GREENVILLE - Earl Bredeson, former general manager of Swift & Co. in Greenville, turned 93 this past Nov. 20 and distinctly remembers many things about his childhood, while he was in the military and his career. He was born on a dairy farm in southern Wisconsin in 1920.
“I was a Depression baby,” he said. “I was 9 years old.”
The family, he said, during that time moved from the farm into Madison, Wis., where his father became a policeman and subsequently captain of detectives.
“I went to high school there and participated in sports,” Bredeson said. “I started at the University of Wisconsin in late 1939, and, in 1940, due to President Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, I enlisted.”
Bredeson said he was aboard a European ship with Canadians.
“I trained with British commandos for 3 1/2 years,” he said. “Their officers were defeated at Dunkirk and they were very harsh and demonstrated everything up to death.”
He said the U.S. troops came in volume in 1943, and he transferred to the 82ndof U.S. Rangers then to the 101st Airborne.
“I landed on D-Day in Normandy, France,” he said. “The division was made up of 6,600 and in my unit were 143, with only 10 of us living.”
He went on, “Due to bad weather, the wind carried us and I landed in one of of Rommel’s lowlands at 2:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944.”
Bredeson said when he woke up, he was lying in a manger in a cow barn with cows eating hay on top of him.
“I only assumed the farmer and his wife carried me there in the darkness,” he said. “They would bring me water and food in buckets so the German’s wouldn’t see. The Germans were within yards of where we were. It seemed like forever though til the 7th Corps of Army liberated me and destroyed the Germans that did not escape. They fought with the 7th Corps for the rest of the time with the objective to take a port which the Germans had already blown into pieces. Then, our objective was to go toward Paris. In the meantime, Germans set up fortifications and had a two-day battle, killing 800 Germans and 600 Americans.”
At the end of that battle, he said they were heading toward Paris and were advised that the Germans were escaping from Normandy and were told to close the gap with the Canadians.
“While Germans had the upper hand for a period of time and were killing our boys, our colonel in charge, either was captured or killed and I being a tech sergeant and became in command,” Bredeson said. “I knew we couldn’t stay there, so another sergeant and myself at night loaded up with ammunition and machine gun belts and crawled through the terrain of the Germans. I thought we were en masse. We killed a number of them but many escaped leaving their equipment.”
He went on, “My fellow sergeant was wounded, and many Americans in our combat unit were awarded the Silver Cross for destroying the enemy. At that point, what was left of my unit was ordered to head toward Paris. On Aug. 24, 1944, our unit and others of the U.S. 1st Army liberated Paris. Such joys and pleasure I’ve never seen on so many faces of many people. The Paris people were under German command for 4 1/2 years and were elated to see the American troops, showing us that with wine, champagne, sandwiches, hugs and kisses and thanked us by saying ‘Merci’ a hundred times.”
Something good came out of that period in his life.
“I met my [future] wife in that crowd of people that day,” “We were married for 62 years when she died in 2007.”
That woman was Denise, whose last name of Charpentier translated to Carpenter in America.
“There were thousands of people there and I never had a girlfriend in the States,” he said. “I saw her and told someone if that woman’s isn’t married, I’m marrying her. But, I lost her in a crowd.”
He then concentrated on his military career.
“I was with the Army until they liberated the concentration camps in Dachau, Germany, at which time they wanted to return me to the States,” he remembered. “They sent me to rehab in Paris. I got a day a week out of the hospital and wanted to get my mother something and went into a perfume salon, and there she was. Denise was the manager. We were married Feb. 19, 1945. It’s a fairy tale. We started dating once a week.”
He admitted that before his marriage he was in a very low period in life.
“At that time I didn’t care for anyone, but she turned me around,” he said.”The Lord says don’t hate anybody. I know what hate is. It’s so deep in the body you can’t get rid of it. It took me two years to get rid of it. When I left camp, I was an animal. Now my life is full of love. I thank my wife for that.”
During his stint in the military, he had the opportunity to meet Generals Dwight Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Bradley and Jerew.
After they were married, the Bredesons didn’t know if they wanted to stay in France or return to the United States. He wanted to stay until he fully recovered in his health.
“I took a job with the American Civil Service and became a supply officer for the European American Graves Registration,” he said. “Then she became pregnant and we had to make a decision. I had a wonderful job, but my wife decided for me.”
It was in December 1946 that they decided to come to America, and their first child was born in February 1947.
“We didn’t come on the same ship,” Bredeson said. “She was on a cargo ship with 13 other French girls. I went to pick her up but they were delayed.”
Ten days, later, he was wired that the women’s ship had arrived. His wife was wearing a heavy coat to cover up her pregnancy as a doctor was not aboard her ship.
“The sad part was that me and another fellow showed up, but the rest of the women were left there,” he said.
Once back in the States, he had to get a job to support his growing family.
“We lived with my family for a year and a half,” Bredeson said. “”I took a job as salesman with Swift & Co., the chemical division. I started in Madison, then transferred to the president’s office in Chicago where I was made manager, then I went to Atlanta division in Georgia for two years, Then I was transferred to LaGrange for 10 months, Cleveland for another 10 months and Portland, Ore, for six years before I came to Greenville in 1961 to the local Swift plant on Ohio Street, where Conagra is today.”
Five or six years later, he was asked to be the executive vice president in the Chicago office but turned it down because they didn’t want to live in the big city.
“We enjoyed Greenville and its surroundings and the people,” he said.
He subsequently became consultant for the company, traveling across the United States to golf courses. He retired in 1985.
“My wife had a light stroke while I was working and I gave up work to take care of her,” he recalled. “In February 2007, she had a real stroke.”
A big help to them was Rose Benanzer, who had taken care of Denise until her death and now Earl.
“I still love her,” Bredeson said of his wife.
The couple have two children, Maxine, a retired elementary teacher, and Jack now retired from Dannon Yogurt. There are also four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Since the Bredesons made a return visit to Normandy in 1986, he has been compiling his memoirs and other information into three big notebooks.
“I decided to make these for my family,” he said.
The books contain lots of photos and stories, most of which are from Bredeson’s own memories.
“I made notes while I was there and scribbled them on paper,” Bredeson said of the war days. “I kept the notes in my pocket then put them in a folder.”
Today, he is asked to speak to churches and schools on his experiences and especially about freedom.
“I got a call from a school where they were giving talks and they told me a Jewish man was coming to talk who had been in the concentration camp,” he said. “We listened to it. He read everything for an hour. I went up to him afterwards. It was my outfit that liberated him. I thought he was going to hug me to death.
Bredeson faithfully attends the local First Assembly of God Church every Sunday whenever he can. Of Scandinavian descent, he was raised in the Lutheran Church.
“When I was six months old I had double pneumonia and then I lived through the war,” he said.