World War II Veteran In Ventura County Remembers Memorial Day
He was just a young man, like so many young men, called to serve his country in uniform.
People know Joe Bergstrom for his years as an executive at a local company, the family he raised, and his involvement with a number of community groups in Ventura County. But, even many friends didn’t know that the 94 year old Camarillo man served on the front lines in Europe during World War II, earning a Bronze Star for his heroism during his very first time in combat.
Bergstrom graduated from high school in 1941. The 18 year old was a student at the University of Wisconsin when the attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into World War II. The military kept him in college until 1943, when he was sent for special training as an Army combat engineer.
In 1944, he was deployed to Europe. After a voyage with 5,000 other soldiers on a troop ship, his unit headed by truck to the front lines near the tiny country of Luxembourg. Bergstrom’s unit was deployed in a tiny town on the Sauer River. Across the river was Germany, and its fortified Sigfried Line of defenses. The unit’s first task was to support soldiers who were going to be sent across the river in boats to storm the defenses. On that first night of combat, half of his unit was killed or wounded.
Bergstrom says despite the heavy fire, he helped some of the wounded. Despite the heavy fire, he stayed with two men, one on either side of him, who were both his and seriously wounded. That heroism earned him a Bronze Star. But, he admits he thought he’d be the next one hit, and killed. Focusing on doing his job helped get him through the experience. He made it through the battle, and on to Germany, where among other things he saw firsthand the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp, where more than 50,000 prisoners died.
Bergstrom says he never considered himself to be a hero, but just someone, like many others, who stood up for freedom. Even though it’s been more than seven decades, as Memorial Day approaches, the 94 year old man says he still remembers those he served with who never came home.