Gilpin veteran's battle across Europe began on June 10, 1944
Although Ronald Frank's unit didn't land on Utah Beach in Normandy until June 10, 1944, four days after the invasion began, the 89-year-old from Gilpin had more than his share of close shaves.
He recalled being on patrol in the hedgerow country just inland and raising up to peer over the hedgerow on one side to find himself face to face with a German soldier doing the same thing from the other side of the hedge.
“He saw me and his eyes got real big,” Frank said. “He was just as scared of me as I was of him.”
Scrambling to pull a grenade that was taped to his chest, he tossed it over the hedgerow as he ran in the opposite direction. The enemy soldier apparently did the same as an explosion happened behind him. He said he wasn't about to check to see if his grenade had any effect.
Frank said his outfit, the 47th Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division, was on the move for 72 hours, the only sleep they got coming in 15-minute “cat naps” as the Allied forces rushed to extend their beachhead inland.
In the months that followed, Frank and his unit battled their way across Europe. He fought in five major campaigns, including the Battle of the Bulge.
Eventually, he encountered the concentration camps.
His company saw the Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated and many of the people killed there had been buried. Frank said the scene was far worse at the Mittlebau-Dora concentration camp in Germany's Harz Mountains.
He said there still were corpses of prisoners piled up throughout the camp, located about four miles outside the city of Nordhausen.
“You could smell it from five miles away,” he said. “Those people in the town said they didn't know that was there. They knew. They had to know.”
Frank said he cannot believe he survived his tour of duty while so many others died. Occasionally, he said, something like the smell of damp soil while working in his yard, will bring it all back to him.
“I learned one thing: You can't really tell anyone what it (combat) is like,” Frank said. “I wouldn't want to go through it again, and I wouldn't want anyone else to go through it.”
“If you never had to go, thank the good Lord,” he said. “There's no glory in killing. It made me have a lot of respect just for life in general. It's a gift from God.”