Like many American boys, Ray Schwalm had just graduated from high school and was planning a fly fishing trip with his brother and his high school history teacher when Allied armies landed in France on D-Day.
But a few months later, he was in the Army. At the age of 18, Michigan native Ray Schwalm was drafted into World War II.
“When I was drafted, I went to service my country,” Schwalm said.
He was assigned to Fort Knox, where he began universal training and became a licensed tank driver. He and his fellow tankers traveled across the North Atlantic, where Schwalm joined a company in the 10th Armored Division.
“We were a task force…five platoons of five tanks each,” Schwalm said. “It was a company of armored infantry and half-tracks, and platoons of combat engineers, and we were operating out in the front line. We were, as you will see…they said, ‘terrify and destroy,’ but we were out to cut communications and to penetrate.”
Schwalm drove a Sherman tank across France into Germany. When his company reached east Germany, portions of his battalion were cut off with no supplies.
“They could not fly in, because the airport was under fire,” Schwalm explained.
Schwalm said some members of his company were chosen to take supplies to the crew. As they were driving through the hills, they came across a truck with five-gallon gasoline cans.
“I am sure those Germans wanted that gasoline desperately, but they had someway disabled that vehicle later,” Schwalm said.
With the road blocked, a commander said the truck had to be moved.
“I was a kid. The rest of the guys were older, had families,” Schwalm said. “So I volunteered to be the guy to get out of the tank, hook up the truck to the back of tank and drive it while they pulled it. Well, I did that, and you have to understand under those circumstances, even though you are under fire and stuff, the endurance takes over and you are in charge.”
“You have no fear…well, I had no fear at that point at all. I had a job to do, and I did it.”
As his tank began to pull the truck out of a ditch, Schwalm became entangled in the cable hooked to the truck.
“All of a sudden, they pulled me right over the ditch and I tipped over,” Schwalm said. “My feet are all tangled. All of the jacks and stuff were loose and dangled up all around my feet, and I could not get out.”
Schwalm said he is still not sure how he escaped. But because of his efforts, he was awarded a Bronze Star.
“All of those guys were heroes,” Schwalm said. “I take no…credit for what I did.”
After six months overseas, Schwalm returned home to the states and finished his military service at Fort Meade, where he became a staff sergeant. At the age of 20, he was discharged from the military.
“I try to forget it. Once in a while, things come up…things. I have gotten to the point where I have a World War II hat, and I have decided to put that away,” Schwalm said. “I do not want to wear it anymore.”
Schwalm’s Bronze Star hangs in his home office. He said his role in the war was minor, compared to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.
“There are millions of guys out there…millions who, every day in combat, were heroes,” Schwalm said. “Those people were real heroes.”