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For a World War II veteran, farming heritage gives way to Uncle Sam

Charles C. Vredenburg, 94

Hometown: Rome, Oneida County

Residence: Springville

Branch: Army

Rank: Corporal

War zone: Europe

Years of service: 1942-45

Most prominent honors: Bronze Star, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal

Specialty: Radio operator

By Lou Michel

News Staff Reporter

Charles C. Vredenburg graduated from Morrisville College with a two-year degree in agriculture and the ambition to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a farmer.

The grandfather had told him that he planned to bequeath him his 160-acre farm in Oneida County. The farm had been in the family for generations. In fact, it went all the way back to the close of the American Revolution.

“My great-great-grandfather had been given the 160 acres for his military service in the Revolutionary War in lieu of money. They didn’t have money to pay the soldiers for their service, so they gave land,” Vredenburg says.

But months after graduating from college and marrying, Vredenburg learned that the American government once again needed the help of his family by way of a draft notice that landed him in the Army for World War II.

The family farm, it turns out, was also called into service for the war effort.

“I was my grandfather’s favorite grandchild. That’s why he was willing it to me, but the government bought his farm, and it became an airfield that’s called Griffiss Air Force Base. My grandfather’s farm is right under the runway covered in concrete,” Vredenburg wryly notes.

Unlike the farm safe back home, Vredenburg was soon shipped off to Europe to serve in the 14th Armored Division, known as “The Liberators.” He was a forward observation radio operator, and the job was anything but safe: “I would go out with a lieutenant and radio the locations of where the enemy was so that our artillery could fire in that direction.”

His duty on the front lines often put him in close contact with the enemy in France, Belgium and Germany.

“We were shot at,” he says, “but thank goodness they missed me.”

He was fortunate, but the same could not be said of his closest combat buddy, Walter Segley of California. They were in a foxhole together taking cover when “a mortar shell came in and got him and didn’t hit me at all.”

To this day, remembering the battlefield death remains an emotional recollection for the 94-year-old Vredenburg. “I wanted to write his family a letter, but I didn’t have an address,” he says. “Years later, when I was home from the war, I wrote them a letter.”

Sadly, there was no response.

“It was too late by then,” Vredenburg says. “Too many years had passed.”

Vredenburg says he was awarded a Bronze Star for what he felt was simply doing a soldier’s job.

“A commander wanted some information in the middle of a battle, and we were up in a church tower and able to tell him where the enemy was in the next town,” he says. “After we radioed the information, the Germans shot artillery at the church tower, and they missed. We got the hell out of there.”

His division was stationed in southern Germany, near the Czechoslovakian border, in May 1945 when the war in Europe ended.

“We were all happy it was over,” he says. “We were ready to go home.”

Back home, the prospect of becoming a farmer was no longer available to him, so rather than follow in his grandfather’s footsteps, he did the next-best thing and followed in his father’s footsteps and worked for the U.S. Postal Service.

“I was clerk and ended up as postmaster in Baldwinsville,” he says.

A number of years ago, while in retirement, he relocated to Springville to be close to his children, Charles Jr. and Yvonne.

A member of the Felton-Burns VFW Post in Springville, Vredenburg says he occasionally reflects on his war service:

“I think that I was a darn lucky fellow.”

Why?

“Because I’m here today.”