Veteran Profile: David Obernuefemann

Oldham Countian Obernuefemann served in Germany, France

The 90-year-old recalls his days as a U.S. Army gunner

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (October 2015) – Aug. 18, 1943, is a day that David Obernuefemann will never forget. It was the day he was drafted and little did the 17-year-old know that within two years he would travel the world and engage in battles in Northern France, Ardennes and Nuremberg, Germany.

This is the third part in our series of World War II Veterans Stories that began in August.

“What was a 17-year-old to think?” said Obernuefemann, 90. “It was my last year of high school, and everybody else was going.”
At the time he was drafted into the U.S. Army, Obernuefemann lived in Illinois. He reported to Fort Knox, Ky., and trained in tanks as a replacement with the 26th Armored Replacement Battery Company C while in service. He became a driver and a gunner, able to maneuver every position in a tank. But he was “mostly a gunner,” he said, and was also with the 29th Infantry in 1st Army with 100 tanks.
He saw action in the Normandy Invasion in June 1944. His job was to get tanks from England to the front lines. “I figured I’d go back to England and get more tanks.” He was transferred to the 3rd Army with the 737th Tank Battalion under General George Patton.
Although he was fortunate enough to never have been wounded, while at Normandy Obernuefemann was sent to the hospital for a hernia. “When my name came in, the doctor said, ‘We have a nurse on staff by the same name.’ She was my sister,” he said. “She was my nurse for three days.”

Photo provided

Crestwood veteran David Obernuefemann saw extensive action on the frontlines during World War II. He is pictured above and below as a young soldier.

He also had a brother who was drafted before him who became a medic in the Army and the Marines. When the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, “They kept all the medics to take care of the wounded Japanese,” Obernuefemann said. He and his siblings all served at the same time during the war.
He was a tank commander for five campaigns and was awarded a Bronze Star for each one. “When you’re in a tank, as a gunner, you have one little sight you look through all the time. Every battle is about the same. You do it or don’t do it.”
In December 1944, Obernuefemann’s unit drove three straight days to join the action at the Battle of the Bulge. While he was a gunner, Obernuefemann had three tank commanders who were “killed while standing behind me.” Snipers were one of their biggest worries. “It was not a pretty sight.”

Photo provided

Crestwood veteran David Obernuefemann as a young soldier.

After these three commanders had died, Obernuefemann was named tank commander on Christmas Day, 1944.
When the war ended in Germany, “They took our tanks, and we were given amphibious tanks. The day we pulled into Boston Harbor, the war ended.”
He said, “We had just come into Boston Harbor, and everybody was hollering. We didn’t know what had happened. We said we’d go overboard if they didn’t get us off of here.” Confused, his unit thought they were getting ready to invade Japan but knew they didn’t have orders yet. Luckily, the war was over.
Obernuefemann said he was home 77 days “and they asked me if I wanted to re-enlist or get out.” After two years of service, he happily chose the latter option.
“You were given so many points for each day of combat, and I earned 300 points.” He left the Army with the rank of corporal.
Like many others, Obernuefemann had a hard time finding a job once the war had ended. He went back to Illinois, where his grandfather had settled. “Where I’m from, Obernuefemann is a common name.” His family is of German descent.
That might sound a little ironic to some, since America fought Germany in both World Wars, but as Obernuefemann put it, “Everybody comes from somewhere.”
He finally found work at a rock quarry. “The dynamite man had gotten blown up. They asked me if I could handle dynamite. After being in the war, I thought, ‘why not?’ ”
Obernuefemann had dated his first wife, Mildred Fohne, two years before going into service. After the war, they married and had five children. About two months after working at the rock quarry, he switched paths and became a truck driver.
But every night found him working on the truck, so his wife suggested he learn to be a mechanic. Obernuefemann then took advantage of the GI Bill and got a job with the Chevrolet Co. “I worked as a mechanic for 23 years with Chevrolet,” he said.
After having been married to Mildred for 50 years, she died, and he is now married to his second wife, June. They live in Crestwood. He likes to say he “inherited a daughter through marriage,” in reference to his step-daughter, Sharon Shreif.
“He loves to talk about his war experiences,” said Shreif. “He has visited schools and has a photo album of memorabilia. He talks about the things he did, the things that happened during the war.”
Shreif said a recent highlight for Obernuefemann was his participation in the Patriotic Festival in New Castle on June 13. The event honored World War II veterans. “He really enjoyed that celebration and absolutely wanted to be a part of it.”
Another rewarding experience Obernuefemann took part in three years ago was the Honor Flight. “It was a one day trip,” he said. “We left from the airport in Louisville and went to Washington, D.C.”
Because so many veterans are in wheelchairs, “Twenty people took care of us.” Approximately 40 veterans took the trip with Obernuefemann.

As to how the war affected him, Obernuefemann said, “Everybody changes. Life’s not a free meal. You have to work for what you get.”

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