Victor Brenk of Burnt Store Marina, south of Punta Gorda, Fla. was 18 when he joined Gen. George S. Patton in Europe during World War II as a member of the 851st Ordinance Heavy Auto Maintenance Company. His primary job was to keep the trucks and machinery in “Old Blood and Guts’” army operating.
He arrived in England about a month before D-Day, June 4, 1944. His unit crossed the English Channel to France about a month after the initial invasion of Europe by Allied Forces. Brent spent the next 26 months with the general who fought through France, Belgium, Germany and Austria before war’s end.
“When the Battle of the Bulge was going on, we set up our equipment in the woods not too far from the fighting,” the 91-year-old former corporal recalled more than seven decades later. “Someone from Patton’s headquarters came along and took 20 of our guys from our company. Two weeks later they were all dead. Patton used them as cannon fodder.
“It was cold, snowy and wet. We slept on the ground in wet sleeping bags for about a month. We had mud up to our ankles when we were repairing trucks for Patton’s army. We also keep the Red Ball Express’ trucks going,” he said.
The Red Ball Express was primarily a black unit forned in August 1944 that moved by truck everything an army needed to stay in the field and fight. They supplied Patton’s troops and other armies with gas, ammunition and supplies to keep them going.
“A lot of the truck drivers liked to hear the tailpipes on their trucks whistle. They accomplished this by crimping them partially closed. When they did that they burned up their engines,” Brenk explained.
Once the weather cleared, right after the first of the year, the Germans’ biggest offensive on the Western Front crumbled and their troops began retreating in helter-skelter fashion back toward Germany. Hitler’s soldiers were relentlessly pounded by 47-Thunderbolt and P-51 Mustang fighter planes that rained bombs and .50 caliber machine-guns fire down on the Third Reich’s almost beaten soldiers.
“From ‘The Bulge’ we went to Luxembourg where we set up shop for a while. Then we moved further into Germany together with the rest of Patton’s army,” Brenk recalled. “It was interesting because I spoke German at home back in Minnesota. I spoke to a lot of German people along the way.
“We had hardly gotten into Germany when an enemy fighter plane flew right over our head at treetop level. If it had dropped its bomb a few seconds later I would have been hamburger,” he said. “I had shrapnel kick up all around me from that bomb. The good Lord was looking out for me that day.
“I talked to a lot of wounded German soldiers who were out of the Army. They told me, ‘We’d join you right now if you want to keep going toward Russia and fight them. ‘ The Germans told us, ‘You’re gonna have to fight them sooner or later. We’ll join the American army and fight with you against the Russians.’
“Because I could speak German different colonels would come around looking for someone to be their interpreter. I’d usually go with them to question German POWs. We’d take an advanced party an set up in an empty building to interrogate the POWs. That was interesting.
“One time they came and got me and we went down to southern Germany. We knew the Germans had a secret V-2 Rocket Plant somewhere in Bavaria, but we didn’t know where. After I talked to some German people in a couple of little towns we located the plant.”
“The entire plant was underground. There was no one there, but even so, we had to go down into the plant that had no working lights. To find our way around in the dark all we had was flashlights that were less than adequate.
“I remember having to climb out of that rocket plant up one ladder after another. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough,” Brenk said.
“About a week before war’s end we were in a little town about 10 miles outside of Nuremberg. We set up shop in a Hitler Youth building located in the middle of a school yard surrounded by an apartment complex. A buddy and I were walking around the school yard with our helmets off when a shot rang out. All of a sudden a bullet went right through my hair. We got out of there in a hurry, but we never found out who fired the shot.
“While we were in the Nuremberg area Gen. Patton decided to hold olympic games for his troops. The games were held in the Olympic Stadium Hitler built for the 1936 Olympics. It was a huge football-like open stadium.
“All the way around the top wall of the stadium were 20-foot-wide bronze German eagles with big Nazi swastikas emblazoned on their chest. There must have been 40 or 50 of them encircling the top wall of the stadium,” he recalled. “When I arrived the eagles were still standing, but each one of them had a big hole in their chests. Our artillery boys must have had fun using the eagles for target practice.”
Included in Brenk’s war memorabilia were a dozen or so small snapshots of different scenes he shot during the war. One photograph was a small, poor quality shot of Patton walking down a Nuremberg street in his military finery—jodhpurs, highly polished brown leather riding boots, Eisenhower jacket– wearing a tin pot with four stars emblazoned on the front.
He has a second picture of Patton’s staff car with four stars on a tag attach to the front bumper of his 1938 Cadillac.
Shortly after V-E Day (Victory in Europe) Brenk sailed from Marseilles, France on a Liberty Ship for the USA. He landed in Norfolk, Va. and expected to be reassigned to the Pacific Theatre of Operation to fight the Japanese.
“Then Harry dropped the big one on the Japanese and the war was over, I was glad,” the old soldier said.
He was discharged from the Army in January 1946 and went back to work as a machinist in the shop he had been working in in Minneapolis before the war. Some years later he and a partner established a machine shop of their own.
“We were doing machine shop work for all the big aerospace companies—3M, Honeywell all of them. “
In 1969, when America put a man on the moon, Brenk got a call from 3M. They need him to machine a specific part for the space ship. It was so technical and so critical no one else had been able to produce the needed piece of equipment.
They solved the problem for 3M and NASA, their part worked perfectly. Then they got word from 3M that NASA couldn’t use the perfectly working part because their firm hadn’t been cleared to work for the space program.
A few days later 3M got NASA to figure out how they were going to use Brenk’s firm’s specially-machined, one of a kind part to keep America in the space race. A 3M spokesman brought him a paper. He signed it and that was that.
The equipment they provided helped follow the sun while the ship was orbiting the moon. It provided power to the space ship.
“That moon shot wouldn’t have gone up if they hadn’t accepted the part we made for NASA,” Brenk said proudly. “A year-and-a-half later it was still putting out power to one piece of equipment thy left up there.”
By the time he retired in the 1980s at 62 there were some 220 people working in his machine shop. He sold the firm to someone who made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. For the past 30 years he and his wife, Lorraine, have wintered at Burnt Store Marine.
They have seven children: Thomas, Jeffrey, Michael, Kathleen, Barbara, Janet and Gary.
Name: Victor N. Brenk
D.O.B: 9 June 1924
Hometown: St. Michael, Minn.
Currently: Punta Gorda, Fla.
Entered Service: 8 May 1943
Discharged: 1 Jan 1946
Unit: 851st Ordinance Heavy Auto Maintenance Company
Commendations: European-African-Middle Eastern Service Ribbon and a Good Conduct medal
Battles/Campaigns: Battle of the Bulge
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, April 25, 2016 and is republished with permission.
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