For WWII veteran, role as warrior ends in injury after crossing Rhine
At age 29, he was still in top-notch physical condition after being a three-letter varsity athlete at Holley High School.
Uncle Sam, he figured, could put his muscle to work.
But when Ferris arrived at the bus stop in downtown Lockport for a military bus that would start his journey to the battlefields of Europe, he got the surprise of his life.
“I was standing waiting for the bus, and anyone who was east or west of Lockport and joining the military came there to catch the bus. I saw my younger brother, Mike, standing in line, and he told me he had enlisted. He lived in Hamlin and was also married and had children,” Ferris recalls.
Brotherly love and patriotism kept Don and Mike together for most of their service with the 1st Infantry Division, the famed “Big Red One.”
“We rode in boxcars through France to Belgium. They gave us long johns, sweaters, wool socks, boots that were rubber as far as your ankle and then leather; they called them shoe packs. When we got to Belgium, we got off, and the snow was so high,” Ferris says.
“A captain stood in front of us. He was going by the alphabet calling our names to assign us to different companies. When he came to the letter “F,” I was called ahead of my brother because the initial of my first name was “D.” The captain told me I was going to F Company. Then the captain asked me if Mike Ferris was my brother, and I said yes. He said, ‘Do you want your brother to go with you?’ And I said yes.”
So that was how the two brothers ended up fighting side by side.
“I was a bazooka man, and my brother carried the ammunition for me,” he says.
During the long marches, Ferris says, he noticed that Mike often groaned.
“He had flat arches, but he kept up with the rest of us. He had no choice,” Ferris says.
“When we finally reached the Rhine River, I went to a sergeant and said he can’t go any farther. His feet actually had swollen, and he had trouble getting his boots off. I’d seen his feet, they were swollen and red. A doctor looked at them, and they were pitiful. Two soldiers had to pick Mike up and put him in the Jeep.”
And so ended the war for the younger Ferris brother.
After crossing the Rhine, Donald Ferris says, his company continued pursuing the enemy deeper into Germany, and by the spring of 1945, U.S. forces had arrived at the Black Forest.
“There was this concrete highway, and we were driving on tanks headed to meet the Russians at the Czechoslovakian border,” he recalls.
“I was on the second of four tanks in a row. I was sitting by the turret when the No.?1 tank stopped, and then we did. But the third tank behind us didn’t, and its barrel hit me in the back and almost crushed me. The force of it flipped me over and sent me onto the concrete.
“I landed on my back and was hurt, but it was better than being crushed by the barrel.”
The injury ended his role as a warrior, which wasn’t so bad. He missed his family.
After he returned home, he and his wife, Mary Ann, had two more children, for a total of four.
Ferris, who played semipro baseball for a while, supported his loved ones as an auto parts salesman, covering the territory between Buffalo and Brockport “and all the little places in between.”
“I must have driven a million miles in the 40 years,” he says. “I worked as a salesman.”