Thursday, March 31, 2016

Seventy-one years ago, a young soldier left his World War II ambulance in a vehicle “graveyard” in Germany and returned home to Wisconsin. Last year, he found that ambulance in Albuquerque.

Thomas Grasser, 91, was visiting the New Mexico Museum of Military History last summer when he realized the museum’s ambulance was his “home on wheels” in Europe during World War II.

Grasser lives in Albuquerque now, but he grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The Army drafted him just  six days after high school in June of 1943, and although he didn’t know how to drive, he was designated as an ambulance driver and trained in California.

Grasser finished basic training at the end of 1943 and shipped out to England at the beginning of 1944.

The invasion of France on D-Day had begun. About three weeks later, Grasser and his unit landed on Omaha Beach.

When the strafing planes came to the ambulances, they pulled up and stopped shooting until they were back over supply trucks. The pilots “respected the red cross” on the ambulances, he said.

By the end of the war, Grasser had traveled through France, Belgium and Luxembourg to Germany. His company evacuated 25,000 patients between Omaha Beach and Aichach, Germany, and helped liberate two concentration camps, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

"We lived in it, we slept in it, we carried a lot of wounded in it,” he said. “It was our home.” Now that ambulance is sitting in the New Mexico Museum of Military History in Albuquerque.

Grasser was driving an Army ambulance through some of the bloodiest fighting, including the Battle of the Bulge, in the European Theater of World War II.

For his service to his country and to France, Grasser, was awarded the Bronze Star and the French Legion of Honour.

These days, he volunteers at the visitors information center in Albuquerque’s Old Town.

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