Betty and Millard Schwartz, former rural Portland residents who now live at Swiss Village, Berne, relax on a couch during a recent visit. Millard Schwartz came home from World War II to live out a quiet life as an electric lineman, with many of his friends and acquaintances having no idea of what he’d gone through during his service. “It’s hard to explain how it actually was,” he said. “When I came (home), I wanted to tell people they should be thankful for living in the U.S.” (The Commercial Review/Rachelle Haughn)
Betty and Millard Schwartz, former rural Portland residents who now live at Swiss Village, Berne, relax on a couch during a recent visit. Millard Schwartz came home from World War II to live out a quiet life as an electric lineman, with many of his friends and acquaintances having no idea of what he’d gone through during his service. “It’s hard to explain how it actually was,” he said. “When I came (home), I wanted to tell people they should be thankful for living in the U.S.” (The Commercial Review/Rachelle Haughn)
BERNE - "I'm not a hero," he said.

Millard Schwartz, 88, doesn't tell too many people his story.

He feels like he is no one special. He doesn't want to draw attention to himself or his past.

Most of the people he worked with for 39 years likely never knew they were climbing utility poles with a survivor.

But the tears on his face reveal the truth - the history. And the truth still hurts.

Millard, a former Portland resident, survived World War II and the Battle of the Bulge. He watched as his comrades and friends took their last breaths. He took care of the sick and weak Jews left behind at Nazis concentration camps.

Then he came home to his wife, raised two sons and lived a somewhat uneventful life.

And he thinks he is nobody's hero.

"I've never been sorry that I went," Millard said of his service during World War II. The 919th Field Artillery Battalion, 94th Infantry Division, sergeant arrived on the beach of Normandy, France, about 60 days after D-Day in 1944. He remained in the United States Army until January of 1946.

He was drafted in 1942 while working on the family farm about 2 miles north of Berne.

"Back then, everybody was going. Unless you couldn't walk or see, they sent you," he said.

In November of 1942, Millard arrived at Camp Phillips in Saline County, Kansas, for training. He had a brief furlough and left the camp for good in November of 1943.

Then, he was sent to Nashville, Tenn., to Mississippi and finally, Camp Shanks in Rockland County, New York, in 1944. He was in New York for less than a week, then he and about 18,000 other troops, and 1,500 crewmen and engineers boarded the Queen Elizabeth, one of the largest ships in the world, and headed for England.

"They always figured the ship could outrun the submarines," he said.

During the five days and four nights onboard the ship, several suffered from seasickness. Millard did not.

"Maybe you have a strong stomach," his wife, Betty added recently, while sitting in an easy chair in their apartment at Swiss Village Retirement Community, Berne.

When Millard and his comrades arrived in Normandy, the sea was still filled with debris from sunken and heavily damaged landing craft. Having seen the aftermath, he and his fellow soldiers - who had never experienced combat - were scared of what might happen to them. But members of the infantry didn't have much time to dwell on fear, as they immediately began pushing the Germans inland.

Millard next went to Belgium to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He and his comrades rode up to fight in the battle on the day after Christmas. He likely will never forget the weather.

The infantry had to fight subzero temperatures and heavy snow that Millard likened to the blizzard of 1978. He said there was no place to get warm, so he and the other solders slept in sleeping bags along the side of the road. When he woke up in the morning, his sleeping bag was frozen to the ground.

"Some went home with frozen feet," Betty said. She has heard some of her husband's stories during their 65 years of marriage.

Frostbite, injuries and death took 15,000 soldiers in Millard's company out of the battle. He protected himself from the cold by wearing an overcoat and gloves and changing his socks everyday. He put wet socks under his armpits to dry them and kept his fingers moving as much as he could.

"I wasn't going to let myself freeze to death," he said.

Millard's main responsibility was firing a howitzer, which was similar to a cannon. It shot tubes filled with bags of gunpowder.

Today, Millard has to wear hearing aides in both ears. His doctor blames it on the howitzer. But Millard did not suffer any other injuries while fighting overseas.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said, noting that a shell landed about 10 feet from him but did not explode.

Millard said he also feels thankful he was able to come alive, unlike many of his comrades. Although he made it home safely, he can't remember the horrible things he saw and he can't forget those who never made it home.

He remembers frozen bodies being stacked in the back of trucks, dog tags stuck in between the teeth of dead soldiers and the sights of the Nazi concentration camps.

After World War II ended in May of 1945, Millard's unit had to perform occupational duties as part of the recovery efforts in Germany. One of the jobs was to take care of the Jews and German prisoners of war at the camps.

At the camps, the Jews were starving and sick. There were piles of body parts and of jewelry taken from Jews before they were killed, Millard said.

"You just can't tell anybody how it is unless you saw it yourself," he added of the camps.

His company also stayed in a hotel at a small town in Germany. Millard grew up speaking German and was able to communicate with the Germans.

"I began to realize that they were just human beings like I was," he said. "I always said the Germans didn't have anything left" after the war.

Millard said he remembers seeing Germans eating out of garbage pails.

"I never talk about it much. It's hard to explain how it actually was," he said. "When I came (home), I wanted to tell people they should be thankful for living in the U.S."

After completing his work in Germany, Millard was able to sail home. The trip back took 15 days and the seas were rough. He passed the Statue of Liberty in New York before reaching shore.

"That was a real welcome sight," said Millard, who earned four stars for good conduct and combat operations and some victory medals for his efforts in the service.

He eventually made it back to Indiana and was honorably discharged. He and Betty moved to Portland and later established a farm in rural Portland in 1948. He worked for Jay County REMC for 39 years. They sold the farm last year and moved to Swiss Village.

Millard is a lifetime member of the American Legion, Portland. He carries the American flag at funerals. He also belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars at large post.

Millard still keeps several photos and items that remind him of his days in the service. He still has his dog tags, which bear his blood type, name, hometown and his religious preference.

He gave one of his sons his Army dress jacket. He also has several photographs from his days of service.

In his living room, a cartridge similar to the ones that he shot out of the howitzer sets next to his television with an American flag in it.

Since his World War II days, Millard has tried to push the memories of the war from his mind. But those visions have a way of resurfacing, from time to time.

When he first returned from overseas, he had nightmares. Then, when the Fourth of July came around, every time he heard fireworks, he thought it was a rocket.

"I wanted to crawl into a hole," he said, adding that he couldn't participate in Fourth of July activities for a while.

In 1974, Millard, his wife and one of his sons went back to where he had fought. When asked what it was like to go back to where so many had died, Millard said, "It's hard to talk about," while wiping away tears. All the memories suddenly came rushing back, he said.

About 500 of his friends and comrades were buried where they fell - in Hamm Cemetery in Luxembourg, Belgium. This is also where General George S. Patton, a commander during World War II, is buried.

"The guys are buried in rows as far as you can see," Millard said.

Although his memories are not pleasant, Millard is grateful that he is alive and well and was able to serve his country.

"I saw a lot of country, but I would not wish it on anybody," said Millard. "I always say, freedom's not free. Somebody's gotta fight for it.

"I'm not a hero. Thousands and thousands of guys my age" lost their lives. "It took all of us together" to win the war.