Before Edward J. Fuhrmann entered the Second World War, he worked as a bricklayer apprentice, learning a skill that he later would parlay into a contracting business, building a shopping center, motels, factories and numerous other structures.
But before he could get to his business, World War II came along. And Fuhrmann traveled across thousands of nautical miles to island battles in the Pacific, transforming the 18-year-old into a toughened warrior.
“When we landed at New Guinea, we had to climb down the ropes on the side of ship and swim to the shore wearing life preservers. As I swimming, I saw a head floating in the water, and it turned out to be from a Japanese soldier. I took the head and put it up on the shore.”
That simple show of dignity for another human being was the best he could manage at the time. He was, after all, focused on preserving his own life.
“We were being strafed by enemy aircraft. I had to dig a foxhole for cover,” says Fuhrmann, a member of the security detail for the 251st Station Hospital.
More battles followed.
“We drove the Japanese from New Guinea to New Britain, then from New Britain to the Philippines. There, we had an incident where a Japanese officer had surrendered to us, but the Philippine military took him away and hung him,” said Fuhrmann, who still feels sympathy for the officer.
“He was hungry and tired and he surrendered, but there was nothing we could do about it when he was taken from us. We were outnumbered and didn’t want to start fighting with the Philippine military who at that point in time hated the Japanese.”
Fuhrmann and thousands of other Americans soon boarded troop ships to sail for invasion of Japan.
But while on the way, the world’s first two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war in August 1945.
“I was scared to hell about invading Japan,” he says, adding that he and his fellow soldiers were relieved that the war abruptly concluded.
Yet there was apprehension. They wondered whether when they landed as an occupation force, the Japanese would continue to fight.
“We didn’t know if they would keep fighting or if they really did surrender. But when we landed, the Japanese people were frightened and hungry, and we fed them,” Fuhrmann recalls.
And if he needed further proof that the war had ended, Fuhrmann remembers standing on the shores of Tokyo Bay and watching history occur.
“I watched from maybe 1,000 feet away as a large crowd of people were signing documents on the deck of USS Missouri,” Fuhrmann says.
“From a distance, I was watching the official surrender of Japan.”
He says he cherishes that memory: “I’d been through the war, and seeing that was a fantastic time.”
The Army offered him an officer’s commission, Fuhrmann says, but he was unwilling to enlist for three years. “I wanted to come home,” he says.
And that, he did, returning to his job as a union bricklayer at Local 45, where he worked a number of years before starting his own general contracting business – Edward J. Fuhrmann & Co. Inc.
Among the projects his company built were Southgate Plaza, area Holiday Inns and a “ratproof” storage building for General Mills.
A father of five children, Fuhrmann lives beside a golf course he built, Foxfire, in North Carolina and spends his days playing golf and often going to church.
With those two activities, you might say, Fuhrmann has found a bit of heaven on earth.
Edward J. Fuhrmann, 92
Hometown: West Seneca; lived in East Aurora for many years
Residence: Seven Lakes, N.C.
War zone: Pacific
Years of service: 1942-45
Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, Philippines Liberation Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge
Speciality: Field hospital security