When you’re in the military, a surprise isn’t usually a good thing. But for two local brothers from Smithfield, a chance meeting overseas during World War II has become one of many strong memories of their time together as men of duty. As Veterans Day approaches, the two, now aged 91 and 89, reflect on an overall brief but imprinted time in their lives.
Ray and Ralph Ice both enlisted into the U.S. Army in 1942. Ray was sent overseas Nov. 8, 1942, and toured through North Africa and Sicily, and was at the invasion of Italy and Normandy as a member of the 531st Amphibian Engineers.
Meanwhile younger brother Ralph, a soldier in the 89th Infantry Division of the American Army, was sent to fight the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. “We were the dogs that run ’em out,” he recalls with a grin. He toured through Germany, England, Belgium, and Australia. “I slept in a barn one night, a castle the next,” Ralph said of his many travels in duty.
On that infamous day, June 6, 1944, the two were unexpectedly reunited in Le Havre, France, after a two-and-a-half-year separation. Ralph had just gotten off the ship for only about three hours and Ray had also recently landed there among 160,000 other troops.
“We had been half a world apart,” says Ralph. “We didn’t know each other was there.”
That ignorance would soon change when Ray happened to find his brother eating dinner. The two were most glad to see each other in good health and were able to share some accounts of their recent travels.
Unfortunately not all of their memories during war time are as pleasant as their serendipitous reunion. Ralph spoke with a choke on his throat as he recalled both a tragic and wonderful piece of history of which he is a part: on April 4, 1945, the 4th Armored Division and the 89th Infantry of the Third U.S. Army-his division-liberated Ohrdruf, a concentration subcamp of Buchenwald, Germany. “We didn’t know we were coming upon a concentration camp,” he remembers, though notably, had they known, no one still could ever prepare for what was found.
On a similar note, Ray added the death tole from D-Day was also gruesome. He remembers seeing bodies continually washed ashore months after D-Day.
After the war ended, the two brothers found their younger brother, Wayne. He had been wounded on the Ruhr River in Germany. Wayne was in the Combat Engineers and was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in service for his country.
Ralph received a Bronze Star medal for saving another soldier’s life, and also received a Combat Infantry Medal and a medal for Service Operations Behind Enemy Lines.
Ray’s last day in the service was Sept. 5, 1945. From there he returned stateside and worked in Hastings for 22 years. In 1968 he moved to Fairmont, then to Mannington in 1984, and has lived in New Martinsville for several years.
Ralph’s infantry deactivated Dec. 27, 1945. In April 1946 Ralph joined the military government in Austria. He worked making sure German hospital doctors had supplies and the sort, and later traveled a great deal as the Sergeant of 53 vehicles. He also managed a hotel. After his travels Ralph married and moved to Pine Grove and was the Postmaster for 39 years in Jacksonburg. Since 1972 he and his wife have also lived in New Martinsville.
Ray and Ralph were born and raised in Smithfield, the sons of Easten and Flossie Ice. Out of their 12 children Ray, Ralph, Wayne, Roy, and Ross were all in the service.