The Suburbanite
  • WWII Then and Now: Bill Somers served with combat engineers in Europe

  • Bill Somers was shipped overseas in June of 1944.

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  • Charles William “Bill” Somers of Columbiana County, near Alliance, built bridges during World War II.
    They were strategic structures, constructed so troops and war material could be moved across them, and thus military battles could be won. As part of a team that built a 1,284-foot pontoon bridge across the Rhine River, Somers and others in his 248th Engineer Battalion were in close proximity to history.
    “While we were guarding it, (Prime Minister Winston) Churchill, (Gen. Dwight D.) Eisenhower, (Field Marshal Bernard) Montgomery, and (Gen. George) Patton came to inspect it,” said Somers. “I was standing 100 feet from them. There were, I suppose, 20 of us on each end of the bridge. We had to watch for floating mines.”
    Somers was shipped overseas in June of 1944.
    “We crossed the ocean without any escort,” he recalled. “They lined us up on both sides with binoculars to watch for periscopes. It was kind of spooky. Luckily, we never saw any.”
    His unit landed on Utah Beach after D-day, and was attached to Patton’s Third Army for the spearhead across Europe. The Battle of the Bulge was among the action that Somers saw and he said Patton was a constant presence.
    “We were at the front, and he would come up in his Jeep,” said Somers. “He was always standing up. He had his pearl-handled pistols. He was not afraid of bullets. He came right up to the heart of it.
    “A lot of times he would come up during a lull in battle and give us a pep talk,” added Somers, noting that the talks were laced with strong language. “We always joked that he was the kind of general that if he ordered you to sit down, you didn’t look for a chair.”
    Foxholes frequently were the residence of the soldiers. Somers, the youngest in his unit, was paired with one of the oldest soldiers.
    “I was pretty lucky. I didn’t get hit by a bullet or a piece of shrapnel,” he said, although he noted that he once was hit by a piece of a building that was bombed by the Germans.
    “I didn’t report it. So I didn’t get my Purple Heart and didn’t want it.”
    Heroes were soldiers who got hurt far worse, he said.
    Somers spent 14 days coming home on a “Victory Ship” after the war in Europe was over. Waves reached 50 to 60 feet high, he said.
    “When we got to the New York there were a couple of dozen ambulances waiting for guys who broke arms and legs trying to go up and down steps.”
    Somers was discharged on Jan. 3, 1946. He married his wife, Bonnie. When she died in March last year, the couple had been married for 65 years.
    Page 2 of 2 - They raised two sons, Charles Somers, who lives with his wife in Indiana and Ray, who lives with his wife in New York.
    Somers worked as a machinist with Morgan Engineering in Alliance before retiring in the 1980s after 38 years. He got into woodworking and made much of the furniture that is in the house that he also constructed in the 1970s.
    “I built the house next door in 1955,” he recalled. “We lived in the garage for awhile. We never went into debt. We built as we had the money.”

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