The old man sitting on his purple electric scooter in his son’s Port Charlotte, Fla. home was once a sniper in the 10th Armored “Tiger” Division when it landed in France shortly after D-Day during World War II.
Staff Sgt. Steve Kruger arrived on the beach at Cherbourg on Sept. 13, 1944, and became part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. He helped run the German forces back into Germany. By then Kruger had received a Purple Heart and a couple of Bronze Stars for valor.
“I was one of them that couldn’t swim. When I stepped off the landing craft, I landed in 6 feet of water, loaded with equipment and my rifle. I wasn’t 6 feet tall. Somehow I got ashore; I was lucky,” he said.
“We were facing a wall of concrete gun emplacements on the beach. We were taking heavy machine gun, rifle and mortar fire. People were dying very badly all around me,” Kruger recalled. “I kept moving. I wouldn’t stop, because I knew if I did I’d be dead.
“We crawled along on our bellies like beetles. Eventually we could see where the enemy fire was coming from,” he said. “We located one German machine gun. I had two hand grenades and I lobbed them into the pillbox and knocked it out.
“Moments later my right leg was hit by shrapnel. The next thing I knew, I was in a French hospital recovering. A week later I was sent back to my unit that was still at the front,” the 86-year-old Port Charlotte resident said.
Kruger remembers meeting Gen. Patton while his company was trying to capture a French town held by the Germans.
“We called him Ol’ Blood and Guts,” he said with a smile. “He came up the road in his Jeep with a driver. He was holding this little white puppy.
“I shook his hand. I’ll never forget it,” Kruger said. “He came walking up to me wearing his ivory-handled revolvers. He asked me, ‘How you doing?
‘”Very good,’ I replied.
“Then he said, ‘I can replace men, but I can’t replace machinery.'”
Kruger and the division took the French town from the Germans and continued advancing toward “The Fatherland.”
They were still fighting in France when Kruger received his first Bronze Star.
“We reached an open field and I told my men to stay out of the field and stay in the woods that surrounded the field. Some of them listened and some didn’t,” he said. “One of them who didn’t got wounded in the middle of the field. I went out and got him. There was rifle fire all around my feet while I was bringing him back to safety. I don’t recall what the second Bronze Star was for.”
By Christmas 1944 Kruger and Patton were fighting for their lives at the Battle of the Bulge . More than 1 million men faced each other in the largest battle on the Western Front in World War II.
“It was cold and snow was on the ground. I told my boys to dig foxholes. Then I told them to go to nearby houses and get white sheets to cover the holes so they wouldn’t be so noticeable to the enemy,” he said.
“I had two men in each hole. One would sleep while his buddy stayed on guard. Every one of our foxholes were covered with sheets during the night so they blended in with the falling snow that was covering the ground.
“That night I was the first to sleep while my foxhole buddy stayed awake. Sometime during the night I woke and asked him something, but he didn’t talk. I shook him and he wouldn’t wake up.
“Then I looked at the sheet over the top of our foxhole. There was a hole in it. A German bayonet had gotten him during the night. He must have been standing up when it happened and they got him from behind,” Kruger said as he shook his head and lowered his eyes.
The war’s end found Kruger and the 10th Armored Division in southern Bavaria, where the unit remained as part of the occupation troops until Sept. 12, 1945. It sailed from Marseilles, France, and reached Newport News, Va., on Oct. 13, 1945, where the division was deactivated.
Kruger went back home to his small farm near Holliston, Mass., outside of Boston, where he and his wife, Singe, lived. They raised 10 children, seven boys and three girls. Steve, their oldest boy, is 64 today and Heidi, their youngest, is 37.
Later he and his wife moved to Hillsborough County where he worked as a bus mechanic for the Hillsborough County school system for two decades. When he retired, the system gave him a patchwork quilt embroidered with scenes from his life as a mechanic. It hangs on his bedroom wall.
“It’s been a good life,” the old soldier said.
Staff Sgt. Steve Kruger served with the 10th Armored Division in World War II. His commendations include: The Purple Heart, one Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, a Good Conduct Medal, an American Theater Campaign Ribbon, two Distinguished Unit Badges, a Victory Medal and four battle stars denoting four major battles in the Rhineland, Ardennes, Central Europe, European-African-Middle Eastern campaigns.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2006 and is republished with permission.
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