When Tom Quigley turns the pages of his memoir filled with World War II photographs and stories, the memories of crossing the English Channel and of the fierce battles after landing at Normandy come flooding back.
“I don’t think people realize how serious World War II was. The Germans were a mighty force, and I think they ran pretty roughshod over Europe,” he said.
Quigley, 92, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, a pivotal conflict that led to Germany’s defeat, is modest about his accomplishments and those who served with him in the 2nd Infrantry Division — “Indianhead.” Quigley, a first lieutenant, was wounded twice and received medals including two Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars and the Legion of Honor award from France for his bravery in helping to liberate the country.
“I just followed orders: Sleep here; eat there,” said Quigley, who was recently honored as Bedford’s first Hometown Hero, a recognition the city will make three times a year to spotlight residents who have made outstanding contributions. “I wasn’t scared.”
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Friday marks the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day.
After completing Officer Candidate School, he crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a crowded troop transport. He recalled that while most of the men got seasick, he carried on, even eating food that the other soldiers didn’t want.
He landed in Scotland, where women greeted the soldiers with sandwiches and tea. Quigley was in Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment.
They practiced their landing maneuvers in England before crossing the channel for Normandy and landing on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944 — D-Day plus one.
Quigley recalled two frightening incidents in which he was wounded while battling Germans.
He was crouched behind a tank as the vehicle got stuck while crossing a creek in Normandy.
“You’re not marching. You are scrambling. The road sloped down to the creek. There were mortar rounds going off everywhere.”
Another mortar round came near him. “I could see the damn thing as it landed near me, and a hand-size piece of shrapnel hit my knee,” he said.
In another battle in the town of Brest, France, Quigley and several of his men were hiding in a 10-story apartment building. A second lieutenant who recently arrived from the United States came up the stairs to where Quigley was and said, “I want to kill some Germans.” Quigley told the officer to stand back from the window, but the officer shot his rifle out the window, attracting the attention of the Germans who fired back. A bullet shattered an ashtray, and one of the broken pieces lodged in Quigley’s arm.
After the war
Quigley was in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, when Germany surrendered to the Allies, on May 8, 1945. He then returned to the United States and was sent to the former Camp Swift near Austin. He was supposed to go to Japan, but the Japanese surrendered Aug. 14, 1945, which was also Quigley’s 23rd birthday.
While stationed at Camp Swift, he met his wife, Barbara, who was attending the University of Texas at Austin and lived in an off-campus dorm. The two met when the housemother suggested that Barbara get ice water for the soldiers. Quigley offered to help, and the rest is history, the couple said jokingly.
Quigley and his wife went to his home state of Michigan where he enrolled in college, but he hated the cold winters, and they returned to Texas, where Quigley earned a degree in agronomy through the GI Bill.
He worked as a dispatcher for Central Freight Lines for 24 years before retiring in 1984, which is when the family moved to Bedford. Quigley also ran an executive golf course and driving range.
The Quigleys went to the 40th anniversary of D-Day in France.
Keith Quigley recalled that his father spoke little about his World War II experiences but that when they saw the 1998 movie Saving Private Ryan, the memories came flooding back.
“Dad doesn’t hear very well, but he would lean over in the movie and tell me which weapon he was hearing,” he said.
Quigley wrote a book for his family called WWII, My War.
Quigley’s oral history of his experiences is housed at National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
Quigley said he is blessed with his wife, Barbara; three children; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. But he also laments the loss of so many from “The Greatest Generation” who are dying each day.
According to the Veterans Affairs Department, about 492 World War II veterans die a day.
Barbara Quigley also relishes the memories with her husband of almost 69 years.
“It gives me a chill when I really think about what they did,” she said.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.
Elizabeth Campbell, 817-390-7696