He was lucky to survive ‘Battle of the Bulge’
Herb Brough of Bobcat Trail subdivision, North Port, Fla. is a medical miracle.
Almost 60 years ago, while serving as a “foot-slogger” in the 3rd Battalion, 398th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Army at “The Battle of the Bulge” in Europe, he took a blow to the head he will never forget.
“I was a 19-year-old runner for the 3rd Platoon,” the 77-year-old North Port, Fla. man recalled. “Every time the Germans launched a big attack it was always on Sunday. It was Sunday, Dec. 17, 1944, when it started.
“Our outfit sustained withering fire from the Maginot Line. The enemy captured the French-built Maginot Line, originally constructed to keep the German hordes out of France. They turned the guns around and pointed them toward France.
“They had 135 mm and 88 mm hydraulic gun turrets that would go up and down. They would come up to shoot and the go down into their concrete replacements for protection,” he explained.
“Incorporated into the line were 11 mutually supporting pillboxs joined together by subterranean railway tunnels that were all part of the great fortress.”
American forces attempted to attack this part of the line with 155 mm canons and 500-pound bombs dropped from P-47 “Thunderbolts” fighter planes. Neither did the 14-foot-thick, steel reinforced forts much damage. They were almost impregnable in a self-supporting, seven-story-deep complex.
Brough’s division objective was the main defense line at Bitche, France—Fort Freudenberg and Fort Schiesseck.
“Axis Sally, the Nazi drumbeat for discount and disunity among the Allied nations, normally spoke in a soft voice,,” he recalled six decades later. “That day she called us the “Bloody Bitches of Bitche.”
“The 2nd Platoon, Company L was ordered to advance against Fort Freudenberg along with Company I. The enemy laid down withering fire. Many of our men were killed or wounded.
“I was in a shell hole when an air burst from an 88 or a 135 exploded near me and knocked me out for a second and blew off my helmet. When I came to, I tried to reach for my helmet, but my right arm wouldn’t move,” he said. “I reached for it with my left arm and started to put it on when I realized there was blood everywhere. Sgt. King, who was in a nearby hole, had his feet blown off and another buddy was dead.
“We had to stay where we were for almost 30 minutes because if we moved that drew enemy machine-gun fire. Finally, the Germans started shooting at another platoon next to us. So I got up and ran and jumped over a little cliff that led down to a road where a power station was located,” Brough said. “I got in the substation and moments later a medic from another unit ran in. He took a look at me and said, ‘Oh, my God.” He dumped sulfur powder on my head wound and bandaged me up.”
From there he was taken to an aid station where he was operated on. Eventually he was moved to a French hospital where he recuperated. Finally he was sent back to Kennedy General Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., where a steel plate was put in his head.
“I had been hit by a great big piece of shrapnel that they took out of my head. It splintered a half-inch of bone in the top of my head,” he said. “The doctor said, ‘If the shrapnel had been a little deeper, we wouldn’t even be worrying about you. It took me nine-months to get the feeling back in my right arm after I did a lot of physical therapy.”
The steel, olive-drab colored helmet he was wearing when he was hit he still keeps as a favorite war memento. There is a 2-inch hole in the left front of his steel pot. The plastic helmet liner inside sustained much more damage. It has a 7-inch gash where the shrapnel came through and went into his head. A tiny pinhole is visible in the top of the helmet where a piece of metal came out after going through Brough’s brain.
Through it all, he kept his helmet.
“I told the doctors, ‘You’re dead if you try and take my helmet away from me.’ All through my whole hospitalization they allowed me to keep it,” he said.
Brough received two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Medal for valor in World War II.
More than half a century after “The Battle of the Bulge,” Brough still recalls how tough the fighting was and how cold and wet it was. They had been living in foxholes for days.
“It was always snowing or raining. I’d put my helmet in the bottom of my foxhole to rest my head on so I wouldn’t drown. When I got up in the morning, I would be soaked and shaking bad from the cold,” he said. “A lot of our guys died from exposure. They didn’t wake up in the morning. It was just awful.”
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Aug. 4, 2003 and is republished with permission.
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Herbert J. Brough
30 Dec 1925 – 3 Aug 2009
Herbert J. Brough, 83, of North Port, Fla. passed away August 3, 2009. He was born December 30, 1925 in Hinsdale, IL to the late Stephen C. and F. Ruth (Johns) Brough. Herb served in the Army during WWII in the 100th Infantry Division in France; he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge at the Maginot Line and was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and other medals.
He graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Business Administration. Herb was employed for 35 years by Signode Corporation as a salesman in Grand Rapids, MI; he transferred to Stamford, CT as National Accounts Sales Manager in New York City. He served as a Board of Director of the National Accounts Marketing Assoc.
After retiring, Herb moved to Destin, FL and became active in community affairs. He served on the Planning Commission to help develop the sign ordinance; was a member of the Board of Adjustments; charter member as well as board member of the Greening of Destin; chairman of Median Development; and on the board of directors of Greenscape, Inc where he wrote many grants for State and Federal funds for beautification of medians.
A proclamation by the City Council of Destin named Herb as recipient of the Outstanding Senior Citizen Bi-Annual Award. Herb was active as Vice President and President of the Board of Directors for Destin Water Users; a Rotary member; life member of Disabled American Veterans; member of American Legion and Elks; an active member of Corpus Christi Catholic Church serving on the Financial Committee, as a Eucharistic Minister, Lector, and Usher; and, along with his wife, was a charter member of Indian Bayou Golf and Country Club.
Upon moving to North Port, he and Helen built a home at Bobcat Trail Golf and Country Club; he was chairman of its Architectural Control Committee. Kidney dialysis was required since 2004, but Herb and Helen went on dialysis cruises each year.
Herb will be greatly missed by his wife of 62 years, Helen C.; sons, William H. of Northampton, MA and Richard S. of Destin, FL; grandchildren, Crystal C. Kane, Amanda J, Richard J and Brittany J. Brough; great-granddaughter, Lily C. Kane.
A memorial mass will be at 11:00 am, Thursday, August 13, 2009 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church.
Inurnment will at Sarasota National Cemetery.