Raymond Groeger was born Oct. 25, 1917. When World War II began he was attending the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. Rather than face the possibility of being drafted, he decided to enlist after one year of college on Jan. 22, 1941. Assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, he was sent to train at Camp Pickett, Va.

Raymond met his future wife, Emily, shortly before being sent on deployment when she was visiting Washington, D.C., with a friend. Emily has described it as being love at first sight.

Raymond’s first letter of correspondence to Emily after they met was a V-Mail dated June 20, 1943. He was sailing on the USS Charles Carroll to North Africa on what was the 45th Infantry’s first deployment since World War I. The letter is one in which young love has blossomed and Raymond is feeling a sense of adventure for things to come. This was the beginning of an amazing journey, for him as a soldier and for him and Emily as a couple. In it he writes:

“Emily I am well, and happy. In fact, I am happier than for ages. Why is a puzzle. Maybe because monotony has ended and excitement is ahead.”

Raymond could not possible foresee the long journey ahead of him nor the sights he would see. The following month, the division, also known as the “Thunderbirds,” landed in Sicily, where it engaged Axis troops in combat. After advancing up the Italian peninsula, the 45th landed at Anzio in February 1944, where it withstood repeated German assaults against its positions. Cutting across the country, the unit was sent to southern France in August. It quickly advanced through western France, reaching the German border by the end of the year. In March 1945, the Thunderbird division crossed the Rhine River and headed south. On April 20, it captured the city of Nuremberg and on April 30, Munich. On April 29, 1945, the 157th Infantry, to which Raymond was assigned, was the first to encounter the Nazi Jewish concentration camp of Dachau and the first to witness the horrors and atrocities that had occurred within its walls. Raymond’s division then made its way into the heart of Nazi Germany, all the way to Hitler’s Eagles Nest.

The 45th fought 511 days of combat, the longest of any division during World War II. Raymond was awarded the Purple Heart for an injury — he had caught shrapnel in his shoulder.

Raymond and Emily continued their letter writing throughout the war, and afterwards they were married. After the war, Raymond went back to college to finish his education and enjoyed a wonderfully prosperous life. He and Emily settled in Woodland Park in 1976 and had 14 children and 31 grandchildren. He became a family doctor in the area. He passed away on Dec. 7, 1990, and is buried at the Woodland Park Cemetery. Emily still lives in Woodland Park and enjoys spending time with her family and sharing her scrapbook memories of the life she had with husband with her grandchildren so that they will always remember their adventures.

To learn more about the 45th Infantry Division, please join me at 2 p.m. Dec. 5th at the Woodland Park Public Library  for the presentation “Always Forward: the 45th Infantry Division’s 511 Day Journey from Sicily to Dachau,” which is part of the “Letters Home: A History of War Through Letters” exhibit at the Woodland Park Public Library through December.

A note to our military veterans: the Florissant Public Library will re-schedule the January veterans breakfast to May, to be held in conjunction with Armed Forces Week. Please check back for details next spring.

Michelle Petrazzoulo is the Library Director for the Rampart Library District. Contact her with questions or column ideas at 687-9281 or michelled@rampartlibrarydistrict.org. For more information, visit rampartlibrarydistrict.org.

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