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Contributed photo
“We left Czechoslovakia after the war was over, taking a box car back to the coast of France to wait for a ship to pick us up,” said Ralph Brauser, pictured, on left. “The Red Cross was serving coffee and donuts one morning, and I was waiting in line, when all of a sudden someone grabbed me out of the line! It turned out to be an old friend from Narrowsburg, Dave Purcell, pictured at right. I’d met a cousin in Africa and Sicily, but Dave was the only person I’d ever met from home.” (Click for larger image)

Reflections on “Operation Husky” in Sicily

In 1943, America was in the thick of WWII. On the home front, men and women struggled daily with the restrictions placed on them by a wartime economy.

But off the small Mediterranean island of Sicily, a brave group of Allied soldiers were preparing for an invasion, which, if successful, would knock out one of the most powerful Axis strongholds.

Among them was Ralph Brauser, a young corporal who was part of an Amphibious Combat Engineer regiment, a small-town boy who grew up in Narrowsburg.

The invasion of Sicily was the second big campaign Brauser had been involved with, the first being the invasion of Africa. And the memory of the event is still clear in his mind:

“Here we were approaching our destination, Licata, Sicily, on this early morning of July 10, 1943 under heavy German air raids from their big bombers.

“My ship was an infantry-landing craft equipped with a large front ramp that drops down as it hits the shoreline.

“I and about 13 other soldiers were on the left side of the ramp, ready to jump off. Coastal guns were facing us.

“We did not know as we jumped that an earlier air raid left some large craters right in our path and, with full field packs and all equipment, weighing about 75 or 80 pounds, we readily sank to the bottom in about a 20-feet-deep crater...

“Our floatation equipment was a wrap-around tub- type device with two cartridges that, when pierced with a pliers-type unit, readily inflates the preserver.

“But it was a different story under heavy stress and being scared beyond all measure. We GI’s were fighting to find the pliers device to inflate our equipment. After some time that seemed like eternity, and by God’s help, we all managed to come up coughing and choking with seawater. It took some time until we were able to proceed to shore with no casualties, as yet.

“It was a time in our life that registered how close death was...

Contributed photo
Beach Lake resident Ralph Brauser and five of his buddies, who served as Amphibious Combat Engineers in the Army, took a risk far greater than anything they experienced in combat when they decided to travel with small cameras in their front shirt pockets. This photo was taken by one of those cameras and gives viewers a rare glimpse of Italy during the war. Large public baths were located in the village squares. The tubs, according to Brauser, were filled by hand from a hand pump and the Mediterranean sun warmed the water. “It’s hot over there,” Brauser said. (Click for larger image)

“It was on an early July morning. My buddy and I were on guard, up on the steep hill overlooking the Licata Harbor, where all our supply ships were loaded and awaiting for the supplies to be removed.

“Just as the darkness disappeared, we were waiting for our guard shift to end when in the distance we heard what seemed like an engine noise approaching. All at once, a German Messerschmidt fighter plane dropped from behind the mountain, almost in idle throttle. And it was almost directly over us—not more than 200 feet—ready to drop its bomb under the wing on our ships in the harbor.

“As we were trained for this kind, it wasn’t long before our Ml’s were in action. Those semi-automatic rifles were one of the best. We got off, between the two of us, 64 shots at a range it seemed you could not miss.

“The plane just floated gently out toward the bay, never dropping his bomb. We were both amazed as we watched it glide away. But it was a very short time later that we both observed smoke trailing behind the plane. It was not a jet...

“In closing I would like to say very proudly that if it wasn’t for all who served in that great war, and all those on the home front backing us up, I am sure no U.S. flag would be flying over our great country today.”

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