Private First Class Victor E. Bloomer
Rifleman, Company Armorer
B Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment
Born in London, Kentucky in May 1914, Victor E. Bloomer was a typical Kentucky farm boy in a large bluegrass family. His father, a carpenter and farmer, was the breadwinner while his mother stayed home to help raise her seven children, Victor squarely in the middle. In the 1920s the family moved to Trigg County on the other side of the state where more of their relatives resided, settling on their own farm just outside of Cadiz. Bloomer attended Cadiz High School until 1933 when he left to help his father run the farm as the Great Depression began to affect the region. Maturing into adulthood, Bloomer decided to leave his Kentucky home for a series of jobs taking him across the country. In 1940 he was living in St. Louis working as a gas station attendant but, upon the breakout of war, found a well-paying job as a crane operator at Mare Island Navy Yards in Vallejo, California. He moved out west and became quite involved in the community. Later that year, Bloomer received notice from the draft board that he had been selected for service in the United States Army. Although performing valuable work operating a crane to move supplies and parts used to build warships, the U.S. government decided he was best suited for the frontline. A party with his friends saw him off that December to basic training and, after that, on the way to Europe.
Bloomer arrived in Europe in the fall of 1944, filtering through a replacement depot in Southern France before receiving a final assignment. In October he was notified to join the 36th Infantry Division as a replacement. At the time that Bloomer joined, the 36th Division was engaged in a bitter struggle against deeply rooted German forces in the Vosges Forest of Central France. The Vosges, an ancient region of mountainous wooded hills, was the stronghold of German troops that had survived the retreat from the landings in Southern France that past August. Now taking up a defense in the fortified hills, the T-Patchers of the 36th were tasked with driving the Germans out. Upon arrival Bloomer was assigned as a rifleman in B Company, 142nd Infantry Regiment, joining them in the regimental reserve near Tendon before moving to the lines at Rehaupaul. For two months Bloomer’s company rotated throughout a series of defensive positions holding the division’s flank while an advance took place at the northern part of the line. Daily patrols, artillery fire, and raiding parties composed daily life for B Company throughout this period which, although static, proved a simple but effective way of adjusting replacements like Bloomer to the combat environment.
Towards the end of November, the division’s slow advance picked up pace as it broke out onto the Alsatian plain. With the 142nd’s 3rd Battalion opening up the St. Marie pass, the regiment moved to quickly secure the key town of Selestat, a critical German supply hub maintaining German troops in Colmar. With Selestat taken by 3 December, the battle-weary 3rd Battalion was replaced with the 1st Battalion in case of any German counterattack, Bloomer among them. Rather than detail the extent of the battalion’s experience at Selestat, quoting the citation for the Presidential Unit Citation demonstrates the intense action that Bloomer experienced in December 1944:
The 1st Battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division is cited for heroism, gallantry, and outstanding achievement in combat on 12 December 1944 at Selestat, France. The 1st Battalion was thinly spread on a broad front in defense of the important communications center, Selestat. Just before dawn, a heavy artillery concentration preceded a large-scale enemy attack against the city. During the bitter fighting that ensued, hostile troops gained control of a factory area on the north flank, seized a mile stretch of houses in the Northeast corner of the city, and succeeded in isolating small groups of the battalion. While the isolated units fought valiantly to repel the attackers, other units of the battalion counterattacked. Only by blasting each house with tank fire and assaulting the strong points with small arms, grenades, and bayonets, were the battalion troops able to dislodge the Germans. The fight for Selestat raged furiously throughout the morning but by mid-afternoon the hostile troops were being forced out of the city. At the battle’s end, the 1st Battalion had killed more than 200 enemy soldiers, had captured 333 prisoners and, including others known to be wounded, had inflicted approximately 700 casualties on the attacking force estimated at 1000 combat effectiveness. The courage, individual aggressiveness, and distinguished heroism displayed by the officers and men of the 1st Battalion resulted in the repulse of a strong enemy attack which, if successful, would have severed the Strasbourg-Selestat highway and opened the way for an attack against the rear of the Seventh Army.
Selestat put the men of the 1st Battalion, new and old, to the test and they excelled beyond all expectations. Although the citation describes only the first day of action, Bloomer’s company went on to fight for several more days to prevent multiple German regiments supported by Nashorn and StuG tank destroyers from taking the city. During the fighting, B Company’s platoons were cut off from one another and many of the men, like Bloomer, ended up fighting in small squads or partial platoon-sized elements until the entire company could be reunited upon recapture of the sector. After the 1st Battalion managed to overwhelm such enormous odds they were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation and even received credit from SS figurehead Heinrich Himmler, who referred to the 1st Battalion’s defense when advising his soldiers that “[r]esolute troops cannot be thrown out of a village when every house becomes a strongpoint. What the Americans could do in Selestat, I expect you and your men to do also.”
