MANLY — A 90-year-old World War II veteran from North Iowa didn’t expect to be the center of attention during a recent international trip.
Marcus “Stub” Bartusek of Manly, who was deployed in western Europe from 1944 to 1946, said the gratitude he received from strangers during a visit there in June was overwhelming, with people approaching him for photos, autographs and hugs.
“After 72 years, they still appreciate it,” said Bartusek, who served in the Army. “It made tears come to your eyes and would choke you up.”
Joined by his son, daughter and son-in-law, Bartusek was one of five veterans on the World War II Battlefields 72nd D-Day Anniversary Tour June 2 to 14. They visited war-related sites in four countries: France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The expenses-paid excursion was a surprise from the Edward Tosel American Legion Post 110, to which Bartusek has belonged for 69 years.
Mark Tomlinson said fellow members wanted to honor Bartusek’s years of community service, and are in the process of continuing a program to honor those who go above and beyond.
Although Bartusek left high school early for the draft at age 18, he still had enough credits to graduate.
Part of the 106th Infantry Division, one of the last activated in the U.S., Bartusek in December 1944 was sent to the front lines of the German-Belgian sector, known as the Dragon’s Teeth. The area had reinforced concrete barriers — dragon’s teeth — aimed at impeding tanks.
“It was a very quiet sector, with only a few shells every now and then,” he recalled. Their division was green, averaging 26-years-old and with no combat experience.
The first combat he experienced was when he and a sergeant were sitting on a log one morning, sharing a chocolate D-bar. A sniper took out the sergeant, killing him instantly with a shot through the throat.
“He fell backwards and I was stunned, because I didn’t realize what had happened,” Bartusek said.
A few days later, a barrage began at 5:30 a.m. Dec. 16, the first day of the Battle of the Bulge. Bartusek remembers it as being so foggy he could hardly see his hand in front of his face.
The third day of the battle two regiments, the 422nd and 423rd, were captured. Bartusek’s unit, the 424th, was spread thin over 27 miles and unsure of what was happening.
They stayed until they couldn’t get any more supplies, which had been cut off by the Germans. At 11 p.m. his regiment was told they were on their own and needed to find their way back.
“We were scared, young kids who didn’t know what we were doing,” he said.
Spreading out in groups of three or four into the foggy, starless night, Bartusek followed telephone lines his group thought were Allied to a valley, where they heard conversation that wasn’t in English.
“We got out of there real quick,” he said.
Bartusek was able to reach his destination safely, later fighting in the Attack on Manhay on Christmas Day.
He was able to visit Manhay again on the trip, this time under better circumstances.
“They showed me the exact place I came out of the Ardennes on the attack,” Bartusek said.
Although the same forest and dragon’s teeth remain, much of the countryside looked as if nothing had ever happened there, he said.
On his trip, Bartusek participated in memorial services in Normandy, France, laying the wreath for the U.S. at Omaha Beach.
He also met local dignitaries, witnessed a parachute drop, visited where surrendering documents were signed and toured a number of historic sites: Dachau concentration camp, Nazi rally grounds, Adolf Hitler’s Kelsteinhaus (Eagle’s Nest) home and several museums, where he recognized equipment on display.