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WWII soldier tells not-so-traditional war stories


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#1 JCFalkenbergIII

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Posted 15 August 2008 - 04:52 PM

WWII soldier tells not-so-traditional war stories in new book

By Tanya Rose
Contra Costa Times

Article Launched: 08/14/2008 07:52:24 PM PDT




CONCORD — He was never promoted above private first class in the Army because he was a self-proclaimed horse's patoot, an ornery soldier who did everything but follow orders.
He had brushes with Gen. George Patton — the Patton — and thought he came off as a crazy man, a nutter. And Ralph Bittner, now 86, didn't "do beans" to get that Bronze Star he has sitting on a card table in his neat Concord apartment.
These are not the war stories you usually hear from a World War II veteran. If you want the regular kind, you won't find them in Bittner's book, "A Soldier's Vignettes of WWII," a short, amusing look at the author's wartime antics.
"They handed those (Bronze Star) medals out like candy — I don't care beans about it," he said from his apartment this week. "It's like when a barber hands a lollipop to a kid to keep him from squalling. It's a bunch of bull."
He sounds bitter and unpatriotic, but read his book for more than a minute and you're belly-laughing at the absurdity, recalling the first time you read Joseph Heller's "Catch 22."
Bittner was born in Connellsville, Pa., one of 15 children. He enlisted in the Army before his 20th birthday based on a government newspaper advertisement that said he would get to choose his military career path. That was a lie, he said. But he realized that too late — after he'd signed on the dotted line. The officer in the enlistment office laughed at his naivete, and Bittner vowed revenge.

"That officer ruined a good soldier," he says. "No one lies to me and laughs about it."
And that was it, the tone that would mark the rest of his military career — all three years, four months, five days and 11½ hours of it.
While in Arlon, Belgium, Bittner had his first brush with Patton and his "frantic antics." He first saw Patton, a well-known Army general later immortalized in a movie, bumping down a road in a Jeep with red flags on both fenders. All the generals had convened at a house for a meeting on Dec. 23, 1944, Bittner recalled, just days before Bittner's corps drove through Bastogne. Bittner described a line of Jeeps parked in a line in front of the house.
Normally, that kind of parking pattern would be a dead giveaway to any enemy flying overhead that important people were grouped together. But on that day, the skies were overcast, which made it tough for air observation, Bittner noted. Omar Bradley, one of the main U.S. Army field commanders in North Africa and Europe during the war, was in that house, too.
Afterward, Bittner was standing there holding the staff car's door open for Bradley when Bradley stopped and stood against Bittner's right shoulder and then Patton stood pressed against his left shoulder facing the house and the rest of the generals. That's when it happened.
Bittner wrote: "Patton looked past my nose and Bradley's and spotted all those Jeeps lined up ... and went ballistic and screamed, 'What in (expletive) are all those (expletive) Jeeps parked out in the (expletive) open for?' "
Bradley then leaned across Bittner and quietly explained to Patton about the overcast skies, then said, "George, there is no sense moving the Jeeps now, we're leaving."
Patton turned and screamed at the drivers, who had rallied moments before: "What are you moving those Jeeps now for? We're leaving!"
Bittner never participated in a gun battle, but he was present during the famous 90-degree turnaround at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. He shot his gun only once — at enemy aircraft overhead, to the chorus of superiors laughing at him for trying something so futile. Throughout the book, there are tidbits like this:
"It was a maniac's plan and (Adolf) Hitler was a very rattled maniac by then. A few months before, he had almost been blown up in his Wolf's Lair."
Bittner's family has always pestered him about writing a book. Then his niece gave him a laptop computer last year, and at 85, he learned to type and wrote a book. It took eight months, and now his book is available on Amazon.com and by special order at bookstores.
He's not proud of his wartime service, but he is proud that he's lived a long time. What's his secret? Being ornery, he says.
He doesn't take life too seriously. Everyone needs a mischievous streak every now and then to feel alive, he said

WWII soldier tells not-so-traditional war stories in new book - ContraCostaTimes.com
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For the first time I have seen "History" at close quarters,and I know that its actual process is very different from what is presented to Posterity. - WWI General Max Hoffman.




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