5 Gerard J. BASZNER

 

Medic

505th P.I.R.

82nd Airborne Division

and 130th General Hospital

Campaigns

France and

Battle of the Bulge

Belgium