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Marines line up to shake the hand of Ivan Glen Speer, an Army veteran who served during World War II at Phelps dining facility Wednesday. Speer was one of the first 18-year-olds to be drafted to go to war. By the time he hit Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, he was 19 years old, and in charge of a M4 18-ton high-speed tractor, which he named “Hitler’s Crawlin’ Coffin”.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

World War II hero visits base, shares his story

30 Jul 2008 | Lance Cpl. Monica C. Erickson

 
A World War II hero visited the Combat Center to tour the base and meet some of the Marines Wednesday.


Wearing his old army uniform and moving around in a red motorized scooter, Ivan Glen Speer, a Wayne County, Iowa, native, immediately drew interest from the Marines around him. As he shook their hand and asked their hometown, he would recall a time he had visited their home state, making an instant connection with each Marine.


“It’s great he came to visit our base,” said Sgt. Justin Bowers, with Exercise Support Division. “We always get caught up about what people are doing now, we have a tendency to forget about what they did before us.”


While sitting down for lunch, Speer shared his story about his time during World War II and all the hardships he and his battery had to endure.


Speer was one of the first 18-year-olds to be drafted to go to war.  By the time he hit Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, he was 19 years old and in charge of a M4 18-ton high-speed tractor, which he named “Hitler’s Crawlin’ Coffin.”


As an Army veteran he served with Battery D, 110th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Gun Battalion with the 29th Infantry Division. Speer said he was on the front lines during the invasion of Omaha Beach and was responsible for shooting down the first German aircraft on French soil.


He spoke about the hard-working men in his battery, constantly referring to them as “my boys”, and their efforts to stay alive during the constant fighting and nature’s hardships while they traveled through Europe.


He spoke of his time in Paris, France, and the constant sniper fire and his never-ending fear of being shot.


“We got into Paris August 25, and from that day until we left we had snipers firing at us,” said Speer.


As his unit continued to travel through Europe they went to Belgium and helped break through Axis powers during the Battle of the Bulge.


“It was always cold,” said Speer as he reminisced about how some of his fellow soldiers’ feet froze. “I sat on corpses to eat my rations so I wouldn’t sit in the snow and freeze like the others.”


“All those boys have been through hell you know,” he continued, as his voice took on a sharper edge in attempt to not cry. “I always dream these bad dreams about our time. It never leaves my head.”


As Speer and his fellow soldiers broke through the Bulge, they were given orders to turn their attention to the final defeat of Germany.


“We were at the Remagen Bridge,” said Speer. “I saw this jet airplane dropping bombs near us. I jumped up on my tractor and just began to fire at it.”


The explosions caused the bridge to collapse, resulting in more than 90 American casualties.


As the war turned for the better, American’s began turning over their camps to the Soviets and prepared the 110th AAA to go home.


After nearly a full year of touring Europe and constant fighting and death, Speer and his men were able to go back to the United States.


“The first thing I did when I got back was go to the [Post Exchange] for a chocolate sundae,” said Speer, remembering how happy he was to have food he hadn’t had in almost a year. “As I walked in, I saw a stand with hotdogs, and decided I wanted one of those too.”


As Speer finished his meal at Phelps dining facilities, and moved to see the rest of the base he continued to talk to other Marines about their time in the Marine Corps, as he compared it to the old times he had in the Army.


“This is something he wanted to do for a long time,” said Shirley Button, a long-time friend of Speer. “He just loves people, and after everything he did he deserves to be around his fellow people again.”


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