Veteran shares memories of being at Battle of the Bulge
By Hank Beckman For The Sun November 13, 2012 9:20AM
Navistar employees listen as Al Mampre, a former employee of the company, talks about his service during World War II. | Hank Beckman~For The Sun
Updated: December 15, 2012 6:16AM
Sixty-eight years after one of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War, the memories of it remain firmly planted in the memory of one participant who tried his best to patch up the wounded.
Al Mampre, now in his 90s, served as a paratrooper and medic in Easy Company, part of the 101st Airborne immortalized in the 2001 mini-series “Band of Brothers,” and famous for its actions in the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
The Oak Park native spoke recently to about 200 people at Navistar’s corporate headquarters in Lisle.
“I wanted to be a paratrooper,” he told the audience of his enlistment in Texas, where he was studying for the ministry. “I was kind of a daredevil anyway.”
Mampre spoke for about a half hour on both his experiences in the war and his 28-year career with Navistar, the company then known as International Harvester.
He praised Lt. Herbert Sobel, the training officer played by actor David Schwimmer and depicted in the mini-series as a tyrant who failed in actual combat.
Though Mampre agreed that Sobel wasn’t cut out for combat, he praised his contribution to the company’s success.
“He was a terrific training officer but the men of the company didn’t feel he had the capabilities to be a combat officer,” he said. “It was because of Sobel that we were able to do some of the things we could do.”
Mampre joked about becoming a medic and his training for the job, saying he learned most of what he needed to know as a Boy Scout.
“I was a terrible shot,” he said with a laugh.
Mampre said the most intensive part of his training was leaning how to use a hypodermic needle by practicing on an orange.
“I never ran across an orange in combat, though,” he said, drawing a big laugh.
Mampre jumped with the company into Holland in September 1944, where he was wounded, sent to England to recuperate before being rushed back into duty for the Battle of the Bulge.
He related two incidents that have stood out over the years more than any others.
Right before he was wounded himself, Mampre attended to a fallen officer and couldn’t tell at first if the man was still alive, so he asked him, “Are you dead?”
The man didn’t hesitate before saying, “No, but I don’t know why the hell not.”
The other occurred shortly later in the same action.
Mampre was hiding in a doorway while the battle raged on in the street and listening to a Dutch woman screaming out the word “dead, dead,” in her native tongue. Suddenly a female hand reached out from the door and began feeding him cherries.
Home from the war, Mampre completed his studies at UCLA and Pepperdine University, married his sweetheart and together they raised three daughters.
His career with International Harvester began at the McCormick Works in Chicago before the plant closed and moved to Melrose Park.
At Melrose Park, Mampre was training director, handled public relations and was responsible for management development, testing, and recruiting.
He recalled being a new hire in an era where so many other Harvester employees got their jobs through family connections.
“People would ask, ‘does your father work here,’” he said, noting that he kept his mouth shut and let people think whatever they pleased.
A noted accomplishment during his career at Navistar was developing a testing system that would allow people to be hired and promoted fairly.
After speaking, Mampre became the first World War II vet to sign the cab of a restored “Red Cross Clubmobile,” a 1944 International Model H-542-9 used to provide aid and comfort to troops in the war.
Mampre spoke of the meaning of Veterans Day.
“It’s important to remember vets and let them know they are appreciated and to make sure their efforts are not slighted,” Mampre said.
As for today’s era of soldier, Mampre said he has met quite a few and compared them to his generation.
“I think we have another Greatest Generation,” he said. “I think we’re in good hands.”