He was there: Gerald Thacker was part of D-Day, Battle of the BulgeGerald Thacker graduated from high school in time to join the Army at the outbreak of World War II and got an a expansive tour of Europe in the bargain.
By: Jon Echternacht, Hudson Star-Observer
Gerald Thacker graduated from high school in time to join the Army at the outbreak of World War II and got an a expansive tour of Europe in the bargain.
“I grew up in the Army,” the 86-year-old Thacker said during a conversation in his North Hudson residence on a perfect fall day last week. “I matured. There’s nothing like a war and regimentation of the service to make a man out of you.”
Thacker graduated from Washington High School in Milwaukee in June 1941. After Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, he enlisted in the Army in early 1942 after considering what the Marines and Navy had to offer.
He was trained as a BC Scope operator in an anti-aircraft outfit and was attached as PFC to the 113th Battalion, AAA unit. He spotted airplanes for anti-aircraft guns. “We were part of the 9th Army Air Corps of the 1st Army Division,” he said.
His first stop overseas was North Africa. He was stationed at Bone in Tunis. “The Germans left and 278,000 Italian troops capitulated in North Africa,” he said.
From Africa, his outfit was sent to England where it ultimately prepared for the D-Day invasion in France.
“We were on an LCI in the English Channel,” Thacker recalled as the invasion force mustered. “But the LCI couldn’t land on the beach so we were move to an LSI. We were supposed to land at Omaha Beach but hit Utah Beach instead.”
Thacker said the paratroopers and the infantry went into the invasion first and there was plenty of devastation when his unit hit the beach.
In France, his first stop was at Sainte-Mere-Eglise.
“Sainte-Mere-Eglise was the first city in France to raise the American Flag on D-Day,” he said.
Following the invasion, Thacker’s unit was sent to Paris. “Paris was an open city,” he said, “It wasn’t bombed and was in pretty good shape. Paris is not the best place in the world to send a bunch of GI’s.”
Thacker remembered having Thanksgiving Dinner 1944 in a Japanese building at the University in Paris. “We had turkey and the whole works,” he said.
From Paris, Thacker moved on to Liege, Belgium, in time for the build up to the Battle of the Bulge.
“They (Germans) bombed hell out of Liege with buzz bombs and V-2 rockets. That was the worst part of the war. We dug a lot of men out of the rubble and sent them to the hospital. We lost 81,000 Americans in the Battle of the Bulge.”
The Battle of the Bulge raged from Dec. 14, 1944, to Jan. 16, 1945. “We didn’t even know it was Christmas until afterwards,” Thacker said.
Their first stop in Germany was at Bad Godesberg on the Rhine River, now part of Bonn. It was said to be the first major German city handed over to allied troops without a fight.
Thacker saw Gen. George Patton when he came roaring back into Germany to lend a hand at the Battle of the Bulge. “Our outfit loved him. He came back to Germany to help us during the Bulge,” he said. “Patton wore two pearl-handled pistols, just like the movie. He was half civilian and half army.”
When the war ended in Europe with the announcement of Germany’s unconditional surrender on May, 7, 1945, Thacker said there was a whoop and holler and everybody got a little drunk.
His unit was sent to Marseille, France, next. “We were an 85-point outfit, so they didn’t send us to Japan. We were military police in Marseille and I was a judge,” he said.
He said during that time there were a few cases where Frenchmen would run into American vehicles, then make a claim for a new car.
Japan agreed to unconditional surrender on Sept. 2, 1945, and Thacker arrived home in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1945. “I was glad to be home. I probably enjoyed the service more than most soldiers.”
“I was lucky because I was single. The guys with families had a rough time of it,” he said.
Thacker went to work for Eastman Kodak after the war. He married his wife, Mary Ann, a former Navy Wave, in 1949. They were married 55 years and raised three children who all earned master’s degrees including Dave, Forest Lake, Minn., Bob, Cresco, Iowa, and Patty, Hudson.
Mary Ann died in 2002 and is buried at Ft. Snelling Cemetery.
Thacker moved to Hudson in 17 years ago and then to North Hudson in 2003.
Veterans Day ceremony
The annual Veterans Day ceremony is scheduled Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. in front of the St. Croix County Government Center.
The guest speaker for the event is Hudson Mayor Dean Knudson.
Also participating in the event are the Veterans Memorial Color Guard members of VFW Post 2115 and American Legion Post 50; master of ceremonies John Helgeson; Veteran Services Officer Merlin Blaisdell and; VFW Chaplin Dave Kvarnes. The Hudson High School band and fifth graders from Hudson Prairie Elementary will also participate.