NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — In our Heroes of Tennessee special reports, we salute WWII veteran Sam Balloff.
Balloff walked across the stage with his degree from Vanderbilt University in 1948, but it was 1944 when he walked onto the battlefield.
“When the time comes to defend your country, you have to defend your country,” said Balloff.
When Balloff looks back at WWII, he sees a united America.
“The women were preparing bandages. Everybody was in WWII, and they all had a job. It was just remarkable that the military was to put together an army, and everybody had one job. And one little job did the whole thing.”
In 1944, Balloff felt compelled to join. At Vanderbilt University Balloff was very active and beloved on campus. He set that aside, enlisted in the Army, and started training at Fort Bragg.
“Having guns was not in our family, no, no. So, I had no experience with guns. As a matter of fact, when we go to a rifle range, I can hardly hit the target. My vision was not good in those days. And, I had never fired a gun, especially a rifle.”
Balloff served in the 78th Infantry Division as an artilleryman and truck driver delivering ammunition and rations around Europe.
“I’m driving around the roads of Germany, and they are strafed by German air force. A lot of fighting going on above us, and then I was always on a road that had to be checked for land mines. You had to be careful because the Germans had left. It was snowing, and you didn’t know where the road was really.”
It was one of the coldest winters of the war.
“We had a big camouflage net that you carried in the truck, and we set that up as a mattress. And we slept in the bed of the truck on a camouflage net. And on the 16th, it started to snow. And we woke up covered in snow.”
By spring, the earth was thawing. But one of Balloff’s most critical missions was just heating up: the battle of Remagen in Germany and saving Ludendorff bridge – a bridge Balloff would one day, decades later, visit with his son.
“For 10 days, the Germans tried to destroy the bridge, and the Americans tried to protect the bridge with anti-aircraft,” said Balloff. “There was a skirmish and the Allies took the bridge and for 10 days, we moved across – tanks, everything that could get moved.”
A crucial win for Allied forces. When the war ended, Balloff returned to Tennessee, finished his degree at Vanderbilt, and moved to LaFollette where he had a family and ran a successful store.
“I’m so blessed. And every day is a blessing,” said Balloff. “My whole life has been full of luck. And I’m a great believer of luck.”
When Balloff reflects back on the war that brought Americans together, he tries his best to be hopeful that if faced today with the same threat, then we can come together again.
“I’m so upset with what’s going on in our country right now with the division of people. And people not doing things together. Like I said earlier, everybody pitched in and fought the Germans – every little village, every city, every town. I don’t know if you could do that now. Maybe you would, if you had an emergency, and you needed to work together. I think we could work together. I have hopes that we can do that. But it doesn’t take a war to bring us together.”