JANESVILLE, Wis. — They were sitting ducks.
Two young men crawling across a minefield — one with a missing foot, the other a medic with six weeks of first-aid training and a bag of crude battlefield medicine.
Exposed and moving across a field of schu-mines, the medic helped the wounded man crawl back to safety.
That was Germany, 1945. The story of those two young men has now been recorded 74 years after that incident as part of a Janesville Leadership Academy project, "Through the Eyes of Rock County Veterans."
The academy is working with Drywater Productions, a video production company based in Janesville, to preserve veterans' stories. The videotaped stories will be preserved in the Rock County Historical Society's archives and will be available as learning tools for schools and community members.
In most cases, the veterans are telling their stories. But in the case of Elmer Gosda — the young man who lost his foot in the minefield — the recounting came from his 98-year-old wife, Lily, and the couple's youngest daughter, Kathy Schick.
Lily described her husband as a "wonderful man."
"The kids loved him as much as I did, if not more," she said to The Janesville Gazette.
Lily wasn't thrilled when, at 21 years of age and with two young children at home, Elmer enlisted in the Army.
"He didn't tell me he was going to enlist," she said. "He knew I would have something to say about that."
But Elmer's four brothers had enlisted, and he also wanted to serve his country.
In March of 1945, Elmer was with the 232nd Infantry Regiment serving with the 42nd Infantry Division, also known as the "Rainbow Division." He was 17 months into his hitch when he stepped on the mine, meaning he was with the 232nd while it was serving in northeastern France and southern Germany.
It had been the worst winter in decades, and troops suffered in miserable conditions, according to an online history of the 232nd. At the beginning of February, 1945, the 232nd was in charge of reconnaissance and combat patrols in the Rhineland region in western Germany.
Elmer's commanding officer needed someone to venture out and conduct reconnaissance. Nobody wanted to do it, because they knew the fields were full of schu-mines — tiny, anti-personnel mines that were difficult to detect because they contained very little metal.
"He raised his hand," Lily said. "He volunteered."
The mine blew off part of Elmer's foot and calf. He shouted for a medic.
Rollin Hurd, 19, who had about "six weeks of first-aid training" according to Lily, was ready to rush out into the field, but his commanding officer told him, "No."
Rollin ignored his orders.
"(Rollin) said to him, 'I came here to save people, not to watch them die,'" Lily recounted.
When Rollin reached Elmer, he put sulfa powder on the wound, gave Elmer a shot of morphine and asked him if he could "crawl out of there" with help.
Rollin went first, looking for the mines' calling cards: tiny divots sticking out into the ground. Elmer followed, but occasionally his wounded leg would get snagged on a tree branch or some other obstacle. Rollin would crawl back, move the leg to a better spot, and the pair continued on.
"They got him out of there and put him on a stretcher," Lily said. "Then my husband got off his stretcher, and stood on his one good leg and shook (Rollin's) hand. Doc Hurd said he never forgot that."
In the late 1990s, Rollin used an internet search to track Elmer down, Lily said. Although the two men never had the chance to meet again in person, they spoke on the phone and corresponded.
Elmer died in May 2002. In October of that year, Lily and some of her children traveled to Tucson, Arizona, to meet Rollin.
Elmer Gosda's story wasn't the only one shared. Other veterans also shared tales of their work on submarines, service in Korea, service as military police officers in Germany or service as members of the Wisconsin National Guard during the Vietnam-era riots in Madison.
Leadership academy members talked to the veterans at Blackhawk Community Credit Union's administrative offices on Kennedy Road and at Blackhawk Technical College. The group will soon record another round of stories.
A Facebook group for "Through the Eyes of Rock County Veterans" is open to anyone who wants to see updates about the interviews.
Along with their value for future generations, the stories will benefit current veterans. Drywater Productions plans to produce a video of the interviews and premiere it at a VetsRoll fundraiser May 5 in Beloit. The fundraiser will benefit VetsRoll and assist with mental health care for veterans.
An AP Member Exchange shared by The Janesville Gazette.