Bob Brown honored with award for World War II service

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It was D-Day, June 6th, 1944, and members of the 2nd Ranger Battalion of the U.S. Army came ashore at Omaha Beach and made their way to the cliffs in front of them. There were 225 Army Rangers who began the mission that day to scale those cliffs and take out the enemy guns that were covering the beaches where Allied forces were landing.

As the forces began their climb, enemy soldiers appeared at the top of the cliffs, pouring machine gun fire down onto the American soldiers. There were 225 Rangers that day, and 190 began the climb.

After two days of intense fighting, only 90 were still healthy enough to bear arms against their foe.

From that day forward, those brave men have been known as “The Boys of Pointe Du Hoc” – one of the most legendary moments of World War II.

Vevay’s Bob Brown was there that day. As a member of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, he landed on Omaha Beach. He began that climb up those cliffs.

And he survived it.

Earlier this month, nearly 70 years after than day, Bob Brown and the other “boys” were honored with the Audie Murphy Award at the 14th Annual Conference of the American Veterans Center in Washington, D.C. Of those Rangers that day, only four were able to be found – and only two were healthy enough to make the trip to Washington, D.C. to receive their award. Bob Brown of Switzerland County and William D. Walsh of Baltimore, Maryland.

Now 92 years old, Bob Brown was thrilled with the opportunity to attend the conference and receive the award, but he sees his military service as a call to duty, a time of his life when he answered the call of his country and proudly served it.

Bob Brown attended the conference with his daughter, Cheryl Brown Messmore, and was the honored guest along with other soldiers who were presented with awards during the conference.

The Audie Murphy Award is presented for distinguished service in the United States military during World War II.

“One of the reasons that I went was to find out if any of my close buddies were still living,” Bob Brown said. “Men like Richard Cain and Sergeant Sweeney.”

He was also searching for a man whose name he doesn’t know, but who shares a memory of war with Bob Brown.

“A corporal took us up and told us to dig in and get a foxhole as quick as we could, because you could never tell when they were going to be throwing some shells in,” Bob Brown remembered. “So we made a foxhole together. It was getting dark and we were so tired. A couple of days later, we had to get in the foxhole. His back was to me and I had my hand on his hip, and when the shrapnel came in, it tore my thumb up. He said, ‘Are you hit?’ and I said ‘yes’. And I asked him if he was hit and he said ‘yes’. So we determined that the same piece of shrapnel went down through my thumb and into his hip. One piece of shrapnel took us both out.”

Bob Brown was born along Indian Creek on Smith Ridge until he got out of Vevay High School in 1937, and spent some time in California before enlisting in the Army and volunteering as a Ranger. That began his journey towards his destiny as a part of the D-Day invasion forces.

“Us Rangers took our training on the cliffs, scaling the cliffs in England to prepare for our landing,” Bob Brown said. “That’s what got us ready for that climb. They taught us how to shoot our harpoon and get it to catch and then get our ladders. It was a fairly simple thing to do.”

Except when he did that in France, he was being shot at at the time.

“Well you really don’t think about things like that,” he said. “You’re just trying to do what they told you to do and do it to the best of your ability. That’s all you can do. You got your orders on what to do and you did it.”

On D-Day, Bob Brown said that he and his fellow soldiers ferried towards Omaha Beach on landing boats with large gates that dropped down on one end to allow the soldiers to get out.

But even that was risky.

“They dumped us out in the water, but they had to get close enough that when we got out we could reach bottom,” Bob Brown said. “We were loaded down with a lot of equipment and ammunition. If they didn’t get close enough, you’d sink to the bottom. There were guys who sank and drowned that day.”

As for the landing.

“It was tough going and you really don’t remember all of it,” he said. “You’re busy and I guess you might say we were scared. It’s a funny thing about that, after you’re in it awhile, you don’t get scared. You just go, go, go. When we got to the top, some of us didn’t make it, and some of us did. It was 12 or 14 hours. We just kept advancing. Kept our heads down and kept moving.”

Once at the top after days of fighting, Bob Brown said that there was an area of level ground where he and his fellow soldiers were supposed to meet up with squads of paratroopers who were being dropped into the area.

“We were about two or three days getting there,” Bob Brown recalled. “And then it was just a fight from there on, putting up with artillery and stuff coming in.”

He fought in France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Germany during the war, spending all of his time in the European Theater.

It was somewhere in the Rhineland that he and his fellow soldiers chased an enemy soldier into a blackberry patch.

“We was advancing and everything seemed to be in good shape, not too much fire. Down the way we saw somebody go in a blackberry patch, maybe a quarter of an acre,” Bob Brown remembered. “When we got up there, we sort of circled it a little bit and wondered what we were going to do.

“All at once I just felt this urge, and I said ‘Wait a minute, let me go in there and I’ll see what’s in there.’

Bob Brown said that he got down and began to slowly crawl back into the blackberry patch, looking around for the person who they had seen go in earlier. All at once, he saw him.

“He was sitting there and I got up within about six foot of him and his legs were out and his head was down like he was praying,” Bob Brown continued, emotions swelling within him. “I got up closer to him and I said, ‘You, me, comrades. Friends.’ He kind of looked at me for a little bit and he kind of softened up. So I said “Come, with me.”

Bob Brown then turned around and had the enemy soldier follow him back out through the blackberries – a dangerous decision, but one made with human kindness.

“I guess I shouldn’t have had him behind me, but I knew that if he stuck his head out of that blackberry patch first, he was a dead man,” Bob Brown said quietly. “He followed me out. We had some guys in our outfit from Italy and they didn’t take no prisoners. They were mad at Germany so much, they just didn’t want to take any of them alive. I gave my opinion that he was my friend, and got somebody to take him back and take care of him.

“I’ve always wondered about him. If he made it back. It was kind of a dangerous thing to do, probably kind of stupid, really. I’ve always felt good about myself. I many not have been able to save his life, but I tried to.”

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Bob Brown earned the European Theater Ribbon, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for his bravery and service in the military.

At the conference, every honoree had the chance to stand up and tell “their story”, and Bob Brown was a part of that. He also had the chance to speak directly with soldiers who were serving in Afghanistan, and there was a question and answer period where those in attendance could ask the honored soldiers questions.

Bob Brown also got to meet SFC Leroy Petry, a U.S. Army soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during a firefight in Afghanistan. He is only the second living recipient of the award for actions that have occurred since the Vietnam War.

In June of next year, Bob has been invited to return to Omaha Beach in France and be a part of a special celebration and observance there.

“I’d like to go,” he said, “But I don’t know if I’ll feel up to it or not. I’d like to see those cliffs again. I never thought anything like this would ever happen to little old Bob Brown from Indian Creek.”

– Pat Lanman