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Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015

Ray Bertness: Radio operator in WWII

Monday, November 11, 2013

Soldier Ray Bertness visited the cemetery in Luxembourg where his brother Phillip, who died in action during WWII, was buried for a short time. Phillip's body was eventually moved back to Sioux Rapids.
It was 72 years ago that Ray Bertness became a soldier.

Even after that many years, he still has vivid memories of the time he spent in England, France and Germany.

Anticipating that he would be drafted, the 21-year-old Bertness stepped up and went ahead and enlisted in the army.

He was inducted into the military in Des Moines and went on to Sacramento, Calif., leaving behind his new wife, Yvonne.

While the young man had been out of Iowa, he had never been to California so relished the idea of being in the warm climate.

Bertness was assigned to the signal corps and received training in New Jersey on radio operation and then was shipped off to England.

"I was always interested in electronics," he said, "and built a few radios when I was younger."

He was glad he was assigned to radio operation, he said, rather than being a lineman, which required pole climbing. He saw too often the men that slipped and slid down the wooden poles.

"You can imagine what those slivers did to them," he said.

There were many signal corp divisions throughout the country, each with some 200 troops, Bertness said.

The duties of the signal corps was very misleading, Bertness said, and full of lies, which benefitted the American troops. "Fake radio stations were set up with hopes that the Germans would fall for it," Bertness said. "Our division was successful."

The signal corp men sent messages back and forth throughout the country using continental code, similar said Bertness, to the Morse Code. Using this scare tactic, it was always the hope that when the Germans were listening in that they gathered from the messages that there was another army coming after them, which there was not.

The work was interesting, Bertness said, though he nor the other operators even knew the messages they were sending.

The radio operation headquarters was located in the woods which were part of the British estates, and the soldiers, who worked eight-hour rotating shifts throughout the day and night, lived in homes in town. Bertness said the American soldiers were very well accepted in the areas they were located and often they were invited into the homes for tea.

"I still have a cup a tea a day," he said.

Letters to and from his parents and wife were always looked forward to. He also corresponded with his brother Phillip who was also stationed in Europe.

The brothers had the opportunity to see each other once while in the service; Phillip had been wounded and was being treated in a hospital some 50 miles away from his brother. The camp commander made arrangements for Bertness to go see Phillip.

Bertness is thankful for that visit.

Phillip recovered and was put back on the front line. He was killed a short time later.

It was two years after the end of the war, Bertness said, that Phillip's body was transported back to Sioux Rapids for proper burial.

Bertness can still hear the roar of the "thousands" of planes that flew overhead, signalling that German's invasion had begun.

After the invasion, he said, the radio operators were left with little to do. There were strict orders to keep them away from combat and event stricter orders to keep them undercover so there was no chance of them being captured.

"We had too much to tell," he said, adding the commanders wanted their secrets kept under wraps.

Once the war was over, Bertness and the others in his division were given a 30-day furlough which gave them the chance to go back home. Once they returned, there were plans to send the trained radio operators to Japan to do the same mission but the idea was scrapped and instead they were send back to the states to finish out the completion of their terms.

They spent time in the New York area which allowed for weekend visits into the city.

For $1, Bertness rode the train into the city, took advantage of the free Broadway tickets and enjoyed the free troop meals provided by various organizations. He was able to see 14 Broadway shows while completing his military duty.

When his duties were up, he rode the train back to Storm Lake where he was picked up by his dad. There was no fanfare but it was a wonderful time for families across the country as their loved ones returned home from the war.

Patriotism runs deep in the Bertness family. Raymond Sr. served in World War I and Bertness' son Scott, of Vietnam War era, spent six years in the National Guard. Bertness has been a member of the Sioux Rapids American Legion for over 60 years.

He is glad he had the opportunity to serve his country.

Bertness and his wife Yvonne had the opportunity to travel to many places during their lives and even visited the areas where he had served in the military. Bertness lost his wife a few years ago after 63 years of marriage. He has three sons - Marc in Sioux Rapids; Scott in Des Moines; and Kevin in Chicago; a daughter - Jan in Florida; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.