Veteran Recalls Service in West Germany During the Vietnam Era
Dan Bruno: Veterans' participation in educational programs are vital so that children today have an opportunity to "meet live history."
Americans will gather to remember Memorial Day May 30 to honor those who have died serving our country.
For Daniel Bruno, military service had a dual purpose: honoring not only his homeland but his late father.
Bruno, post commander of the Elmhurst American Legion T.H.B. Post #187 in Elmhurst, was as an infantry squad leader with the rank of Sergeant E5. Unlike many who saw combat during the Vietnam War, Bruno went to democratic West Germany from 1966 to 1968.
As a student at Wright Junior College in Chicago in the mid-1960s, Bruno recalled how he was against the Vietnam War.
“It was quite popular to oppose the war because the war was not an act of Congress. The war was by presidential order,” he said. “It was called the Bay of Tonkin resolution. Though some students were more anti-war than I was, I felt that it was not a legal war because the U.S. Congress did not vote on it.”
While Bruno had his opinions, his father, Lawrence, a World War II veteran, provided a different point of view. Lawrence was a combat engineer who served under General George S. Patton for five years. As an engineer, he earned the rank of Technical Grade 5 Sergeant.
“He and I spent many nights on the back porch arguing in favor or against the war,” Bruno said. “My father won the arguments. He had encouraged me to serve in the military.”
Lawrence also asked his son to serve his country on his behalf.
“In honoring my father, I went and did my service to my country in his honor, because that's what he wanted me to do,” Bruno said. “My father wanted me to do my very best and to not be a slacker or slough it off. I had promised my father that not only would I do my best, but that I would get a higher rank than he did when he came out of the service. We laughed about this, and he said, ‘You really have to do a lot of work.’ My father was in service during the war for a longer time than I was.”
When Daniel Bruno attended college, there was a draft and he had a student deferment. He was drafted in May 1966, after he graduated in 1965.
“When you’re called to active service, you had no choice as to whether you would be in the Army, Navy or the Marine Corps at that time,” he said. “Luckily for me, the day I was drafted, they put me in the Army. I very well could have gone into the Marine Corps. If I was drafted into the Marine Corps, the only duty station that would have been (available to) me was Vietnam. By being drafted into the Army, this gave me the opportunity to serve my country in other areas than Vietnam.”
Bruno’s assignment was to become an infantry soldier and study anti-tank warfare in California. The Defense Department, he explained, needed people like Bruno to help West Germany. The situation between the former republics was described as a “tank war.”
“Because of our agreement to support West Germany, 500,000 troops were put in that part of Germany,” he said. “The mission was to defend West Germany against the Russians, who were in East Germany, and they had a lot of heavy tanks and artillery that were in place.”
West Germany was created in 1949 when the United States, England and France consolidated areas they had occupied at the end of World War II. East Germany, formerly known as the German Democratic Republic and also created in 1949, was controlled by the Soviet Union. With the destruction of Berlin Wall in 1989, the two republics were unified as a country in 1990.
Arriving in West Germany, was a “shocking” experience for the new Army recruit. He was stationed in Gillenhausen, protecting a valley called Folda Gap.
“When we came to Germany, I thought I was in Wisconsin,” he said. “The terrain and the country’s climate were similar to being in Wisconsin. Post World War II reconstruction had already taken place, so there weren’t any bombed-out areas. It was either metropolitan or agricultural type areas.”
He said the people were very friendly and polite. They knew of the Americans’ mission and also wanted them to respect their heritage.
“Part of the German culture is that the citizens are very industrial and scientific,” he said. “Some of the people were inventors and engineers. These people were well-educated. You learned to respect them.”
Bruno’s tour of duty ended in May of 1968 and he returned to Chicago. He had fulfilled his time for training and active duty.
“It was always in my mind that I didn’t do enough,” he said. “The war in Vietnam was more important at that time than us being in West Germany. The service of our country was fine, but was I really doing enough?"
Looking back at his military experience, he credits the Americans for helping Germany become what it is today.
“Shortly after the Berlin Wall fell, there was a lessening of Americans in duty there while Germany became more and more powerful,” he said. “All of that wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t have troops in West Germany so that we could help them establish a democracy. Before that, Germany was either in a socialist situation or a nobility. We helped them make a transition into a modern Germany.”
From the 1970s to the 1990s, Bruno worked in various positions for companies such as AT&T Teletype, International Harvester and Kraft Foods.
He believes that keeping history alive will educate new generations. Through an American Legion program, veterans volunteer to share their stories with elementary students.
“Those children have an experience that’s almost unbelievable because they have a chance to meet live history,” he said. “If we don’t have programs like that, or you telling the story to future generations, they wouldn’t know.
"A lot of times, people today go into service, they’re volunteering to go and it’s a job for them. For me, it wasn’t a job; it was a case of honor. We went out and did what we could for the country because the country called us to serve.”
For more information about the Elmhurst American Legion's events and programs, visit www.americanlegionthb187.org.