Pfc. Keith Des Ermia only fought as a replacement soldier in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe during World War II for 28 days before he was severely wounded by shrapnel from a German 88. He spent the next eight months recovering from his war wounds in hospitals in England and the United States.
The 20-year-old rifleman served in B-Company, 302 Infantry Regiment, 94th Division of the 3rd Army.
In a letter home to his mom dated Jan. 29, 1945 Des Ermia wrote, “Well…now I’m in Germany. It’s not as bad as you might think.
“I’m in with a swell bunch of guys and I like them all. I don’t know how much longer this can last, but I’d just as soon stay here till the war ends.”
He was right, his good chow and easy soldering didn’t last long. De Ermia and the rest of Patton’s 3rd Army charged across France and into Germany.
Everything was in shambles as thy fought their way through one little town after another.The advancing Allied forces saw few French or German civilians as they moved further into Hitler’s Third Reich.
“When we moved into Germany the biggest sergeant I ever saw in my life was handing out live ammunition. He told us, ‘Take plenty of it. It’s either kill or be killed.’ That’s when I realized I was gonna probably kill somebody,” he said as he frowned more than 65 years later.
“We knew the Germans were close when we could near them. We couldn’t understand what they were saying,” Des Ermia recalled. ” We started taking plenty of German prisoners. We were told if they didn’t keep their hands on their heads shoot ’em.”
It was cold and the weather was snowy as he and his buddies in the 94th Infantry Division fought their way through Germany. it was the coldest winter in 50 years in Europe.
“Everybody wanted a German Lugar (pistol) as a souvenir. I got one, but after I got shot someone took it out of my duffle bag. I don’t think it had ever been shot, but I lost it,” he said.
“Max Branch, my buddy, and I were riding on the back of a tank as it went through the woods. I got hit first from shrapnel and then Max was hit three times,” Des Ermia said.
“A medic tended to me right away. I remember, when I got back to he hospital they took some scissors and cut my uniform off me. Nobody wanted to operate on me because shrapnel was lodged in the vertebrae in my neck,” he said.
“They immobilized my neck and sent me to a hospital in Paris. From there I went to another hospital in England where they operated on me,” Des Ermia said.
“I spent three months in the English hospital before I was put on an old hospital ship and sent home to the U.S.A. We sailed into New York Harbor after 14 days at sea and was admitted to Staten Island General Hospital. From there I went by train to Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, Mich. where I spent the next 4 months recuperating.
When Des Ermia got out of the hospital the Second World War was over. He returned home to Michigan and went to work in his father’s furniture store for a few years. Then he and his first wife, Audrey, bought a mom and pop grocery in a little town in Michigan they ran for 25 years until retiring and moving to Florida in 1984.
After 55 years of marriage Audrey died. He married Gina, his second wife, recently.
Name: Keith Des Ermia
D.O.B: 18 November 1925
Hometown: Tecumseh, MI
Currently: Venice, FL
Entered Service: 10 August 1944
Discharged: 2 October 1945
Rank: Private 1st Class
Unit: Infantry – Patton’s 3rd Army
Commendations: Purple Heart, Bronze Star, WWII Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Good Conduct Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of the Bulge
This story first appeared in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, July 9, 2012 and is republished with permission.
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