Sgt. Vic Morman helped liberate Buchenwald Concentration Camp

Former 1st Sgt. Vic Morman, who lives in Lexington Manor Assisted Living Facility in Port Charlotte, Fla., served in the 89th Infantry Division that liberated Auflenlage, part of Buchenwald, the infamous Nazi concentration camp near Ohrdruf, Germany, during the closing days of the war in Europe.

He will celebrate his 100th birthday on Friday, Aug. 19th. His family members were Ohio farmers. He had nine brothers and sisters. Vic and two of his brothers were in the service during the Second World War.

The 29-year-old sergeant, in a letter to his folks back home in Pandora, Ohio, paints a vivid picture of the horrors of war. A portion of his letter was quoted in Morman’s hometown newspaper, The Putnam County Sentinel, more than 70 years ago.

On April 8, 1945 he wrote from the front lines: “We have been giving the Germans hell. They are surely in their last round. The knock-out blow is being delivered now.

“I saw a sight yesterday that really is horrible. It is what was left of a German concentration camp. Between 3,000 and 4,000 men, women and children were slaughtered there.

“Most of them were practically starved (to death) before they died. Their legs and arms were the size of broom handles. Their feet indicated that they had been frozen during the winter and gangrene had set in later.

“Before the Germans left they burned most of the bodies over huge grates made from railroad rails built up by stone.

“We found one bunch of refugees all shot through the head. They had not been removed from the place where they died. Among the group was an American airman. He looked like he had lost about 60 pounds while a prisoner.

“In a nearby building we found a whole floor covered with bodies stacked up like sacks. The bodies were all in the nude.

“In another place we found a deep hole about 200-feet long. Arms and legs could be seen sticking out of he ground. The Germans were making refugees dig up the bodies and were burning them so the Americans would not find the evidence. But the Germans didn’t get this work done in time. The bodies we found in the building were covered with lime so they wouldn’t spoil before they were able to burn them.

“We took the burgomaster and his wife from the nearby town to take a look at this crime. They insisted they did not know such conditions existed. Since then they both committed suicide.

“After seeing these thing we are convinced that there is no place on earth for a German soldier.

“It is tough on us to see an American boy die, but that is war, and I will say that the Germans are losing 25 (soldiers) to our one.

“We were strafed recently, 10 times in one day while moving along the road. We sure got out of our trucks and hit the dirt. Our anti-aircraft raised hell with those planes. After one raid one of the boys stood up shaking and said, ‘Well, it’s time for a Camel.’

“We all got a bang out of that,” Vic concluded in his letter to his parents more than seven decades ago.

When Vic came ashore at the French port of Le Havre he was a member of Headquarters Battery, 914th Field Artillery Battalion, 89th Infantry Division. The war in Europe only had 57 more days to go when his unit landed on Jan. 21, 1945.

On March 11 the 89th Division began its offensive against the Germans at the Sauer River. What Vic recalls best is the crossing of the Rhine River later that month.

“We went across the Rhine into Germany on a pontoon bridge in a smoke screen,” he said. “It was dark when we crossed into Germany.

He was part of a 105-millimeter artillery battery.

It was after his unit crossed the Rhine they came across the German concentration camp. They were the first American unit to liberate a Nazi concentration camp.

“The camp was located about a mile from the little town of Ohrdruf, Germany. “We found no one alive in the camp when we arrived. It was horrible.”

When the German prison guards learned Allied troops were advancing on the camp they forced those who could still walk to march out of the camp away from the advancing American forces. Those who could no longer walk they shot.

It was April 4, 1945 when Morman and the men of the 89th Division ran the German guards and the walking prisoners out of the camp and took over the operation.

“The Germans had built a 100-foot-long open grate about three or four feet off the ground made of railroad rails to burn the dead bodies of prisoners on,” he said. “They wanted to dispose of the bodies before the Americans arrived. They weren’t successful.

“All the guys in our division wanted to do was get away from there. It was horrible,” he recalled.

His division moved out of the camp and headed on east toward the Malde River. By April 17 they had captured Zwickau and by V-E Day Morman and his outfit were in Lossnitz, Germany.

“We became occupation troops for the next several months until the unit was sent back to France to catch a ship home at Le Havre. We waited for weeks in Le Havre for our ship to arrive.”

The 89th made an uneventful return trip to Boston. Mormon was discharged at the Army post in Indian Gap, Pa. He returned home to his wife, Lucille, and their daughter Victoria. Later a second daughter, Joyce was born.

He took the G.I Bill and graduated from Tutfs College in Ohio with a degree in accounting. After spending decades woking for various firms in the Northeast, Vic and Lucille retired to Rotunda West near Englewood 30 years ago.

The Morman’s were married 69 years until Lucille’s death in 2013. She is buried in the Veterans National Cemetery in Sarasota. Vic plans to be laid to rest beside his wife when the time comes.

During his century-long life Vic has seen and experienced many things. The incident he remembers best of all were a few days during the spring of 1945. He was serving as a 1st sergeant in the 89th Infantry Division and his unit was first to liberate a Nazi concentration camp in the heart of Germany during World War II.

“It was unbelievable,” the old soldier wrote home while still fighting in Germany.

Morman’s File

On Aug. 19 Vic Morman will celebrate his 100th Birthday. A family gathering is planned at Lexington Manor Assisted Living facility in Port Charlotte. Photo providedD.O.B:  Victor E. Morman
Hometown: Greenburg Township, Ohio
Currently: Port Charlottte, Fla.
Entered Service: 25 June 1941
Discharged: 31 Oct. 1945
Rank: 1st Sgt
Unit: Headquarters Battery, 914th Field Artillary Battalion, 89th Infantry Division
Commendations: European African Middle Eastern Service Medalm, American Theater Service Meal, American Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Meal
Battles/Campaigns: European Theater in World War II

This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 and is republished with permission.

Click here to view Morman’s collection in alphabetical order in the Library of Congress.

Click here to view the War Tales fan page on FaceBook.

Click here to search Veterans Records and to obtain information on retrieving lost commendations.

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