“Bitter cold” is how World War II veteran, former Army Sgt. Mr. Morty Wernick, described the winter of 1944 and the days he spent marching across France, through Germany, and into Czechoslovakia. On Tuesday, April 7, Mr. Wernick sat in front of a classroom of high schoolers, prepared to recount not only the cold but as many details about his time in the service as he could muster.
With easy familiarity Mr. Wernick showed his humorous nature, joking with history teacher Mr. Michael Roper and the eleventh grade U.S. History students who listened attentively, almost too rapt with wonder to laugh as well. After watching a brief compilation of news clippings from the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Mr. Roper encouraged his friend and guest to “talk about anything you want, Morty” and so he did. In his friendly manner, Mr. Wernick told the class about landing on the wrong beach or, as he called it, “the easiest beach.” He still credits the lucky mix up that landed him on Utah Beach, instead of the much bloodier Omaha Beach, for saving his life. He explained that Utah had no German bunkers and the actual fighting only occurred past the beach behind the hedgerows, resulting in much less bloodshed.
After the successful invasion at Normandy in June, Mr. Wernick joined General George Patton’s Third Army on a campaign to liberate the German concentration camps. According to him, that campaign lasted through what he considers the coldest winter he ever experienced. It was so cold that even with sweaters under his uniform, scarves, hats, and gloves, there was no getting warm and “sometimes it snowed.” Mr. Wernick chuckled as he explained that whenever a soldier was brave enough to even poke a finger out of his glove to operate his weapon, it was so cold that the finger stuck to the trigger.
Besides the bitter cold, Mr. Wernick remembered the feeling of walking into German occupied towns and villages, and seeing the relief on the faces of the people they helped. Mr. Wernick spent nearly an hour telling his stories from that particular trek, sharing pictures, showing awards, and answering all of the students’ questions about the war. He walked them through his very own movements, his vivid recollections of 1944, his steps through each city, the plans and commands of his general, and expressed his joy at having survived it all. The students felt truly privileged to find themselves immersed in the living history of Mr. Wernick’s memories. In the end Mr. Wernick expressed how honored he was to be in that classroom. When the students objected Mr. Roper explained that they were all present because of Mr. Wernick’s sacrifices and each of them was a reminder that everything he had lived through was worth it.