The story of a true Havre hero during World War II
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Major Thomas Brenan
I was reminded by the feature article on the Hi-Line region in the January 2012, issue of National Geographic, about the photo below that Havre readers may be interested to see. Shown is Thomas J. Brennan, who was the trainmaster at Havre in the 1940s, until 1943 when he was swooped up for his experience and knowledge to do something else: leadership of a railway unit supporting Patton's 3rd Army.
He was appointed commanding officer of a railway operating battalion that pushed its way across France during the fall and winter of '44 and spring of '45, and the unit was caught up in the Battle of the Bulge, to include running boxcars of ammunition right up to the location of firing artillery pieces situated beside the tracks.
In the photo, Brennan is holding a copy of the Dec. 7, 1944, edition of The Stars and Stripes Paris edition. This photo was likely taken in the few days after that edition was printed. On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans made their attempt to break through the line in the Ardennes Forest. The Battle of the Bulge followed and 19,000 American soldiers lost their lives; there were 89,000 American casualties. It was the largest battle in Europe during World War II.
Brennan returned to Havre after the war, but by the early '50s had moved with his work, for the Great Northern Railway, to eastern Washington state where he resided until his death in 1973.
He was awarded the Bronze Star and left the wartime service as a lieutenant colonel. An interesting note is that it was men of Brennan's battalion who drove the first train across the Rhine (at the city of Mainz) on April 14, 1945. The bridge had taken nine days to construct across a span of more than 2,000 feet. General Patton was aboard as he had been invited to celebrate the span's completion. As the train crossed into Germany, tugged by the spoils of a German locomotive in operation by the U.S. Army Military Railway Service, Patton remarked on the "irony of a German locomotive hauling American troops over this supposedly impregnable barrier."
Mount Vernon, Ill.