Mann: “Germans Were Trying To Get Rid Of Me”
“They (the Army) joined me up. I didn’t join them,” reflected Buck Valley area resident Bruce Mann of that fateful day in 1942 when he opened his mail to find he was being drafted by the military for its efforts against Hitler’s movement.
Having only turned 18 years old three months earlier and finding suitable employment at Fairchild, Mann’s life would soon be turned upside down as he and other draftees were given an initial nod of physical approval and sent on to Fort Mc- Clellan to begin eight weeks of basic training.
The son of Espy and Laura Mann, of Piney Plains, just outside of Little Orleans, Md., Mann noted he was “too young to think much about being scared” or where his newfound career in the United States Army would take him. Small in stature, Mann jests he still had a lot of growing up to do both physically and mentally at that time.
Basic training, according to Mann, included shooting techniques and an overall strengthening of physical endurance in preparation for his time abroad. As “mum” is typically the word in the military, Mann was unsure where he and fellow infantry members of the Third Division were headed, but an eight-day ship ride from Norfolk, Va., through treacherous waters brought him to Casablanca on the tip of Morocco.
Nearly 1,000 men were aboard that boat, said Mann, and during the trip they averted a run-in with an enemy submarine. It was by train and later by boxcar that the group finally found themselves on Anzio Beach, Italy, in 1944.
“It was at least a week we were in that boxcar. They loaded us in like cattle,” Mann, 86, stated.
On the sandy beach with no shelter to be found, Mann related the mountains in the area formed a horse shoeshaped enclosure around them. From the tops of those mountains Germans eventually began taking aim at the
Allied Forces infantry.
“There was no cover. You dug a foxhole with a fold-up shovel, and you laid low,” said Mann, who reported the fighting in Italy didn’t last long, and the majority of his division’s time was devoted to travelling. At 19, Mann had yet to fire a shot as tank gunner and never had an opportunity present itself over a five-to-six-month time frame where he could fatally wound a German.
Unfortunately for Mann, German soldiers seemed to have a penchant for shooting at him. “They (the Germans) tried to kill me. They were really trying to get rid of me,” he said.
Due to his small, sturdy frame, which rapidly depleted from 163 to 119 pounds, Mann’s captain believed him to be a perfect candidate for the position of “runner.” His newfound title repeatedly took him to the front lines with important messages.
“I think they kind of took pity on me. I was always little, never very big,” Mann said. “I remember the captain saying “why in the devil did they send you?” He made me a runner ... I always got my messages through though. It felt like I was going 50 miles per hour. I sure couldn’t move that fast now.”
Finding himself whizzing between gunshots and explosions, Mann was hit by shrapnel in the hip during the cover of darkness at a crossroads the military was guarding. “The explosion picked me up. It blew my rifle and helmet clean away,” he said.
Mann dragged himself to a nearby house used by officers to ask for help. He was taken to a makeshift hospital, a big tent on the beach, where he laid side-by-side with a German soldier receiving treatment.
Mann stated to this day he can’t understand why hospital officials were doctoring up a prisoner of war. He assumes it was the military’s way of treating the enemy with kindness.
After the initial removal of the shrapnel, Mann was transferred to the 300th General Hospital located in Naples, Italy, where he underwent several more surgeries due to the wound not healing. The additional lay-up in the hospital, which cost him five months and three days, may have saved Mann’s life.
“I was saving time, and it probably saved my life because I missed out on the big invasion at Normandy,” Mann recalled.
Awarded the Purple Heart as well as a Good Conduct medal, Mann never returned to battle. Returning to the states, he was sent to Arizona to train soldiers for the Army. “Trying every trick in the book” to get out of Arizona, Mann was eventually transferred to the Army Air Corps, where he served as a corporal of the guard. His only regret was not spending more time in the Air Corps before returning to Fulton County and his wife, Velma (Bishop) Mann, whom he previously tied the knot with while on furlough.
Corresponding during the war effort through letters, Velma said she still cherishes the letter that contains her marriage proposal. Married 66 years this year, the couple raised two children and continue to call their small farm on Lehman Road home.
Over the years many generations of the Mann family have put themselves on the front line of various war efforts.
Fulton County native and geneaologist Bob McKinley shared with the “ News” Mann’s great-great-great grandfather, the Honorable David Mann, served as a major in the Pennsylvania Militia. According to McKinley, at the age of 22, David Mann went on to be elected a commissioner in neighboring Bedford County, a position he filled acceptably until 1807. In 1812 he was reappointed, and again in 1815.
At the expiration of his term of office, David Mann was elected senator of the district of Bedford, Somerset and Cambria counties. In 1824 he was appointed by Gov. Shultz auditor general and later reappointed in 1828.
In addition, Bruce Mann’s great-great-great-great grandfather, Capt. Andrew Mann, Esq. fought in the Revolutionary War. Born in Alsace, German, Capt. Mann fought in both the Battle of Brandywine and the Battle of Germantown.