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Bruce E. Egger - Citizen Soldier/Smokejumper

by Chuck Sheley (Cave Junction '59) |

At some point in the past ten years or so, I was reading Stephen Ambrose's book Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany. There was a quote that caught my attention: 'The fiftieth anniversaries of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, the crossing of the Rhine, and V-E Day brought forth a flood of books by veterans about their own experiences, their squads, their companies. Among the best of these are Bruce Egger and Lee Otts, G Company's War: Two Personal Accounts of the Campaigns in Europe, 1944-1945.'

As I spend many hours in the NSA database, the name Bruce Egger caught my attention. I quickly ordered G Company's War and found out that Bruce was indeed a smokejumper at McCall after the war 1946-48. Bruce died April 8 of this year and his obit is in this issue. I think you readers might want to know a little more about a man from 'The Greatest Generation.'

Professor Paul Roley from Western Washington University edited and put together the book that was published in 1992. The following is taken from the University of Alabama Press site and describes the book:

'G Company's War is the story of a World War II rifle company in Patton's Third Army as detailed in the journals of S/Sgt. Bruce Egger and Lt. Lee M. Otts, both of G Company, 328th Regiment, 26th Infantry Division.

'Bruce Egger arrived in France in October 1944, and Lee Otts arrived in November. Both fought for G Company through the remainder of the war. Otts was wounded seriously in March 1945 and experienced an extended hospitalization in England and the United States. Both men kept diaries during the time they were in the service, and both expanded the diaries into full-fledged journals shortly after the war.

'These are the voices of ordinary soldiers—the men who did the fighting—not the generals and statesmen who viewed events from a distance.'

Toward the end of Citizen Soldiers, Stephen Ambrose says about Bruce: 'There is no typical GI among the millions who served in Northwest Europe, but Bruce Egger surely was representative. He was a mountain man from central Idaho. At the end of 1943 he was in ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) at Kansas State. When the ASTP was cut, he got assigned to Fort Leonard Wood for training.
In October 1944 he arrived in France and went on the line with G Company on November 6. He served out the war in almost continuous front-line action. He never missed a day of duty. He had his close calls, but was never wounded. In this he was unusually lucky. G Company had arrived on Utah Beach on September 8, 1944, with a full complement of 187 enlisted men and six officers.

'By May 8, 1945, a total of 625 men had served in its ranks. Fifty-seven men of G Company were killed in action, 183 were wounded, 116 got trench foot, and 51 frostbite.'

Bruce came home, jumped a few years while getting his degree in Forestry. After retiring from the Forest Service in 1979, he and his wife, Leora, moved to Prineville, Oregon.

In the next to last paragraph in the postscript of his book, Bruce says: 'More than four decades have passed since those terrible months when we endured the muds of Lorraine, the bitter cold of the Ardennes, the dank cellars of Saarlautern, and the twenty-five mile road marches through Germany, but sometimes these events are as clear in my mind as if they had occurred yesterday. We were all miserable and cold and exhausted most of the time, and we were all scared to death that the next action would be our last one. But we were young and strong then, possessed of the marvelous resilience of youth, and for all the misery and fear and the hating of every moment of it, the war was a great, if always terrifying, adventure. Not a man among us would want to go through it again, but we are all proud of having been so severely tested and found adequate.'

Les Joslin, Editor, OldSmokeys Newsletter, Pacific NW Forest Service Association says, 'His is the ‘all-American boy' story - a boy from the West who becomes an heroic soldier at a young age, works his way through college as a smokejumper to become a forester, and serves a true Forest Service career mostly in the field where the real work is done. I was inspired just reading and writing about him. A real role model for America's youth.'