“I was looking forward to going into the Service.
I felt it was something every able-bodied person needed to do.”
The Last Year in Europe
-An oral history of Art Bleimeyer

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When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, seventeen-year-old Art Bleimeyer was more concerned about enrolling at Rice Institute than serving in the Army because the minimum draft age was twenty-one. By the time he finished his first year of college, however, all that had changed. The draft age was lowered to eighteen, and Mr. Bleimeyer was off to Fort Sam Houston by June 1943. Nonetheless, he “was looking forward to going into the service.” He recalls that he “felt it was something every able-bodied person needed to do.”

After almost a year, Mr. Bleimeyer was assigned to the 69th Infantry Division and traveled to Camp Shelby, Mississippi for combat training. There he experienced one of the most frightening moments of his military career. His division was training with a new weapon, the bazooka. The supervising colonel told the soldiers that “all of the force of the projectile from the bazooka would be forward, and there would be nothing coming back toward the person who fired [it],” explains Mr. Bleimeyer. When the men fired the first shot at a far-off truck, something went terribly wrong. “As soon as the first shell hit the truck, I saw the person, the GI right in front of me, reach up, grab his throat, and keel over, and blood was gushing out.” He continues, “He nearly died.”

In November 1944, the 69th Infantry Division crossed the Atlantic and entered the European Theater of Operations. Mr. Bleimeyer vividly recalls the frigid weather in which they traveled. A friend of his fell asleep with his ear on the floor of a boxcar, and awoke to find it frozen to the floor. After a few months in Southampton, England and Le Harve, France, the 69th moved into Belgium and took part in the Battle of the Bulge. “Our division came into the Battle of the Bulge sometime during the later stages,” he says. “We relieved a division that had been pretty well decimated during the battle.”

During the Battle of the Bulge, Mr. Bleimeyer had a brush with death in the Ardennes Forest. “A P-47, an American plane, strafed us [rapidly fired at while flying overhead] there in the woods,” he remembers. “We tried to convince ourselves [that] the plane was being flown by a German pilot, but later I became pretty much convinced it was an American pilot thinking we were German troops . . . but luckily he missed us.” Mr. Bleimeyer goes on, “It was very frightening. There was no place to hide. He just came back, time after time, with machine guns blaring . . .”

After participating in the historic linkup of Russian and Allied forces that helped bring peace to Europe, Mr. Bleimeyer was eager to return to the U.S. He had not, however, garnered enough service points to qualify for discharge, so he was transferred to Division Headquarters. He would have remained there indefinitely had not a colonel from the 69th Infantry Division declared him “essential to the division.” For Mr. Bleimeyer, the decision to return to the U.S. with the 69th was a “no brainer.”

On September 19, 1945, Art Bleimeyer entered New York Harbor aboard the SS E. B. Alexander. During a thirty-day furlough before his discharge, he returned home to visit his family. It was then he met the woman he would marry three years later. In February 1946, Mr. Bleimeyer was discharged and promptly returned to Rice Institute to complete his degree in mechanical engineering. “I found,” he reminisces, “that . . . where I lived on Merrill Street hadn’t really changed a whole lot. It was much like I had left it.”

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