Lloyd Gneiting of Rigby is one of the few remaining local veterans to have served in WWII, but his experiences in Europe are known to many.
Now 99-years-old, much of Gneiting’s memories of the war are forgotten to him, but his experiences are chiseled in stone through family history memoirs.
Born in 1919, Gneiting grew up in the Ucon area farming with his dad and playing basketball. By the age of 22 he had already served one year in the military, but after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941 Gneiting’s future plans changed.
Because he had already served a year in the military and had thought he would be exempt from future service. Instead Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States and Gneiting was drafted and back in the service by November 1942.
Gneiting and his 133rd Engineer Combat Battalion, led by General George S. Patton, were responsible to clear mines from the road to make room for tanks and to build bridges.
After training in Fort Lewis, Wash. And Desert Center, Calif. Gneiting and the 133rd engineers were sent to New York and then headed to Europe.
“It was hard to describe how rough the ocean was and how scared I was when we had submarine attacks and all that vast area of water to drown in,” he said.
Following the 11 days of traveling, the battalion arrived in Ireland and set up camp at Porta Down. Later they went through Scotland and then arrived in Oxford, England before they embarked on their mission to take Normandy Beach.
“The day came when we ordered to board an LST (Landing Ship Tank) boat and hit the Normandy Beach on D-Day, but a German buzz bomb hit into the LST boat, which delayed us until the 13th day (of June). Thank God,” Gneiting said.
When they landed on the beach the battalion worked to hold it from the Germans.
“Then we landed on the beach to try to help hold it from the Germans,” he said. “I will never forget one early morning just about sun up after my tour of guard duty and asleep in my pup tent when five soldiers kicked the bottom of my feet to wake up and surrender. That was my first face-to-face encounter with the Germans.”
“A couple days later, I saw most of our generals in a group and the next day the Air Force bombed the German positions and our job was to take out the German mines and put in a treadway bridge so the tanks could break out of the beachhead. Our Engineer job was to follow the tanks and make their way possible when needed,” Gneiting said.
Working their way through Northern France, Gneiting got his first glimpse of the casualties of war and learned that it’s either kill or be killed.
“There was approximately 20 miles of dead Germans along the road and our paratroopers were also dead near the road or still hanging in trees.”
“There were quite a few encounters and happenings from there until we got to Metz, France, which is near Alsace Lorraine on the German border. This is when the Battle of the Bulge (Bastogne) broke out.”
That night, just before Christmas, Gneiting and the rest of the regiment headed for Luxembourg to help the embattled soldiers.
“This is where our job was to take the infantry across the Moselle River in our pontoon boats so they could break the Siegfried line, thus the tanks could get past.”
To break the line, flamethrower operators were ordered in to no avail. Just as Gneiting was to be called next, the officers decided to pursue another way of breaching the line. Gneiting said the line was eventually breached by “firebombs,” allowing the 5th Armored to relieve the 4th Armored Division in Bastogne.
“Now this was like living in Hell except that it was cold instead of hot,” he said. This consisted of snow above your knees, no fire, no bed, you just slept standing up against a pine tree and little boxes of K-rations which is the size of a Cracker Jack box when you could get it. Everything we owned was on our backs and ammunition was most important to have when needed.”
After surviving the Battle of Bastogne, Gneiting said they were in Germany and heading towards the Rhine River and Frankfort.
“It took three Engineer Battalions to put a pontoon bridge across the Rhine so the tanks could keep going. At this time we were attached to the 11th Armored so the 5th Armored got to take a rest and I was so damn tired I did not want to go any further and envied my buddies that were killed and laying there so peacefully.”
Gneiting and the rest of the Division continued to push on into Germany where they encountered many skirmishes.
“There were too many other instances too numerous to mention, except to let you know that war is worse than Hell,” he said.
Despite all of the battles Gneiting experienced, the worst atrocity he said he ever witnessed was encountering an internment camp and seeing hundreds of humans dead in mass gravesites.
“One of the worst instances I witnessed was the aftermath of one of the atrocities. Two of us looted a camera and took two pictures, which was illegal for us to do, but we did it,” he said.
Subsequent to witnessing the remains of the Holocaust, Gneiting and company finally reached Austria.
“We finally got into Nirenberg and Baravias next to Switzerland and into Linz, Austria where we met the Russians and the war was finally over. In Linz I got my third shower and had plenty of points to start home,” he said.
Gneiting recalled that the ship ride back to the United States was so rough that they had to go as far south to Azores and then back to New York.
“The Statue of Liberty looked so good to me that it brought tears to my eyes,” he said. “That night the New York people treated us to a steak dinner. My stomach had shrunk up to the point that I could only eat a small portion of it.”
When Gneiting left for Europe he weighed 178 pounds; when he returned to the States, he weighed a mere 133 pounds.
At the end of the war, Gneiting said he was one of only three soldiers from the original regiment—that was comprised of roughly 900 men—that survived the war.
For each of the five battles Gneiting engaged in—Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe— he received a Bronze Star.
In a year and a half spent on the frontlines, Gneiting had three showers and limited rest.
“When I got home to dad and mothers, I was completely lost and felt like a wild animal in a cage,” he said. “I could not let anyone in back of me, so most of the time I stayed in a corner. Mother told me that she prayed for me every day. That is why I live today.”
After the war, Gneiting married his wife Ellen. Together they had three children and 11 grandchildren.
“After I was home a year, I finally came to my senses to notice one morning that the sun came up and realized who I was and I was safely home with a reason to start all over again in my future life.” he said.
He continued to farm for many years after and also held an office at Rigby City Hall and eventually became a judge.
Gneiting will be 100-years-old next year.