Janesville vet recalls memories of WWII

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Mike DuPre'
Monday, November 12, 2007
— Bob Prueher was awarded the nation’s second highest medal for valor—the Distinguished Service Cross for wiping out a Japanese machine-gun nest on Okinawa during World War II.

But he’s quick to say he’s no hero.

“Absolutely not. You do what you have to do at the time,” Prueher said. “The heroes are still there. The heroes did not get home.

“George and Frank are heroes.”

George and Frank—Prueher’s younger brothers—died in World War II.

George served with Company A of the 192nd Tank Battalion, the famous Tank Company also known as “The Janesville 99.” George died of tropical diseases in 1942 in a Japanese POW camp.

Frank—his given name was Franklin—was killed Christmas Eve 1944 when a German U-boat torpedoed his troop transport in the English Channel.

A fourth brother, Bernard, came home safely after flying 30 bomber missions over Europe.

Looking much younger than his 89 years, Prueher led the Pledge of Allegiance on Sunday at the Veterans Day commemoration at Janesville’s Traxler Park.

On Saturday, he talked of his war experiences: four Pacific Theater campaigns that took him from fierce fighting in the cold Aleutian Islands to an artillery-swept atoll in the Marshall Islands to the steaming jungles of The Philippines and finally to Okinawa.

To his surprise, “Okinawa looked like Wisconsin, pine trees, vegetable gardens, Easter lilies growing wild. Easter lilies are indigenous to Okinawa.”

The island also was home to 100,000 Japanese troops, and the battle for it became the costliest of the Central Pacific: 12,500 Americans killed, 36,500 GIs wounded and 110,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians killed.

Prueher became one of the wounded—in the same action that won him the Distinguished Service Cross.

“It’s a highly exaggerated award,” he said quietly.

Yes, he was the supply sergeant who took command of his embattled company after all the officers and the first sergeant were killed or wounded—or refused to take command as the lieutenant leading the heavy-weapons platoon did.

And yes, he scrambled 30 yards up a hill across fairly open ground, blasting away with a Tommy gun and throwing grenades to knock out the machine gun and kill five or six of the enemy.

But he wasn’t alone—“there were a couple of guys right with me”—and he doesn’t think he also wiped out a Japanese mortar as his citation reads.

“That mortar was probably knocked out by our mortars.”

And he remembered “doing what I told everybody not to do—stand up and see what was going on. I saw the Japanese rifleman come to the top of the ridge, and it felt like I looked him right in the eye. As I fired, I saw him fire.”

Prueher never learned the enemy rifleman’s fate, but after his second operation, a Naval surgeon told him he was lucky to survive.

Over the weekend, he remembered those who did not survive:

“Just before all this happened, we got a group of 15 or 20 replacements. They came the night before, and I assigned them to the platoons. … Most of them were hit before morning. They hadn’t been in the company even six hours.

“I’d been in the Army five years, and here’s these guys just out of high school. I think these guys never got a chance at life. That’s what I think about my younger brothers. They were so young, 21 and 22. …

“And that’s what I think when I see these young kids going over now (to Iraq and Afghanistan) the second and third times: What are we doing to these kids?”

Last updated: 11:05 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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