Part 3 of 4. Part 1 posted on 1-16-04. Part 2 posted on 1-25-04. Article originally published October 2001 in Molalla (OR) Pioneer newspaper.
Molalla retiree twice won Bronze Star for WWII heroism
by Greg Thomas Hough
In January 1945 began the stories of Ora E. Hellemn's Bronze Star-worthy heroism.
"We came to an area with two little German towns (Tetingen and Butzdorf)," he recalled. "There were German fortifications on the ridge near Tetingen, and snipers firing at us from a house there.
"We came out of the woods to walk through about a fourth-of-a-mile stretch that separated the two towns, heading for Butzdorf."
Their intent, Hellemn said, was to secure the town for the Allies, while awaiting reinforcements.
"We were getting fire from everywhere -- people were getting hurt," said Hellemn. "Something hit my rifle and took the stock right off of it.
"I dropped my rifle and laid in the snow, deciding what I was gonna do next. My squad leader, Harry Baker, had been hit, and there were guys that'd been hit who were laying all over the snow."
After a second round of mortar, Hellemn got up and continued toward Butzdorf. "By the third round, they usually hit their target," he said.
Of 90 men who marched through the field, only 17 made it to Butzdorf. Hellemn was one of them.
His rifle made useless, Hellemn headed back toward Tetingen to get another one, braving more fire. He encountered his squad leader, still badly hurt and not moving, on the way back.
"I wanted to get Harry," he said. "In Tetingen there was a captured German medic who could speak a little English, and he said he'd go with me.
"We were able to pick up Harry and get him back to town, and somehow we didn't get hit."
Hellemn said they didn't settle for rescuing only the squad leader: "We decided at that point to get other people who were down."
Still avoiding being hit by fire, they were able to rescue about 10 others. They loaded all the wounded in an old abandoned American medical jeep (risking that the jeep might've been boobytrapped by the Germans) and made four trips to an AID station 10 miles away.
"We were getting shot at, and we later found out there were a bunch of land mines on that road," Hellemn said. "But apparently because there was a lot of ice on the road, and because the jeep wasn't heavy enough, the mines didn't go off."
Those who stayed in Butzdorf were able to capture the town, after reinforcements came. And though he didn't know it at the time, Hellemn would receive a recommedation for his first Bronze Star from Harry Baker, who spent three years in a VA hospital because of his war wounds.
"I never found out what happened to Harry, until at one of our squad reunions (in 1986) I heard that he was still alive," Hellemn said. "So I went to Springfield, Ohio (where Baker still lives) in 1987 to visit him."
Baker told Hellemn that he though he'd been captured by the Germans, because he'd heard the German medic's voice.
"He had shrapnel in his head and legs, and they didn't think he was going to make it. He still walks with a limp," Hellemn said, tearing up again.
There was to be more heroism from Ora Hellemn during the war: just two months later, in March 1945, he found himself leading another rescue mission.
While fighting through the German line on Germany's "Western Front," Hellemn and his fellow soldiers found themselves on the banks of the Rorer River, after a bridge over the river was blown up.
"One of the guys in the squad got hit by a mine, and was killed instantly," he said.
"I bent over him to check him out, and in doing so I tripped on a mine -- but because I was bent over, the bearings that came out of the mine were fired away from me. The mines there were designed to hit people who were standing."
After this, yet another close call for the 23-year-old Hellemn, he and four other soldiers were ordered to cross the river and set up a roadblock.
"After we crossed the river, a guy in our squad got hit by shrapnel," he said. "I gave him first-aid, after the other guys had fled, and then drug this guy back across the river."
For his bravery in rescuing a fellow soldier, Hellemn was awarded a second Bronze Star citation in 1945.
Part of the official military commedation for Hellemn's second Bronze Star reads: "His unselfish courage, many times displayed, is in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service."
Part 4: The spoils of victory