A few weeks ago, I was able to acquire a few things from a triple awardee of the Combat Infantry Badge off of eBay. Sadly, the seller had split everything up but I am quite happy with what I was able to keep together from Lt. Col. William “Bill” Brustman.
Brustman was born in 1919 in Obernburg, New York to Jacob & Mary Brustman. Growing up in rural New York, he was always ready for an adventure to escape the plows, tractors, and pumpkins in the rolling foothills. Like many young men from across America, he would begin boot camp in September of 1941 at Camp Croft, South Carolina. Just a few short months later, the nation would be shaken to its core on December 7th, 1941.
“Everything in my life at that point seemed to change. I just remember it so well,” Brustman said in an interview by the Tri-County Independent, his local newspaper. “You were constantly reminded by noncommissioned officers and the officers over you that this is going to be a war. No more fooling around in training. You’d better get serious and put everything you have into it.”
The encouragement by his higher-ups set a fire in the then private as he graduated OCS with nothing but a high school diploma. In competition with regular army, West Point, and college commissioned officers, Brustman stayed strong to achieve his very best, being quoted to have said: “I was short on education, but I was not short on motivation.”
His first taste of action overseas would be in Italy, assigned as a mortar platoon leader in the 361st Inf Reg, 91st Inf Div. He would go on to serve in Rome, the Po Valley, and the North Apennines Campaigns. To commend his achievements, Brustman would receive the Bronze Star. One documented case of Brustman’s heroics is in the form of a certificate given by the 91st Division. On June 17th, 1944, Brustman’s unit came under attack by two axis rifle companies. Immediately as the first casing hit the Italian soil, his mortars began to fire rounds on the attackers. Without regard for his wellbeing, Brustman rushed out in a storm of enemy artillery, mortars, and small arms fire to establish an observation post to accurately adjust his mortar strikes. He served with the 91st in every campaign they fought in World War Two, taking 18 days to smash through Bologna, the Po Valley, and the forced surrender of Italian and German troops in the Alps.
Following his service in Italy, Brustman would go on to serve in the Occupation forces in Germany and the Berlin Brigade. However, with a new decade comes new conflicts. In the far east, the Korean Peninsula was embroiled in a civil war with the South rapidly falling apart as both Korean armies and American forces approached Pusan, the last holdout for South Korea. Brustman would be in the thick of it all, serving as a company commander in the 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division from 1950-1951. I have not been able to identify any specifics on his service in Korea however I believe he was involved in Pusan and Seoul.
Once again, Brustman would find himself in Asia, serving as a MAAG advisor to the 13th Inf Reg, 9th ARVN Inf Div. It would be during Vietnam when Brustman would both earn his 2nd bronze star (a retroactive award for his WW2 service) and his final promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.
For twenty-three years, William Brustman served in the Army, fighting in Italy, Korea, and Vietnam. He would earn two Bronze Stars and three Combat Infantry Badges during his service. In 2007, he would be recognized by the state of New York for his service, being inducted into the NY State Senate Veterans Hall of Fame.
After his time in the army, he would return to his hometown and take up a humble life of pumpkin farming. When being honored in 2007, he saw a table filled with his military accomplishments and around him politicians and veterans. However, his “pride and joy,” his biggest accomplishment, was a photo of his 722-pound pumpkin which was a first-place winner in a local contest.
He would always care for his men and would be concerned for their well-being.
“In each case, the bullets were flying, and you receive casualties… you must deal with the casualties you receive and that could happen on a daily basis…”