The 17 days that Othmar “Ott” Jasper’s unit, the 5th Armored Division, 10th Tank Battalion, spent fighting in Germany’s Hürtgen Forest during World War II was among the worst parts of the war for him.
“It was quite an experience,” he said, softly. “Oh, boy, that was really rough.
“You could hear the trees, half-shot off, creaking . . . then ‘boom!’ Man, your hair just stood up on your head.”
Jasper, Washington, doesn’t talk much about his service as a Sherman tank gunner during World War II, but his pride is unmistakeable.
The two Purple Hearts and seven other medals — five for each country he fought in, one for good conduct and one for marksmanship — that he earned are displayed in a shadow box frame in Jasper’s home, along with a photo of his unit. But he doesn’t look at them very often.
“I don’t want to think about it too much,” said Jasper, 97. “It wasn’t easy.”
Raised on a farm in Washington, Jasper was one of eight children (six boys and two girls) born to Joseph and Mary Jasper. All six of the boys were called to serve in World War II, and all made it home safely in the end.
One of the middle children, Ott was the only one of the six boys who was wounded in the war. All served in the Army, he said.
Jasper couldn’t remember where all of them had served, but he recalled that one was in the paratroopers, and another was a mail carrier.
Jasper’s role as a Sherman tank gunner was to fire the gun. He didn’t mind the duty, although it wasn’t as straightforward as it might sound.
“You had to work with this guy up in the hole,” said Jasper. “If he wanted you to move, he’d put his foot on your left shoulder and tell you to move over, turn the gun. If you moved too far, he’d put his foot on your right shoulder, and you’d have to move back again. He’d pick out the targets, signal me with his feet where to move the gun and when to stop.”
Jasper served from 1941-’45. He was 21 years old and working at the International Shoe Factory on the nailing machine when he was drafted. He completed basic training in California.
Jasper’s unit landed at Utah Beach in 1944 and fought its way across five countries — France, Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg and Germany. He has a map with a red line showing the path that his unit followed.
Thinking back to the day his unit shipped out for Europe, Jasper said they were eager to stop Hitler, but very aware of the risks.
“I waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty, and I didn’t think I’d ever see it again,” he said.
“I was scared. I was fighting hard during the day and when the sun when down, I’d wonder if I was going to see it come up. But in the morning, here the sun was, and here you’re back at it again.”
Jasper was wounded in battle twice.
“The first time was when an artillery shell landed, and I was in the tank. I was on guard. When that landed, I heard it coming, whistling, so I ducked down in there. And when it went off, I woke up lying on the floor (of the tank). It knocked me out. I hit my head against the gun guard and mashed my big toe,” he said.
The second time he was wounded, he remembers there being a blue flash and shouting, “Get out of here!”
He jumped down out of the tank and was soon picked up by a Jeep, but not before he was hit on the side of his head with shrapnel.
“That was all in my face. I sat on the bed picking that all out of my face,” said Jasper.
He was in the hospital when word came that the war had ended.
“I felt pretty good about that, but I’d like to have been up there with them when it ended, because they celebrated a little,” said Jasper.
Married, Started Family
After the war, Jasper returned home to Washington where he was married and started a family. Ott Jasper and Marie Kopp were united in marriage Nov. 8, 1947. They had seven children.
Jasper went to work as a drill operator for Ed’s Drilling and Blasting in Krakow. He retired when he was in his mid-70s.
“I did like drilling,” Jasper said of the work. “It was a dirty job, the dust. The doctor said I had to get out of that dust. ‘You’ll be 60 years old and hacking and coughing and there won’t be a dang thing I can do for you,’ he told me. That doctor has been dead now 20-some years.”
Jasper was able to participate in a Franklin County Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., a couple of years ago. His daughter, Carol Riegel, was his guardian, and his son, who is a Vietnam veteran, also made the trip.
It wasn’t Jasper’s first time to Washington, D.C., but it was the first time he was able to see all of the monuments and other sights, like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where the “shoe room” left an impression on him.
Jasper said he was grateful for the trip.
He celebrates Veterans Day each year by attending a service at St. Gertrude School. This year’s service was held Wednesday, Nov. 8, on his wedding anniversary.
He has quite a few pieces of World War II memorabilia, including a few German coins and stamps, several books and a small Bible that the Red Cross had given to him during the war.
“That’s the only thing I think that saved us, prayer,” said Jasper.