WWII veteran shares memories of battle, liberation

By Eric

COTTAGEVILLE, S.C. (WCIV) -- We are slowly losing a generation of soldiers who defended the country and the world during World War II. A Cottageville man was one of those who fought the Nazis in the 1940s.

At 89 years old, James Gruber still carries the memory of World War II, the deadliest conflict in human history.

"I just want to tell you the truth, war is hell, partner," Gruber said.

At 19, Sgt. Gruber went to Europe. He fought on the front lines of the Allied Forces, experiencing some of the darkest days mankind has every seen.

"This is when we're going into the Battle of Bastogne, right there," he said.

Gruber uses a photo album to help jog his memory of those times. He survived the Battle of the Bulge, in Bastogne, Belgium. The battle claimed the lives of 62,000 Americans.

In the dead of winter he was surrounded by the enemy for three weeks, but he made it out.

When asked if he remembers being scared at the time, Gruber replied, "You know damn well I was!"

Gruber also saw firsthand the horror of Buchenwald, a Nazi concentration camp.

"I saw it, I had to see it. We had to go across; we liberated that concentration camp," he said.

When he did, Gruber helped rescue the Jewish prisoners who were able to survive. Tens of thousands who were brutally worked and tortured did not.

"Fifty-one-thousand died at that concentration camp," he said.

Gruber's family says he's only started talking about his war experiences in recent years, the memories too hard to relive.

He owns a small collection of knives and other weapons, surrendered to him by Nazi soldiers. But all these years later, there's one thing Gruber really holds on to.

"Oh yeah, it's coming home," he said.

For that, his country is forever grateful.

Gruber was relieved of active duty in January 1946. He served in Europe for one year, six months and 23 days.