GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (NewsNation Now) — Many are honoring America’s Greatest Generation as Tuesday marks 75 years since World War II came to an end.
Part of honoring those who fought is listening to their stories and learning from the past.
Robert Tessmer was born in 1925, graduated from high school in 1943 and was immediately drafted.
What he saw and experienced before the age of 20 are things most people will never know in their lives.
“I was a survivor, plain luck,” Tessmer said.
At age 95, Tessmer is more than a survivor. He’s been a husband, soldier, successful businessman, and to generations who have come after him, a hero.
“I don’t think I’m a hero. I did my job. I did what I was supposed to do. I did it with pride,” Tessmer said.
With pride and honor, Tessmer was drafted right out of high school. By the fall of 1944, he was shipping out to France.
Tessmer says the tone of the time was so patriotic and young men couldn’t wait to serve.
“The excitement waned and the fear set in, but you couldn’t let the fear overcome your desire to do your job.”
On his first day of combat, they walked into a German ambush.
“It was an introduction to combat that we didn’t really appreciate. We lost 42 men from my company of a 192 at that time,” Tessmer said.
In Tessmer’s squad of 12, seven people were killed that day.
The harsh reality of war hit hard. Combat was in wooded areas of the Vosgues mountains in snow and freezing temperatures.
Tessmer and his fellow soldiers of the 100th Infantry Division were provided books about why they were fighting to keep them going.
“It was pretty hard to keep morale up when you see men dying around you,” Tessmer said.
Tessmer says they were afraid, brave and spared.
Of the 192 men Tessmer started with, only 13 came home. The rest were either killed or wounded.
He says the real heroes are the ones who gave their lives or were severely wounded or maimed.
Though Tuesday marks 75 years since the official end of the war, Tessmer holds another date dear.
“Our war ended in Europe with the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima August 6, which was my 20th birthday,” Tessmer said.
A man of only 20 had seen what most of us never will.
Tessmer says he’s surprised he got out of there with his life.
And when asked again, he didn’t give the credit to luck.
“God. He’s taken good care of me,” Tessmer said.
NewsNation affiliate WOOD contributed to this report.