Ralph Youngmann didn’t talk about his service during World War II for 50 years.
“I just didn’t want to think about it,” he said.
When his own children would ask about the scars from bullet wounds on his body, he’d joke that Indians shot him when he was cowboy.
After 50 years of keeping his memories to himself, Youngman said he was surprised to learn that very little of World War II was being taught in schools.
“I’ve seen some history books that only have a page or page and a half about the war. That’s all. I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I felt it was time to share some of those memories.”
Armed with medals, wartime maps, documents and other memorabilia, Youngmann began speak-ing to area schoolchildren about World War II and his experiences in one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the war, the Battle of the Bulge.
Youngmann would earn a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Victory Medal and Presidential Unit Citation.
But about two years ago, he stopped sharing his memories.
“I can’t talk about them anymore without becoming very sentimental, or choking up,” he said.
The worst day of his life, he said, was Dec. 16, 1944 -- the first day of the Battle of the Bulge, a battle that wouldn’t end until Jan. 28, 1945.
“It was not only one of the worst battles of the war, it was one of the worst winters in 100 years in Belgium and Luxembourg. There was solid artillery barrage for an hour-and-a-half. I was scared, really scared,” he said.
To this day, he said, the scent of burning flesh haunts him. I can still smell it. It’s a smell like no other,” he said wiping a tear from his cheek.
Youngmann volunteered for the draft in 1942. Other military branches wouldn’t accept him because of his poor eyesight.
“I knew, though, I’d be accepted by the Army. They weren’t that particular,” he said, holding the pair of Coke-bottle thick eyeglasses that he wore throughout the war.
Ten days into the Battle of the Bulge, Yougnmann was shot by a sniper. The soldiers on both sides of him were killed.
When Youngmann recovered and went back to the front, his moved into Czechoslovakia to take a small town.
“Then one day, we were told to stop our forward motion. We just waited 24 hours. We knew some-thing was up when they told us to not shoot until we were shot at. When we got there, there were 200 Germans, just waiting to be captured. They didn’t resist. They were just waiting for us. It was then we realized the war (in Europe) was over.”
Youngmann was serving with the “Army of occupation” in Germany when he got word he was being transferred to the 6th Infantry Division in the South Pacific after a furlough home, in Cleve-land.
“When we came into New York harbor we heard a rumor that a mysterious bomb was dropped in Japan. I went on home to Cleveland, on furlough, en route to Japan, and arrived home on V-J Day. I took off for downtown and celebrated two days.”
In 1947, Youngmann married the sweetheart he’d left behind, Emmy, and returned to school. He earned a degree in commerce from Ohio University. He retired after 30 years with B.F. Goodrich Chemical Co.
In December 2004, the Youngmanns were among 250 veterans and spouses who returned to Luxembourg and Belgium for a 60th anniversary tour, commemorating the Battle of the Bulge.
“Sixty years later, I was standing within just a few feet of where I was shot. I could see still where the fox holes and gun placements were,” he said again wipeing away a tear.
On a wall in the Youngmanns’ living room hangs a large family picture -- the Youngmanns, their four children and nine grandchildren.
“If that sniper’s bullet had been just one inch to the left, that picture would never have been taken.”