"I knew there was a war going on but I didn't have any idea I'd ever be a part of it..."
R.F. "Sonny" Franze grew up in Kurten, Texas where he was drafted into World War II in October of 1942.
"I was drafted right out of the cotton patch with I was 25 years old."
He was trained all over the pacific northwest in field communications before he was shipped off from the eastern seaboard on a converted ocean passenger liner bound for the battle torn European theater of the war.
It was rough from the beginning, to say the least...
"We finally set sail across the north atlantic and immediately got into a storm. Well we had 3200 troops on the ship and only 1600 bunks. We were supposed to have one every other night, and the guy that I bunked with, he got so sick he couldn't get out of bed, so I never did have a bed. I just took my blankets out on the deck..."
Once his ship landed in England, he was separated from the infantry soldiers and sent to follow General Patton's troops, laying communications lines just behind the front lines of combat.
"...we were just kind of like a line crew with about 6 or 8 people on the trip. And from there of course, we went to work and strung wire all over northern France. Patton was about to break through and go to Paris, and we were right on his tail among the first ones to get to Paris..."
Although he didn't get to see much action, Franze was on the heels of some of the most significant battles of World War II. He landed at Normandy on November 11th, 1945 and endured the freezing cold at the Battle of the Bulge.
"...the snow was deep, and it was the coldest winter they had ever had there in, I guess a century. And we worked day and all night long to get that line in and next, oh about daylight, we got to Leeh Belgium, and there was a little kitchen, close there, that we had heard about, so we went to find it and get some breakfast. And while we were gone, a bomb hit right where we had left and tore up our equipment, another time I was lucky, I guess."
Some of Franze's most vivid memories were the devastation he witnessed at the German concentration camp called Buchenwald.
"well the war was just about over, so they sent us to far Eastern Germany, to Weinmar, and as we approached the place, we saw the smoke rising, didn't know what it was, at least I didn't, and we got situated there and settled down in the city of Weinmar...somehow, well our officers, I guess, knew that this concentration camp was there but we didn't know that it...we thought it was still occupied so we made a dash up there a couple of days later...and as we went up this road toward the camp, I noticed bodies lying all along the road. And as we got to the camp, of course, the Germans had evacuated the place, they were all gone."
"but we found of course, when we go to the camp, we found these piles of bodies..."
"that they didn't have time to incinerate. And this one person was in there and still able to describe what went on, I don't know what position in there, but he seemed to be knowledgeable about everything that went on, and I could talk to him and he told me about all the happenings and how they were killed..."
"oh, I'll never forget it. But well it didn't seem to have a lot of effect on me at that time, because I had seen so much death, so many dead people that it seemed to me that they're out of their misery, they're just better off."
"and of course after that, the war was over, they started discharging most of the people they didn't need..."
"but I was declared essential and I was given a command to go direct to the Pacific, and I got on a train and went to Marseilles, France, down on the Mediterranean, waiting for a ship, and of course the bombs were dropped in Japan and the war was over and they re-routed me to go home, get discharged."
Sonny Franze came back to Bryan and went to work for Sinclair Refining Company, where he retired in 1975.
He still keeps a collection of pictures and artifacts he picked up along the way, but most of all, he still carries the memories from his service to his country and the conflict he witnessed half a world away.
For Voices of Veterans, I'm Tom Turbiville.