CHAMPION - As a member of the 771st Field Artillery Battalion, James D. Bertolini traveled from one place to another to fill in holes on the front lines.
''We wanted to give the Germans the impression that the firing lines were strong even though at times they weren't always,'' the Champion man said.
Prior to serving in the Army, Bertolini worked at the Ohio Works of U.S. Steel as a recorder in the pipe mill. He received his draft notice in May 1943 for the Army and reported to the Erie Railroad Station in Youngstown.
Tribune Chronicle / Bob Coupland
James Bertolini of Champion looks over scrapbooks of war memorabilia he has acquired over the years. The World War II U.S. Army veteran served with the 771st Field Artillery Battalion.
"At that time, I weighed 125 pounds and thought they weren't going to let me in, but they were desperate and they took me," Bertolini said. He was 19.
After basic training in Texas, Bertolini and the rest of the 771st went to New York, where they shipped out for Germany.
"There were 550 of us on board, and we went out into the Atlantic Ocean, where we rendezvoused with the other ships. It was quite a sight to see all those tankers there together," he said.
Bertolini said the weather was so nice that the ride over seemed like a vacation cruise. There were a few enemy submarine alerts, but no ships were hit by the Germans, he said.
The group arrived in Liverpool, England, in July for more training and then were shipped across the English Channel.
"At times it seemed like the Fourth of July when the night sky was lit up by anti-aircraft firing artillery and falling from the sky. Several German shells came into the harbor but did not hit any of the ships,'' he said.
Bertolini and others provided artillery support to the 29th Infantry Division.
"We were what they called the 'Bastard Battalion' because we didn't belong to anybody," he said. "When they needed more artillery fire, they called us."
He said the majority of artillery battalions were assigned to divisional support.
"Anytime they needed an artillery, we were assigned. One time we drove 82 miles up and down the front line," Bertolini said.
Part of that travelling included a trip to France to help liberate Paris, where they took part in a victory parade.
"At the time, we were all so tired we thought it was just another day, not realizing the historical event this would be," he said.
Bertolini was next assigned to the 9th Army and went to Schonberg, where they would face the German army.
Soon after, according to Bertolini, "all hell broke loose."
On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans began their attack in what would later be dubbed be the Battle of the Bulge. The 106th Division took the full force of the attack because they were on the front line.
The 771st was forced to abandon their guns mired in the mud as the Germans infiltrated the American lines. Bertolini remembers seeing American bombers and fighters swarming the skies when the weather finally cleared, and his unit later received supply drops from the bombers.
He said the 106th was shattered in the initial assaults.
"The Germans were not fooled. ... Our battalion did what it could to stop the German advance, but we finally had to retreat to fields and back roads,'' he said.
Next, the unit was assigned to assist the 101st Airborne Division, which was bombing German towns.
Bertolini said because it was December, the ground was icy and snowy, which made it hard for people to move, and at one time the soldiers were overrun by the German infantry.
"The Germans came through on the main road. We tried to stop them but we couldn't," he said.
Luck was on the Americans' side, though, because the Germans were unable to advance to the bridge.
"That was where the battle started to turn the other way," he said.
From there, the 771st joined the drive through Germany. He said he remembers seeing Gen. George Patton on a bridge directing traffic as his unit crossed the Rhine River on its way to help liberate Czechoslovakia.
Bertolini was discharged in January 1946.
The return trip was nothing like when he shipped out: He was seasick for five days before arriving in Newport News, Va.
"We had a good reception when we came home. A three-piece band was playing for us, and people welcomed us home. It wasn't like when the soldiers came home from Vietnam,'' Bertolini said.
After the war, Bertolini became a truck driver. He also married, and he and his wife, Jean, had a son.