With the threat nullified, B Company was finally relieved on 17 December to head towards Ribeauville for some rest as the division reserve. They remained in this capacity until 31 December when the regiment moved to support the 100th Infantry Division near Bitche as the Germans attempted to cut the American supply route to the Rhine. On 3 January the 142nd motor marched to Montbronn then onto St. Louis the next day. By 5 January the 1st Battalion reached its final positions defending Lemberg with the regimental Anti-Tank Company in support to secure the southern edge of the 100th Division’s flank. No less than twenty-four hours after arriving, the battalion was attacked by heavy enemy artillery and a platoon of German troops pressing against B Company’s part of the line. After driving the raiding party back, B Company decided to send its own patrol, finding German troops digging in nearby. The next day was full of further sharp patrol actions with several firefights breaking out at various segments of the battalion line. The Germans were ready and willing to press wherever the Americans might show weakness, making the 142nd Infantry’s blocking position critical in preventing a total collapse of the American line. On 8 January 1st Battalion was sent to seize a piece of ground held by Germans between the 36th and 100th Division areas. Although the attack was carried out by A and C Companies with armor support, the heavy fighting involved numerous artillery exchanges, one of which likely hit Bloomer while B Company was waiting in the battalion reserve. The wound was serious but did not put him out of the war, only sending him to a hospital for recovery over the next several weeks.
By March Bloomer rejoined B Company, albeit with a slight change in his duties. His former artillery wounds complicating his capability as a full-time rifleman, the company commander designated him the new company armorer. While still a rifleman when needed, Bloomer now also carried the responsibility of maintaining and repairing the many rifles, submachine guns, carbines, automatic rifles, and pistols of B Company. The first half of the month was spent in defensive positions along the Moder River before launching their great advance to the Siegfried Line on 15 March. The 1st Battalion was initially held in reserve as the regiment started the attack by crossing the Moder River, only committing to battle to quicken the capture of Mertzwiller when the other exhausted battalions began lagging. Upon reaching the edge of the wood leading into the city, the battalion found immediate success by overrunning a German heavy weapons company preparing to retreat, capturing dozens of enemy combatants and six artillery pieces in the process. The success was stifled, however, by a heavy artillery barrage which forced the battalion back towards other regiment units to swing around on the city proper. The fighting continued for a few more days as the 142nd bagged hundreds of more prisoners by overwhelming German forces preparing to fall back to the Siegfried Line.
It was not until the 1st Battalion reached Wissembourg, along the German border, that they again encountered enemy shelling, signaling the final defense for the drive into Germany. Capturing the town of Oberotterbach against heavy rocket fire from nearby Nebelwerfer units, the 1st Battalion was the first of the regiment to test the German forces manning the dragon’s teeth only to be quickly pushed back by fierce counterfire. While the 3rd Battalion was undertaking a secret flanking maneuver around one of the nearby hills, the 1st Battalion saw huge success in a quickly-planned assault on Dorrenbach as B Company punched through the German defense and opened the town for American troops. With a few more days of hard fighting, the defenses along their portion of the Siegfried Line crumbled on 27 March, opening the path for the 36th Division to enter the Nazi homeland.
Throughout the month of April, the 36th Division drove deep into Germany but in a new role, implementing and overseeing the first military government in the occupied areas of the country. This meant the T-Patchers were mostly concerned with displaced persons, traffic, and bureaucratic affairs rather than their usual hazardous operations, a welcome relief, but one which did not last. On 24 April the division moved 160 miles from Kaiserslautern to Kunzelsau to initiate combat actions once again, moving towards Landsberg in the latter days of the month. It was here that the division was one of the first to discover the Dachau concentration subcamp at Kaufering, revealing the true extent of Nazi atrocity. Although the German army was collapsing around them, Bloomer’s battalion was still subjected to a German attack by scattered SS troops on 3 May while holding positions near the camp. It was during this engagement that Bloomer was wounded a second time, in his lower right arm and nose, most likely from grenade shrapnel. The wound was not as serious as his prior one, however, and he was able to receive field treatment from one of his company medics, Private First Class Antonio Cupero. One of the last of his unit to receive combat wounds, Bloomer continued with his regiment toward Austria for another five days before all hostilities in the European theater came to an end. The Germans had surrendered, and the war in Europe was over.
A seasoned combat veteran, Bloomer was able to finally rest and enjoy the occupation period. At some point, he was forced to leave his men and join the 736th Ordnance Company, where he was switched into the role of an auto mechanic for the trucks and jeeps of the division’s ordnance troops. It was during his stint in the 736th that Bloomer realized his second wound, received near Kaufering, had never been officially entered into the division record. With a Purple Heart proudly displayed upon his chest from his first injury, he wrote to the commanding officer of the 736th to explain the circumstances of his second wound to warrant an oak leaf cluster for the medal. The request was granted, and by the time he left Europe on 5 December 1945 Bloomer wore the Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, the Good Conduct Medal, and the European Theater Campaign Medal with two campaign stars.
Bloomer arrived home a few weeks later and officially left the army on 21 December. He decided to move back to St. Louis and spend yet another brief stint in the army. In the 1950s, however, he left for Evansville, Indiana to be closer to his family, who had moved to Hopkinsville, Kentucky before the war. Here Bloomer met and married his longtime bride, Shriley, and started a career at Key Ford in Evansville. He spent the rest of his life in the city, becoming heavily involved in his church, the VFW, and several fraternal organizations. An important and meaningful community member, Bloomer passed away surrounded by loved ones in 1983.