VOSSENECK, Germany – In 1939, the world entered WWII, the deadliest war in history sparked by an international conflict between the Axis and Allied powers. The 4th Infantry Division joined the fight in 1944 with Allied forces in WWII and participated in one of the bloodiest battles in the war, the Battle of Hurtgen Forest.
One WWII veteran, Mr. Jacob (Jake) Ruser, a combat medic from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, assigned to 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Inf. Div., who deployed to Europe in 1944, has first-hand experience of the deadly battle.
“Hurtgen Forest, in my opinion, was the worst battle the U.S. Army fought in WWII in the European theater of operations,” said Ruser. “It was hell on Earth.”
The Battle of Hurtgen Forest spanned over three months during a cold winter from Sept. 19 to Dec. 16, 1944.
Soldiers like Ruser were fighting through a man-made forest preserve with dense woods, deep ravines, and high ridges. Ruser said the earth and men were so torn up it was like going into a meat grinder.
Ruser went on to explain how during the battle, the Americans and Germans would call a truce to gather their dead.
“They stopped the war,” said Ruser. “You could see Americans and Germans who were bringing casualties to the aid stations on either side.”
Ruser implied that all the Soldiers on both sides were treated with dignity and respect.
“It was something I’ve never seen,” said Ruser. “I traveled from Utah Beach all the way to Hurtgen Forest and I never saw anything like it.”
Ruser entered Europe during D-Day with his unit at Utah Beach in June 1944. He said one thing people hardly ever talk about is what happened to some Soldiers before they made it off the ships.
“The worst part was coming down from the ship onto the landing craft,” said Ruser. "One would come up and the other would go down. If you slipped and didn’t make it into the boat in time you landed between the two ships and got crushed.”
Although there were a ton of casualties in the battles to follow Utah Beach, medics like Ruser saved hundreds of lives. Ruser said they tried to treat every casualty the same, giving each one the respect and courtesy they deserved.
Ruser’s job was to treat and evacuate the wounded as fast as possible to get them to a hospital where they could get full medical treatment. He said the hardest part for him was evacuating the casualties through the ravine and gun fire that stood between the Soldiers and much needed care.
“In order to get from the aid station to the front line was about 1,300 to 1,500 feet,” said Ruser. “You had to go down the steep ravine, go across the creek and climb up the other side.”
Regardless of the distance, Ruser would never leave a fallen comrade.
After 78 years, with the help of the Hurtgenwald Historical Society, a volunteer-led organization, and the Hurtgen Forest Memorial Museum located in Vosseneck, Germany, Ruser got the opportunity to walk through that same ravine, where he saved hundreds of lives decades prior.
As Ruser walked around the forest’s remnants of fox holes and medical-aid bunkers he remembered what it was like to run up and down the hills carrying wounded Soldiers on litters and over his back.
“The area has changed so much it’s surprising, but I’m glad,” said Ruser. “It’s for the good, I hope.”
After the tour through the forest, the Hurtgen Forest Memorial Museum presented Ruser with a 4th Inf. Div. plaque in dedication to his selfless service and sacrifice.
“This is really a special moment,” said Tobias Kreuzmann, the team leader for the Hurtgen Forest Memorial Museum. “I don’t have to tell you that there are not many veterans left and you have a veteran here that actually fought in the Hurtgen Forest. It’s amazing.”
Kreuzmann said that this was the first real ceremony the museum had conducted that wasn’t solely about a Soldier who had died in the battle.
The plaque dedication was a complete surprise to Ruser and he was speechless.
“I am very pleased with the division and all they have been doing since these wars,” said Ruser. “I believe everyone should get a few years in the military to get some background. It makes you think different and it’s beneficial to the whole Nation.”
Ruser served in the military for 26 months and ended his time as a private first class, but he continued his service and legacy to the division as a department of defense civilian for 32 more years.