First Army World War II Veterans Recall V-E Day
by U.S. Army Warren Marlow
June 12, 2020
With more than 100 years of service to the nation, Soldiers of
First Army look to their history as guides in uncertain times. This
year, First Army joins the world in celebrating a milestone 75th
anniversary of Victory in Europe Day, or V-E Day, when Nazi Germany
surrendered to the Allied Forces and fighting on the continent
Written into that history is the story of two veterans
of World War II who experienced the conflict firsthand, including
the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Andrew Kiniry,
98, and Jack Appel, 96, shared their experience 75 years ago.
Kiniry (left) served as a First Army medic during the war and
noted that he was in uniform for three years, three months, and
Despite his age, Kiniry could still rattle off precise dates of
the movements of his unit and the numbers of Soldiers assigned to
those units. A resident of Minotala, N.J., his time in the military
began near his current home in August of 1942.
“I went into the service at Fort Dix, N.J., and five days later
they put us on a train and shipped us down to what is now Fort
Gordon, outside of Augusta, Ga.,” he said.
In the European theatre, Kiniry served in the 45th Evacuation
Hospital. He was not part of the initial Normandy invasion, arriving
on Omaha Beach the week after D- Day, but he still had plenty of
wounded Soldiers to treat.
“When we hit the beach, it was cleared of all fighting but it was
a sea of activity because of moving equipment in,” Kiniry said. “We
got transportation to a town several miles inland and that’s where
our first setup was. It was a 400-bed hospital and my job was taking
care of injured Soldiers.”
Specifically, Kiniry tended to
operative and post-operative patients. Besides possessing medical
acumen, Soldiers stationed there had to be adept at tearing down and
setting up tent hospitals in order to move with the ever-shifting
“The Army said it would take nine minutes to put
them up,” Kiniry said. “But I tell you, after you put up a few of
them, particularly if it was hot, you’re not making that kind of
One day, Kiniry’s unit caught a break from raising
tents when they occupied a school building that served as a
makeshift hospital. But in that building, Kiniry would participate
in one of the most famous battles of the World War II.
went on duty at 8 o’clock at night on the 15th of December, taking
care of patients,” he said. “At 5:30 the next morning, we’re getting
things ready for breakfast and so forth. There was a strange sound,
a whistling sound. That was the beginning of the Battle of the
A few hours later, things got more intense when the
Germans attacked an ordnance depot that sat about 200 yards from the
“The Germans lit the whole area up,” Kiniry said.
The Americans had hung blankets around the windows for a
blackout effect. Luckily, those same blankets also blocked some
“If it hadn’t been for the blankets,” Kiniry said,
“People would have really got cut to ribbons, I believe.”
Kiniry moved around 150 patients into an air raid shelter. In the
shelter, he and his patients could do little more than wait and
“I was terrified,” Kiniry said. “I never held a gun in
my hand when I was in the service,” Kiniry said. “If our GIs hadn’t
stopped them, we could have been in big trouble. Our infantry and
artillery were able to hold them back. We repaired the building the
best we could so we could receive patients again.”
weeks later, the battle ended in Allied victory, a precursor to the
end of European fighting.
On V-E Day, Kiniry found himself in
the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimar in central Germany.
Even for a wartime medic accustomed to seeing atrocities up close,
he said it was a harrowing experience.
“That was the most
horrible sight I’ve ever seen. I don’t want to see another sight
like it,” Kiniry recalled. “These people were supposed to be human,
but they didn’t look like it. They were skeletons. I cannot really
describe how horrendous it was to see these people treated like
animals, even worse. To me, the severest punishment is not enough
for the people who did this.”
Due to the fragile state of the
victims, their condition required Kiniry and his fellow Soldiers to
treat the inmates with extreme care for the next two weeks.
“You couldn’t handle them like you did a wounded soldier,” Kiniry
said. “Ours were hurt, yes, but the concentration camp inmates, you
had to watch how you touched them. The way we brought them into the
ward, we put them on a litter. There were four of us and we’d each
take a corner of a sheet and pick them up and set them on the bed
because you couldn’t just roll them over. You were afraid to touch
them. You tried to do as little damage as possible and I don’t think
we did any.”
Kiniry and his fellow Soldiers also had to take
care when feeding the former prisoners.
“With the food, they
would point at their stomach and shake their head after eating half
theire food, they couldn't take that much of it," Kiniry said.
"Their stomachs were so shriveled they just couldn't take the food.
For their treatment of those at Buchenwald, Kiniry and his
fellow Soldiers received a commendation from the U.S. Surgeon
Kiniry helped treat First Army Soldiers as a medic, fellow Soldier
Jack Appel (left) served as a messenger with the 17th Signal
Operation Battalion, which was attached to First Army during the
Appel had skipped two years of high school and was within a
semester of graduating college at 19 when his draft notice arrived.
“I asked for a deferment so I could graduate and the draft board
would not give it to me,” he said. “While going to college, I worked
as a night telephone operator. Because of that, they assigned me to
the Signal Corps.”
But he almost never made it to Europe, or anywhere else, after
coming down with spinal meningitis after attending basic training
for a month.
“I lost the hearing in my left ear, I was dying, and the Red
Cross sent for my parents,” said Appel.
After a 56-day hospitalization and a four-week convalescence,
Appel made his way to First Army headquarters at Clifton College in
Bristol, England. He was part of a contingent left there on D-Day,
he said, in case the D-Day invasion failed. He arrived in Normandy
four weeks later and worked in the message center of First Army
“We were always with the headquarters,” he
said. “We could be two miles from the front or 40 miles from the
front, depending on how fast they were going.”
Being deaf in
one ear sometimes made for unusual experiences.
a German plane dropped two 500-pound bombs on the farm field where
we had our tents and I didn’t hear a thing. All I remember being
raised off the ground when the bombs fell.”
Appel found himself in Buchenwald on V-E Day.
had left already and the camp had been taken over by the prisoners,”
Appel said. “We went through the whole camp that day and the sights
and the smells were unbelievable.”
Appel said that because of
his near-fatal bout with spinal meningitis, he kept his distance
from the prisoners. But he would always remember what he saw there.
“I did walk around the camp and I saw the dead bodies,”
Appel said. “They were piled up like cordwood outside of the
crematorium. The next day, the camp was closed by the medics.”
After the war, both men started the next chapter of their lives.
Kiniry worked as a machinist. In 2019, he made his way back to
Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany to receive commendations. Decades
removed from the war, Kiniry saw a sincere appreciation for his
service in World War II.
“They come up and shake your hand
and it was genuine, not something put on,” Kiniry said. “I didn’t
like the war but it had to be and I was glad to be able to do it.”
Appel worked as a Wall Street broker. He received the French
Legion of honor in 2008, which he called the highlight of his
military career. Like Kiniry, Appel saw the appreciation of grateful
nations in one of his many trips to World War II battle sites.
“I go every couple of years and I was there for the 75th
anniversary of D Day and had my picture taken with the president of
France,” Appel said. “He came up to shake my hand.”
Stateside, the Boca Raton, Fla. resident maintains a lifelong
passion for bowling, which began at age 5 when his father owned a
Brooklyn bowling alley. Appel has qualified for several National
While their service days were long ago, those
times are not forgotten. Now an appreciative world – one that would
look very different without heroes like Kiniry and Appel – takes
time to remember what they and their fellow Soldiers did 75 years
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