GRINNELL, Kan. (KSNW) — Born in 1921 in rural northwest Kansas, Fred Bixenman was the oldest of five. He says his formal education ended in the eighth grade once the Great Depression hit, which resulted in him taking over the bulk of the responsibilities on the family farm.
When he was 21 years old, he was drafted into the Army in November 1942—assigned to a unit in the 265th Quartermaster Battalion. In July 1944, Bixenman would set sail for England as part of a field bakery unit. But shortly after he arrived, his unit was ultimately disbanded.
“Got there, and they said, ‘Well, we didn’t need a field bakery anymore,’ so they sent me back to Liverpool and put us in a small, small, small company, 30 men,” Bixenman said. “I worked on a fifth floor in a large warehouse there, and the officers and my job was to keep all the inventory cards up to date. Every month, the supply sergeant from different outfits would come in and draw supplies for whatever company soldiers needed.”
But it wasn’t always desk work Bixenman had to worry about. At one point, Bixenman would be assigned to pick up an Italian prisoner in London and bring him to Liverpool.
“I had a reputation of doing odd jobs, or getting odd jobs, I should say,” Bixenman said.
While staying overnight in London, Bixenman heard the sounds of bombs being dropped in the distance.
“It wasn’t a very high-altitude thing, they just come ‘put, put, put, put, put,’ but I was up there in the hotel room, I said, ‘I’ve been here a long time, I hope I stay one more night ’til I get out of here,’ which I did, but there was nothing to do but hope they didn’t drop it there,” Bixenman said.
Bixenman never knew what became of the prisoner he was assigned to bring to Liverpool. But it wouldn’t be the last time he dealt with enemy soldiers. After the war ended, Bixenman would be reassigned to a supply unit in Oslo, Norway, where (for a brief period of time) he oversaw 75 German soldiers.
“I got a notice one morning that said, ‘You’re going to be in charge of these Germans today,'” Bixenman said. “Pretty leery to start with because you didn’t know they just lost the war, and last week, if you saw one, they’d shoot one of you. I got along real good with them. A matter of fact, I kinda liked those Germans once it was all over with.”
Bixenman would also oversee Norwegian civilians at the warehouse, many of which were extremely grateful for his presence after suffering years of German occupation.
“The Germans, they took everything that the Norwegians had, you couldn’t buy a hairpin there…and the food for the people there, if you give them anything, they’d just turn over back there for you,” Bixenman said. “My name was Fred, so when I greeted all the people there, they’d grab me and then say, ‘We’ve been waiting for you for five years,’ come to find out, my name in Norwegian meant ‘peace,’ so that was something like that just left me in awe.”
As a token of their appreciation, Bixenman’s Norwegian workers fashioned him a horse of precious silverware—a gift he holds dear to this day.
Bixenman would leave Europe in 1946. He says he can still recall what his unit was told by a superior officer the day they were honorably discharged.
“[H]e shook our hands, and we went out the door, and he said, ‘Never forget where you’ve been, what you did, and what you observed,'” Bixenman said.
Bixenman would go on to serve as a Sheridan County Commissioner and the Grinnell VFW Post Commander for many years. He celebrated his 102nd birthday in February and continues to help with community events honoring area veterans.
If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Hannah Adamson at firstname.lastname@example.org.