World War Two veteran recalls wartime experiences as combat medic

PARIS — Ralph Grinnell, native of Lake County, was on the front-lines as a combat medic. Serving in the 289th Infantry regiment, he was part of the 75th Infantry Division, who were influential in driving back enemy forces during the Battle of the Bulge and Colmar Pocket.

A couple years after graduating from the Chase village School, Grinnell answered the call for his country.

He said people who knew he was going into the army treated him kindly.

“The man who owned a gas station in town, Mr. Finch, said ‘You are a soldier. You get your gas free.’ He was a quiet nice guy.”

Grinnell went to Kalamazoo for his physical, and shortly after, he and Dick Pontz were given a ride to Baldwin where the young men took a train to Fort Custer.

During training, Grinnell went through rigorous medical instruction and was sent to hospital barracks where he learned to take people’s temperatures and check their pulse. He was also trained in giving injections.

“My first shot was given to a nurse who hurt her back,” he said. “I was so nervous, but she said that was the best shot she ever had. When I was giving injections to soldiers one guy kept running to the back of the line until he was the last to get his shot. I sneaked over to him and gave him a shot without him knowing. As I was leaving I tapped him and said, ‘You are all done. You can go now.’ They guy was shocked. He didn’t know I gave him a shot.”

After training in the U.S. he left New York in Nov. 1944, and landed in England. Soon after arrival he was on the scene of action in France. Grinnell would go to the front lines to carry the wounded soldiers back to aid stations for treatment.

“The first night we were there we set out to help the 106th. We were going to back up the division, or what was left of it, at the Bulge. We arived about midnight, and by 9 a.m. we had them on the run,” he said.

He said his division was called the Diaper Division because the average age was 19, but his division soon earned a reputation for not backing down to the enemy. They became known as the Buldge Busters for their action in stopping the German army from advancing further into France, and their division recorded the largest number of surrendering enemies captured in a single operation.

“As combat medics, there were a lot of creeks and small rivers we had to carry wounded across on a littler. We would walk through ice and get ice and water in our boots, but we kept going until we got to the aid station. For this reason some of the soldiers said they wouldn’t trade jobs with us,” he said.

After Germany’s surrender, he and other field medics didn’t leave, but were assigned to several displacement camps throughout Germany, helping treat numerous Jewish, Polish, Czech, Soviet and other concentration camp victims who were mostly women and children.

“After the war we were commended by several prominent leaders for our action in combat, including General Eisenhower and Winston Churchill.”

Grinnell earned medals during the war, but didn’t receive them until 2008, with the help of Congressman Dave Camp. These medals include the Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern campaign medal with three bronze service stars; WWII victory medal and honorable service lapel button.

“I never talked to anyone about what I went through, but reconsidered during a historical meeting at the Chase Library when Dennis Allison, a Vietnam Vet, and Howard McDonald, who served in Korea, told me that no one will know what I went through if I didn’t tell,” said Grinnell.