For most of his life, Samuel Brummer did not care to discuss his combat experiences in World War II.
“Once I got out of the Army, I wanted to forget it,” he told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview from his home in North Caldwell.
“I did not want to know anybody or see anybody from the Army. We were very close while we were in it, but once I got out I wanted to forget the whole thing. It took me years. I couldn’t wait to get out of my Army clothes.”
Then slowly, over the past few years, Brummer began sharing his private memories of landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy in June of 1944.
He manned a 105-mm Howitzer as part of the 29th Infantry Division, and fired his heavy artillery in the face of strong German opposition as part of the massive invasion that would set the war into its final stages and the surrender of the Nazis.
In 2006, Sen. Frank Lautenberg visited the Brummer family business, Hobby’s Delicatessen in downtown Newark, to present him with a Bronze Star for his bravery.
And last month, Brummer was honored once again along with 15 other veterans of the invasion, when they were appointed Chevaliers of the Legion of Honor of the French Republic — citations equivalent to America’s highest military award, the Congressional Medal of Honor.
The men accepted their honor at a Sept. 30 ceremony at the French consulate in New York.
“This was a very moving ceremony,” said Brummer’s wife, Rona. “The French were wonderful. They were very hospitable to the vets and their families. It blew my mind.”
Brummer went years without telling his family much about the war.
“I never talked about it. I couldn’t,” said Brummer.
But now, he is willing to share some of his grim recollections of a time when, he said, “nobody expected us to survive.”
More than 10,000 Allied forces died in the decisive battle of World War II. Brummer told NJJN he lived life “day-to-day,” during the incursion managing to survive “in a deep foxhole.
For him, the invasion began on a landing craft, as he fired heavy artillery at the Nazis. “We couldn’t get ashore the first day because the Germans were there on Omaha Beach and they were firing at us, and if a shell landed on us, we were dead. We were 150 to 200 yards offshore and everybody was seasick. We couldn’t wait to get off.”
Once he finally reached the shore, the Germans continued to fire at them.
“There were dead bodies all over the place,” he said. “We had to move the bodies in order to get to the path to get to the cliff. It was a struggle.
“Then we fought our way into St. Lo through the hedgerows. We took St. Lo, but our division was decimated,” said Brummer. “Then they sent us to Brittany and we took Brest. It is unbelievable how anybody was able to survive. We took direct fire from everybody but we overwhelmed them.”
As the troops battled from town to town, Brummer said, he remembers French civilians cheering them on.
“We were being shelled by the Germans but the French people did not care. They just lined the streets and hugged us. That was very exciting.”
Rona was dubious when her husband received a letter from the French government a few months ago.
“I said to Sam, ‘This is a hoax. Probably somebody wants to steal our identity,’” she said. After two days of telephoning, she finally reached someone at the French Embassy in Washington, DC, who confirmed the honor was for real.
Their sons, Michael and Marc, who assist their father in running the landmark family business, were equally impressed.
“There is a reason they call his the ‘greatest generation.’ It is so aptly named. He has an indomitable spirit,” said Marc.
“Usually it’s the parents have naches from their kids. This is a time when the kids have naches from their parent,” he added.