When he landed on the beach at Normandy, France a few days after the initial invasion of Europe by Allied forces during World War II, Pfc. Mike Vucic of Port Charlotte, Fla. was a 18-year-old rifleman in the 79th Infantry Division attached to Gen. Omar Bradley’s 1st Army. By V-E Day (Victory in Europe) eight months later he was a 19-year old sergeant, a Purple Heart recipient wounded on a battlefield in France while fighting in Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. By war’s end five months after that he and the soldiers of the 79th had also served in the 7th and 15th Armies and were billeted in Czechoslovakia waiting to return to the USA.
In France Vucic served as a scout in the 315th Regiment, 79th Division. Initially he and the rest of the invasion force were trapped in the hedge rows along the coast taking German small arms fire. Eventually an American farm boy soldering there devised an attachment to a Sherman tank that allowed U.S. forces to cut through the hedges surrounding the fields in Normandy and help with the breakout of Allied forces.
“We were near St. Lo, France when American troops broke out,” the 90-year-old former solder recalled. “We sat there a couple of days waiting for gasoline to be parachuted into Patton’s army so we could move once more.
Vucic said Patton was infuriated about this time because his gasoline was late arriving. As a consequence many of the soldiers in the German 15th Army that was almost surrounded by Allied forces escaped the noose and headed back to the “Fatherland” in shambles.
During the German’s flight they left behind hundreds of dead soldiers and many horses that had pulled much of their artillery. Among the dead and the dying enemy soldiers were booby traps left behind by the enemy.
“One of our men might pick up a discarded German helmet for a souvenir and learn too late it was booby trapped,” he said. “He could loose his hand.
“A short time after our breakout, somewhere in France, I was taking three German prisoners back to our command post when I saw three generals talking to a reporter from Stars and Stripes. “When German artillery zeroed in on them they left quickly.
“I can’t say for sure, but I think it was Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton.”
For Vucic it was one close call after another as the men of the 79th moved from town-to-town clearing enemy soldiers out of homes and business along the way. If he wasn’t ducking German sniper bullets it was hand grenades tossed out open windows and doors of the houses U..S. forces were capturing.
His luck ran out some where in France as his unit walked into a German trap while capturing another French town.
“I was the third scout on the left side as we advanced. The first scout had already been shot and killed by enemy fire from a German tank up in front of us, “ Vucic explained. “I ducked down and watched enemy slugs hit all around me. I raised up to see where the machine-gun fire was coming from and got hit in the elbow by a slug,” he recalled 70 years later.
“I called for a medic. He patched me up and sent me back to an aid station. On the way to the station a French captain in a Jeep drove me part of the way.”
Vucic spent a couple of weeks in the hospital recovering. Then it was back to the front lines with the 79th because Patton and the 3rd Army was short of men. This was about the time the Germans launched the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle on the Western Front.
His division was leaving France and starting to move through Belgium when the general turned his army around and headed south for Bastogne, Belgium and the monumental battle of “The Bulge.” It was at this point the 79th split from the 3rd Army and headed further northeast hooking up with the 7th Army. This army fought the Germans in the Vosges Mountains. With the assistance of the French 1st Army the 7th captured Strasbourg and reached the Rhine River in March, during the closing days of World War II in Europe.
Crossing the Rhine was a big deal for Vucic and the men of the 79th. They crossed the 1,500-foot-wide, fast-flowing river in 17-foot wooded boats — about a dozen soldiers to a boat.
“For three days before we crossed the river Allied air forces bombed the German side of the river. At 3 a.m. our artillery opened up on the Germans on the other side, too,” Vucic said. “During the crossing it was as bright as day because of all the artillery fired. Problem was you couldn’t hear anything or talk because of all the firing.”
He made it across unscathed.
“When we got on the other side of the river, German soldiers were running toward us with their hands up. They were surrendering, they had had enough. Blood was running out of their eyes, ears and noses from the American bombing and artillery shelling.
“The war in Germany was almost over, but you had diehard members of the SS troops who wouldn’t surrender. We had to kill them, that was the only way,” he said.
“The civilians in Germany gave us little trouble. They were starving because they had no food. All the animals in Germany were gone. The civilians ate them. They were glad to see us in some cases because we had food.”
As a member of the occupation force immediately after the war in Europe, Vucic and the soldiers of the 79th Division took over a German V-1 rocket base. The area was surrounded by thousands of land mines. The U.S. Army brought in German POWs to clear the mines they had laid.
At one point during the occupation, Vucic handled road blocks as part of the U.S. 15th Army. Most of the roads in Czechoslovakia were blocked. Their main job was to try and keep the Russians out of the American Sector.
“Word came down there would be an American convoy coming through headed for the Russian Sector. We were to let them go through without challenging them,” he said. “They returned to our lines pulling big horse trailers. We learned later it was Gen. Patton rescuing the Lipizzan Horses from the Russian Sector.”
From Czechoslovakia Vucic and his buddies took a freight train to Marseilles, France for a three week trip aboard a liberty ship across the Atlantic to Norfolk, Va. where he was discharged after being paid off.
“I took a train from Norfolk to Buffalo, N.Y. arriving there in the middle of the night. I grabbed a cab that took me as far as the Bright Spot Cafe a few miles from home. It was early in the morning when the owner of the restaurant arrived and asked me where I was going. I told him home and he personally drove me the last couple of miles to my front door,” he said. “It was just after daybreak and my parents were surprised and glad to see me.”
A short while later Mike and Harriet were married. They have seven children: David, Kathleen, Daniel, Nancy, Judith and Ann Marie.
Most of his adult life he worked for the Hamburg, N.Y. School System. Vucic was the director of the county school bus system. After his retirement the couple moved to Port Charlotte.
Name: Michael Vucic
D.O.B: 12 April 1925
Hometown: Youngstown, Ohio
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 24 Nov. 1943
Discharged: 15 Jan 1946
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Unit: 315th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division
Commendations: Purple Heart, American Service Medal, Distinguished Unit Badge, E.A.M.E. Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal
Battles/Campaigns: Central Europe, Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Nov. 2, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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