Editor's note: This is part of a weekly series published each Monday between Memorial Day and Veterans Day honoring local veterans.
WARREN - The day before John Rumancik was supposed to leave for a possible professional baseball career, he was drafted by a more powerful team - the U.S. Army.
Rumancik, 22, then a talented baseball recruit, was drafted into the military on Dec. 5, 1942.
Tribune Chronicle / Raymond Smith
World War II veteran John P. Rumancik shows his dog tags from when he was in the U.S. Army.
"My baseball career was put on hold," he said.
Instead, Rumancik traveled to Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, where he was assigned to the Battery C of the 370 Field Artillery Battalion in the 99th Division, where he was trained to work with radio and telephone communications.
"It was at the induction center that I would meet with Carl Shefron, who somehow stayed with me from that time through the majority of my military career," Rumancik said. "We became best friends."
While in the combat zone, Shefron and Rumancik watched out for one another.
"He was a light sleeper and I was a heavy sleeper," Rumancik said. "No matter where we were - sleeping on the ground in the open or under some trucks - I would tell him to wake me if he heard any kind of noises."
In basic training and, later, during his advance individual training, he learned how to operate radios, lay telephone lines and to fire howitzers.
Today, Rumancik, 93, lives in a senior condominium village in Warren, with his second wife, Virginia. He is both saddened and wistful when talking about the friends he made and those he lost during World War II.
His unit left the U.S. in 1944 by ship from Boston, traveling to England joining a convoy of ships. As they traveled across the Atlantic, the ship commanders maintained radio silence and only communicated by pulling next to one another and sending messages via ropes and pulleys.
"On our fifth day out, we had a sub alert," Rumancik wrote in a handwritten journal. "Everyone had to be on deck. In fact, we watched as one of the ships was torpedoed and went down."
Destroyers converged on the area where they believed the submarine was located and dropped depth charges.
"In a short while it seemed like the whole ocean was shaking from the explosive charges," he said. "We never found out if the submarine was there and had been destroyed."
When they arrived in South Hampton, England, they discovered that the ship that went down had much of their equipment on board.
Once they received new equipment, the artillery unit moved to Ardennes, France, about 60 miles from the front.
While in Europe, Rumancik described his unit being involved in many fierce battles that helped to slow German advances, including one in Bastonge, Belgium.
"The losses among the allies were heavy," he wrote.
At about 5:30 a.m. Dec. 16, 1944, his unit received heavy artillery fire. There were reports of about 2,000 heavy artillery PCs firing shells into the American sectors. When the barrage ceased, they learned that three German armies of some 200,000 men charging against 83,000 Americans GIs, which started what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The Battle of the Bulge was part of Hitler's last-ditch effort to defeat the allies.
"His aim was to drive through Luxembourg and Belgium and capture to Port of Antwerp," Rumancik said. "He wanted to split the American armies in the North and the Canadian and British armies to the South."
Because he was in an artillery unit, Rumancik said it was seldom that they had to battle the Germans face to face.
Not wanting to give away their positions, they, for the most part, did not use their radios. Instead, they laid telephone wires from the artillery to the forward units.
"There were days when we would place three lines of wire and all three would be shot out," Rumancik wrote. "We would have to walk the wires until the breaks were found."
After the Battle of the Bulge, Rumancik said the units in which his artillery unit was attached were in many other combat missions.
"Wherever we went, German aircraft were flying over us," he said. "We were taught not to use flashlights or even smoke cigarettes because they would use the lights to bomb us."
During one raid, Rumancik described a bomb landing just feet behind him.
"I'm blessed to be here today," he said.
After crossing the Remagen bridge, they learned that the Germans had it lined with explosives that could have been set off at any time.
"We still do not know whether the explosive did not go off or we just over ran the bridge before the explosive could be detonated," he said.
There were air battles to keep the Germans from destroying the bridge. During the nights, there were large balloons set up on cables in an attempt to keep the German planes from diving through to bomb the bridge.
"Finally, after the third day, the bridge fell in, not from a direct hit, but from concussions from the air strikes," he said. "It is hard to say what would have happened to us if we went over the bridge."
When they finally got into central Germany, he described heavy fighting.
"However, the more we moved east, the resistance diminished," he said. "In fact, some days we took so many prisoners that we stripped them of their guns and told them to head west and someone would take them prisoners."
Rumancik's division was pulled out and sent into Austria to make an assault across the Danube River. Three days later, they received word that Germany surrendered and the war was over.
Rumancik was discharged on Dec. 8, 1945.
After returning to Ohio, he returned to his job at Van Huffel, married his girlfriend, Helen, and raised a family. Several years after his wife died in the early 1990s, Rumancik married his current wife, Virginia.