NAUGATUCK — For World War II veteran Martin Litschauer, the war was more about helping than fighting.
Litschauer, 93, a member of the Naugatuck Senior Center and a familiar face at Terri’s Flower Shop on Church Street, which is owned by his daughter, Lydia LeBlanc, served as a private in the U.S. Army during the war, but was not part of any unit. He served behind the scenes, ensuring the men on the front lines received whatever support they needed.
“I was assigned to anything they thought would help them,” Litschauer said.
Though he may move slower than when he was young, Litschauer still walks with the determined stride and strong grip of an enlisted man.
While sitting at a table at Terri’s Flower Shop, Litschauer pointed out a picture of him standing with British soldiers in Egypt with the Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx in the background.
“This is the area I was in,” Litschauer said.
Litschauer arrived in the Suez Port, Egypt in 1942. He made the journey from the Untied States on the Aquitania, the Titanic’s sister ship.
“It took 42 days to get from the United States to Egypt. We had to go all the way to South America, by Rio de Janeiro, [Brazil], Cape Town, South Africa, and then up. When we went into the Indian Ocean this ship was hit by a monsoon and it turned sideways. All the port hull windows broke on one side. It made a 90 degree list. Ten more degrees we’d all be dead,” Litschauer said.
While in Egypt, Litschauer said, he worked running supply lines, driving trucks, working as a mechanic, or anything else that needed to be done, such as assisting the 1086 Engineers in building a bridge.
“It had nothing to do with me, but they were in the area. Whatever was in the area and needed help, we were there to help them. We would help people in need,” Litschauer said.
Litschauer said the reason he ended up in Giza was to be part of a group of 10 soldiers who served as the personal guard of President Franklin Roosevelt at the Mena House Convention.
“That was the first meeting of the war to see what they were going to do, to see where they would send different troops, and to see who would fight who,” Litschauer said.
The conference was also attended by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces and future president of the French Republic, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Litschauer, who was 24 at the time of the convention, remembered that Roosevelt took time to speak with the troops.
“He said we were going to stay there and fight the war for him,” Litschauer said.
In addition to the Middle East, Litschauer also served in Europe, arriving in Italy during the battle of Monte Cassino.
Litschauer recalled the Germans had positioned themselves in the tunnels in the mountains around the area while the Allied troops were trying to break through.
One of the jobs the Litschauer performed during his 11 months in Cassino was to run supplies to the soldiers on the front lines.
“I could have been killed at any time. But I wasn’t in any specific outfit. I could be attached to and do the odds and ends they couldn’t do. They needed ammunition brought in right away; I’d bring it in and stuff like that. I helped out,” Litschauer said.
Even though he was in combat area, Litschauer said he did not see much combat himself.
“They taught me don’t get involved with this or that outfit. Do the things that they need. My job was to see that they were supplied with anything that they needed. We were a supply outfit. If they needed 1,000 motors for the trucks, they had a factory in Italy so we’d go in and make 1,000 motors,” Litschauer said.
Litschauer added, “My job was to see that everything was run properly, and they had the equipment they needed. I was in areas where you could get shot. I saved guys that were stranded on the road when I had a big truck. I came back from bringing ammunition or something, I’d pick up five, 10, 15 guys and bring them back to their outfits, or put them in an area where they could go back to their outfit. I had a lot of luck.”
Litschauer said his proudest moments in the war were helping others and making sure they had everything they needed.
“I was really proud of helping others. I tried to see that others had what they needed. If it was motors for trucks, I’d get them there,” Litschauer said.
Despite putting his life on the line to make sure others had what they needed to fight the war, Litschauer remains humble about his service.
“I was no hero, but I was there. I did my part,” Litschauer said.
Litschauer said by serving his country he was able to see some parts of the world, such as the city of Milan and the Sistine Chapel in Rome, which were beautiful, and some parts which had major battles raging in them.
“Some areas were just so combat active you just did what you had to do and got the hell out of there,” Litschauer said.
After the war Litschauer worked at the Reymond Baking Company in Waterbury, where he lives, maintaining the machinery. After retiring from the baking company, Litschauer worked at the Greater Waterbury Interfaith Ministries Soup Kitchen in Waterbury for 10 years. Since then Litschauer has helped out around his daughter’s flower shop.
After he finished talking about his past and service in the war, Litschauer paused and smiled.
“I’ve lived a good life. Everything was favorable to my life. Even when I was in the war zone,” Litschauer said.