Stories from the front
Decorated WWII veteran shares stories of bravery in midst of adversity
September 01, 2010TRI-CITY AREA — The remnants of Carl Frantz's World War II military service are modest.
The Capac resident calmly relates memories—some lighthearted—of crisscrossing Europe and camping out in the African desert. His medals and photos are smartly arranged in a framed collage. He has no physical scars to point to. Even his discharge documents are sedate.
But it doesn't take long before his stories reveal the extreme danger he encountered on several occasions. Take a second look at his medals, and the meaning behind each one, and it's obvious that Carl was in the middle of some fierce combat during those dark days in the 1940s.
Early last month the 90 year-old chatted with American Legion members Ted Collom and John Mulder, veterans from a later era, at the Imlay City home of his sister, Joyce Dennis.
Carl enlisted with the Army at Fort Custer in November 1941 and was in the midst of training at New Jersey's Fort Dix when the bombs fell on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 of that same year.
He sailed to Africa as part of the Fifth United States Army in August 1943. The trip took two weeks. Carl said he'd never experienced temperatures as hot as it was in Algeria and Morocco.
"Men were wringing wet with sweat, like they'd been standing out in the rain," he recalls.
|Despite all the combat he saw during his enlistment, Carl Frantz was never injured. photo by Maria Brown.|
From there the Fifth moved north and participated in the Allied invasion of Italy in 1943.
Carl was on beach patrol at Anzio during one particularly fierce nighttime air raid by the Axis.
"The planes came over. They dropped flares first, then the bombs came," he said.
He sought shelter under the axle of his weapons carrier. The next morning he and some buddies surveyed the damage to find an intact bomb lodged in the sand not three feet from where they'd taken refuge.
After advancing north and eventually taking Rome, several divisions of the Fifth Army were sent to France to take part in Operation Overlord, the Allied's code name for invasion of Nazi-held western Europe.
Carl was transferred from his artillery job to the 63rd Infantry Division.
Combat in the French and German countryside was intense. Carl recalls dodging mortars in the middle of the day while out looking for provisions.
While traveling through one town, a seemingly generous French man offered breakfast to the soldiers. Carl said the man pointed them to a back room of the house and there were two German soldiers whom Carl and the others quickly apprehended.
"Those poor guys," Carl said of the German men.
"They went through it rough too."
Besides the enemy, Carl encountered a few familiar faces too. He ran into fellow Imlay City native Jake VanDoeselaar while traveling on a tank. In Naples, Italy, he saw Ralph Zuhlke, also of Imlay City. Zuhlke was a cook and made a pie just for Carl which he fondly remembers.
Carl was in Austria when V-E Day—March 8, 1945—arrived.
Amazingly, Carl escaped being injured.
"All that combat, and I never got a scratch," he said, shaking his head in disbelief.
"The Lord really looked after me."
His medals include a Bronze Star for "heroic or meritorious achievement of service...in connection with operations against an opposing armed force" and a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal for service in the theater between 1941-1945 (with one silver service star for five campaigns—Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, Northern Appennines, Rhineland, Central Europe).
Also on his lapel were Army Good Conduct, American Defense Service, American Campaign and Victory medals.
Carl can chuckle now about the inconveniences he knew as a soldier. While in the desert of Northern Africa, the troops set up a movie projector for entertainment but everytime the film began to roll, the air raid sirens would send them scurrying.
"I never did see the end of that movie," Carl says with a smile.
One Thanksgiving, while on guard duty, Carl was attempting to eat dinner in the pouring rain.
"The water was running off my helmet right onto the plate. The turkey was swimming," he remembers.
Carl became an impromptu barber while in Germany. He happened upon some hand clippers in a bombed-out building and before he knew it, Carl was cutting hair.
"Just like that, I had customers, probably 20 in one day," he said with a smile.
Carl admits he wasn't a professional. He nicked the ear of a lieutenant who was on his way to report to commanding officers in Paris. He took those hand clippers home and for many years used them to give haircuts to youngsters in the Frantz family.
His overseas service was complete in October 1945. His five day trip back to the States was on the ocean liner Queen Mary.
Once in New York, he boarded a train headed west to Fort Sheridan in Illinois. Carl recalls that the train passed through Capac and Imlay City on the way. He said daylight was just breaking as the train rolled through. He hoped to see a familiar face but considering the hour, no one was stirring.
Carl, by then Corporal Carl Frantz, was discharged November 19, 1945. He and his young family returned to Michigan. He worked on several farms before purchasing his own place on Petz Rd. in Mussey Twp. in 1954 and has lived there ever since.
He and Virginia had four children—Carl Ray, Karen, Phillip and Becky. Phillip died three days after he was born. Virginia passed away seven years ago.
Carl worries that younger generations don't appreciate or care to learn more about the war but that shouldn't be a problem within the Frantz family.
"He was fortunate...he came back from the war when a lot of men didn't," said Carl's nephew Ron Dennis.
If men and women hadn't sacrificed their lives for this country back then, society might look much different today.
"People would be saluting someone everytime they walked into a room," Ron said.
Maria Brown joined the Tri-City Times staff in 2003, the same year she earned a bachelor's degree in English from Calvin College. Born and raised in Imlay City, she now resides north of Capac where she enjoys working on the farm, gardening and reading.