WWII infantryman inducted into Wall of Heroes
By Janet Taylor-Birkey, 27th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 20, 2006
CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Perhaps one of the hallmarks of an infantryman who has seen battle, is his easy willingness to admit the fear he experienced.
“I was scared to death,” James Brazell readily admits. “If anybody ever tells you they were not scared, [that is not true]”
And despite being wounded and afraid, he did what he was trained to do as a Soldier – continue the mission.
Mr. Brazell was inducted into the Airmen Leadership School’s Wall of Heroes May 25, joining a select group of Americans who served their country through the turbulence of war and conflict.
Born in 1925, James Brazell was drafted into the United States Army at age 19 and was assigned to Company A, 7th Armored Infantry Battalion, 8th Armored Division in 1944.
In 1944, World War II was in its final stages but Soldiers were in constant danger from desperate German troops unwilling to surrender. Roads and villages once thought to be secure became deadly ambush sites for unsuspecting American Soldiers.
Armored infantry battalions moved quickly through Europe and Company A was set for the final offensive across Germany to crush the last resistance of the war.
Mr. Brazell’s company moved through the Siegfried Line, also called the “dragon’s teeth” or the west wall by the Germans, between France and Germany.
Spanning 392 miles from the Netherlands, along the western border of Germany, to the Swiss border, it consisted of bunkers, pill boxes (machine gun bunkers) and tank traps. Adolph Hitler built this wall constructed with forced laborers, intent on keeping Allied forces out of Germany. After crossing the Siegfried line, Company A proceeded toward Dorsten, Germany.
While securing the town, his outfit met enemy fire. Although he escaped capture, he did not escape being wounded.
“I got shot through the right thigh [by a tracer round]. A German military woman shot me. We were coming into the town and she shot me. She didn’t make it, [the other Soldiers] shot her,” he said recounting the events of more than 60 years ago.
After being treated, he was sent to Austria and then to Belgium to recuperate and later returned to duty as a military policeman in charge of watching the prisoners of war.
One of Mr. Brazell’s most vivid memories was when he did the opposite of his military training, but it turned out to be the right thing by saving lives of other Soldiers.
He recalled when a halftrack – a personnel carrier with wheels in the front and track in the back – began backing into the line of fire.
“I hollered at him to move it, because they were going to start dropping shells on us. Two of the guys in the halftrack got wounded real bad. One of the guys got his jaw cut real bad, the other one lost his ear,” said Mr. Brazell.
Mr. Brazell took the men to the medics and returned to the vehicle. Looking in the driver’s side, he spied an 88-millimeter shell in the seat that hadn’t exploded.
“I was always told in basic training never to pick up a shell that had not exploded. I picked it up and stuck it in what looked like a rabbit hole and I took off. About midnight we heard the most awful explosion. You could have set the [halftrack] into [the hole left from the round exploding].”
Mr. Brazell’s view of today’s military has much to do with how he perceives the media coverage that is allowed.
“It’s a whole lot different now because in World War II, they didn’t allow the radio networks and news [to report] a lot of news. I think that’s a bad mistake with TV; to let everyone know where these guys are at and everything about it.”
Mr. Brazell may not be in favor of today’s plentiful media coverage, but when asked if he was proud to have served in the military, his reply was an enthusiastic, “oh yes,” adding, “If you’ve ever been to a foreign country, you’ll understand why. There isn’t another country in the world like this one. It’s the freedom we’ve got that other countries don’t have. You can say what you please and nobody’s going to shoot you.”
Mr. Brazell’s few words indicate his humbleness of how he views his military time.
“I don’t consider myself a hero,” he said, but his military awards that include a Bronze star, a Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and World War II campaign ribbons prove otherwise.
Honorably discharged April of 1946, Mr. Brazell returned to Clovis, married his wife Betty in 1946 and had three sons.
The Wall of Heroes program was begun in June 2004 to honor the previous extraordinary services of local heroes. There are eight ALS classes each year, and each class chooses a hero to add to the Wall of Heroes, many of whom were POWs during World War II.
(The Airman Leadership School provided information for this article.)