Emery Horn was a child of the Great Depression, a farm boy whose reality was hard work from sun up to sun down combined with a normalcy of thriftiness, and an intrinsic sense of teamwork that can only be found on a farm, where everyone must pull their weight. Not a lot of room for drama queens or freeloaders on a Depression Era farm.
Emery Horn is the third of eight brothers and seven sisters. Six of his brothers served their country honorably, and survived World War II. He was born and raised in Freestone, Pennsylvania. His eldest brother was at Pearl Harbor when the US Naval Base was bombed by the Japanese sneak attack on December 7, 1941. Although Emery could have avoided serving during the Second World War by utilizing a farm deferment, he chose to enlist on December 7, 1943. It just wasn’t the way of men like him to sit out a job that needed to be done. There is a belief in Christianity that the Lord only burdens us with what we can bare. In Emery Horn’s case, the good Lord had a high estimation of him indeed. Seven decades later he recollects:
“I will never forget my buddies who I left behind and who, unlike me, did not return to the tune of Johnny Comes Marching Home Again.”
The 91-year-old grunt, a survivor of three bloody campaigns in the European theater of operations, one of the battle tested men of the storied Rainbow Division.
They call Infantrymen grunts for a reason. Infantrymen possess an ability that few men have. The ability to not only endure pain, discomfort, and alarming degrees of stress, but to thrive in it, to achieve results when the average human simply focuses inward. Many an accomplished athlete and talented academician has withered under the burden of Infantry training, let alone combat.
Emery Horn is the embodiment of the Infantryman in that he endures to maintain the fight. After the war, his burden will no longer be survival, but to carry the lonely memories of men and events that are largely forgotten by today’s America. His tale reminds us that this part of the year is larger than the unofficial first day of summer, bigger than just a day to avail of the best sales of the year at the department stores. It is the most expensive day of the year, paid for with the lives of those who would do anything for this country—their country. For their intrepid brothers with whom they grew closer than any blood relative could ever imagine.
After moving along the Rhine River to Hatten, France, he was part of repelling the audacious attack by the elite Waffen SS, known as the Battle of the Bulge. When needed, he operated the Browning Automatic Rifle, known as the “BAR.” A heavy automatic weapon that spewed powerful .30 caliber rounds and was the support system for his squad of 9-12 fellow grunts. It wasn’t long after the Battle of the Bulge, where cold, exhausted but still on the offensive, he was captured by the Germans. It was January 9th, 1945.
“The Germans were shooting away with a tank. They were shooting at me with machine guns in the field and not a single round hit me. It wasn’t until I finally ran into an open area in the field where they were keeping the prisoners that I was ultimately captured. I thank God they never struck me with a bullet.”
This event does not surprise many combat veterans. What combat vets know is that the craziest, most illogical things happen. This is why they hesitate to tell stories. Because in retrospect, many combat vets can’t believe they actually happened, even though having lived through it.
It’s ludicrous to a combat vet that someone would plan according to a scheme of assumptions based on an academic logic. Just like it seems ludicrous that a 19 year old private would survive being fired on by a tank’s machine gun as he stood out in the open. This is the nature of war. Chaos supplants logic.
The memories of his time in STALAG 4B are painful, and the details he did share are indelibly etched upon my mind. “At one point, they needed a group of guys to build a ditch from one factory to the next. This was after spending almost three days in the POW camp.
This is what got me out of the boxcars which they were holding us in and I was so relieved. Even more so, the ditch was the safest place to hide in when the Americans started dropping bombs. The Americans started bombing anything and everything in sight—anything that moved—by the war’s end. They were so close that you could practically see the bomb bay doors opening.”
Like all true warriors, Emery is humble. A refreshing change to the often glorified picture of the military popinjay we sometimes bear witness to.
“I wouldn’t say I was tortured. You learn to tolerate a lot. But we definitely had limited food supply. Heck—the Germans barely had any food for themselves!”
He entered the STALAG at 165 pounds and came out weighing 90 pounds. He often found creative ways to find resources to sustain himself and his members of his STALAG. He recounted a memorable story to me: “We even traded with the French bakers because, at night, we would put our shoes in with bundles of towels. The bakers would take the shoes and, in exchange, they would give us three loaves of bread. Heck, the Germans could never quite understand how the French civilians were getting their hands on so many new articles of U.S. Army clothing! Every day during inspection, the Germans lined us up and the guys out in front would remove their new uniforms and give them to their buddies behind them who would then put them on.”
This 19 year old grunt managed to escape from STALAG 4B three times. On the first attempt, the two men with him gave their locations away. The next two times, he went at it alone. The local farmers would always see him and alert the Germans. As he described his liberation to me, Mr. Horn mentioned that he believes the 29th Division liberated him. In a unique act of humanity, the Germans didn’t want the American prisoners falling under the control of the Russians. He was one of 143,375 U.S. servicemen and civilians who were captured by Germany or Japan during the course of World War II.
Source: The Greatest Generations Foundation