Author and military historian William Breuer knew all too well about war.
Breuer died Wednesday morning in a Chattanooga hospital. He was 87. He was buried Saturday in Hilcrest Memorial Gardens with military honors.
According to his nephew, Dr. William Nickel, of Chicago, Breuer was involved so much in World War II that he didn’t want to talk about it for several years.
“It devastated him,” Dr. Nickel said Thursday in a telephone interview. “Not only did he see some of his best friends get killed in combat, but what he and his fellow soldiers had to do was also very brutal. He didn’t even want to talk about it for many years afterward.”
He stayed in contact with his friends and as time passed, he began writing things down and that finally led to his first book, “Bloody Clash at Sadzot.”
“That’s where he’s actually recounting some of his memories from that one big battle,” Dr. Nickel said.
After that, 41 of Breuer’s books were published in the United States.
Dr. Nickel said his uncle came from a very patriotic and Republican family. Breuer’s father, Louis H. Breuer, came from a family of eight boys. Two of the boys became lawyers, two were doctors and the other four were farmers.
Louis Breuer attended Washington University Law School in St. Louis and became a prominent attorney in Jefferson City, Mo., and St. Louis before returning to his hometown of Rolla, Mo., where he settled into the life of a small town lawyer, mayor and founding member of the Rotary Club in 1935.
Civic life in Rolla was much simpler than the previous eight years (1926-1934) he spent as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri during Prohibition years (1919-1933) and The Great Depression that began with the stock market crash in October 1929 and ended in the United States in about 1938.
“It was during Prohibition so he handled a lot of mobsters,” Dr. Nickel said.
Bill Breuer’s older sister, Mary Nickel, said Thursday in an interview at the Banner that her father declined a judicial appointment.
“They wanted him to be a judge and my mother liked the idea. It would be a lifetime job in St. Louis,” Mrs. Nickel said. “But he said, no, I’m just a country lawyer and I want to go back to my little town of Rolla.”
Congress approved inducting the National Guard into federal service and called up the reserves on Aug. 27, 1940. A few weeks later the lawmakers passed the Selective Service and Training Act on Sept. 6, 1940, only 11 days before Breuer’s 18th birthday on Sept. 17.
The year 1941 must have been a year of contradictions — a year of sweet dreams come true and gone as he was invited to spring training with the St. Louis Browns in Springfield, Ill. — and dreams gone.
“My dad was head of the draft board and all the busybodies in town said if he’s on the draft board I’ll bet his son won’t be going to the war,” she said. “He told that story many times. Dad was very patriotic and his son went. He said he signed him up to go overseas.”
Dr. Nickel said his Uncle Bill was a terrific athlete. He was captain of the baseball team and he was also an excellent swimmer. It was an ability that would save his life on June 6, 1944, when he landed on the beach during the invasion of Normandy. He had at least one landing craft to sink during the invasion. He was fished from the English Channel and returned to the same ship he had departed from an hour earlier. Once there, he boarded another assault craft and headed for shore.
“He landed at Normandy and from there, he was in every major campaign until the war finished,” he said. “He was a survivor.”
The war ended in Europe on May 8, 1945.
He returned home to Rolla, where he enjoyed a successful career as publisher of the Rolla Herald. He later opened a public relations firm in St. Louis and eventually began a third career as a writer.
“Bill Breuer had quite an impact on Cleveland,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said in his eulogy of Breuer. “Our veterans here revered and appreciated him for his unwavering support. He was a great cheerleader for our city. And as mayor of Cleveland I know he was a great ambassador. Our mailbox had daily communiqués from Bill and many of them were copies of letters he sent or received from leaders from around the world. He called Cleveland ‘home’ and shared with others how he felt about it.
“No mayor could have had a greater supporter. I will miss Bill Breuer – his wit, his wisdom, his knowledge and his unwavering love of America and our troops. It is only fitting that at his internment that he receives full military honors today … Rest in peace William Breuer — we are all blessed that you crossed our paths.”