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Fighting two wars in two uniforms

Allen Wanderlich missed out on the Normandy invasion, but Uncle Sam managed to get him over to Europe in time for the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944.

A member of the 84th Infantry, Wanderlich made it through the battle without a scratch and participated in other battles.

"As we progressed into Germany with just about two weeks left before the war ended, the Germans opened up on us with machine guns, and 22 of our guys and the company commander were killed."

Using his 60 mm mortar, Wanderlich was able to distract the Germans, who took cover every time he sent a shell their way.

"That allowed our riflemen and machine gunners to move forward. A lot of the Germans were killed."

The strategic use of his mortar earned Wanderlich, 19 at the time, a Silver Star.

In another battle, as he and his comrades charged deeper into enemy territory, he recalled running across an open field.

"My right foot felt sweaty. I looked, and I saw there was blood, so I went to a medic. A bullet had gone through my right calf. The medic sent me to a battalion aid station. When I looked at the wound, I felt real, real good. I thought I had a million dollar wound, and I'd be out of the war."

No such luck.

A doctor cleaned out the leg wound, bandaged it "and I walked back to my unit."

After U.S. forces routed German soldiers from Hanover in a one-day battle, Wanderlich encountered sights he would never forget.

"Later that day or the next morning, we saw a German concentration camp. There were a lot of dead people, but we didn't really look. You sort of take a glance."

When he ran into Polish-speaking prisoners, he stopped and spoke with them in their native tongue.

"I was fluent in Polish, and they were so damn glad to see us," he said.

The horror of war was not yet over for Wanderlich.

"After we took over Hanover, we moved forward and liberated a POW camp. The GIs were so thin, you could see their ribs sticking out. We were under orders not to give them anything to eat. We could give them water and cigarettes, but that was it. They walked through our lines so slowly. They could barely walk."

Seeing other human beings starving, even German civilians, he said, had become an all too common sight.

"At least we soldiers had K-rations," he said.

Back home, he returned to a feast.

Wanderlich arrived at his family's Wood Avenue residence on Buffalo's East Side in the early evening of Dec. 24, 1945.

"I was home in time for my family's traditional Christmas Eve dinner," he said. "I walked in a rear door, and they were all so surprised to see me."

In late 1949, Wanderlich joined the Air Force because he wanted to get an education in electronics.

"The Air Force had the finest school for radar and electronics," he said of his reason for signing up.

But the Korean War, which started in 1950, interrupted his education.

"Because I had radar training, I ended up in a B-29 bomb squadron and flew several missions over North Korea," he said.

During those flights, he often thought about the U.S. infantry personnel on the ground.

"I knew that the infantrymen didn't have the kind of training that we had when I was in the 84th Infantry in World War II," he said. "A lot of soldiers were killed in Korea, and it was unnecessary. They'd been trained for occupation duty, not combat."

After the Korean War, he decided to leave the military and worked at the former Wurlitzer plant in North Tonawanda, then at the Sylvania television factory in Batavia before finally opening up a TV repair shop.

"I started in my apartment on Rother Street and then bought a property on Sycamore Street, working 14 and 16 hour days including Sundays," he said. "My wife, Maryann, and I were raising four children."

He retired in the late 1980s and in 1994 moved to Lockport.

Memories of the two wars he served in are never distant.

"Why should there be war? If only they could kill people like Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler," he said. "It is too bad we just couldn't press a button and do that, instead of so many other people getting killed."


Allen Wanderlich, age, 85

Hometown: Buffalo

Residence: Lockport

Branch: Army, Air Force

Rank: Private 1st class; airman 1st class

War zone: World War II, Korean War

Years of service: Drafted 1944 -- 1947; enlisted, 1949 -- 1953

Most prominent honors: Combat Infantry Badge, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart

Specialties: Infantry, radar