Local World War II vets honored by Long Island tank museum

US Army Circuit. Jim Andreadis was a teenager in April 1945 when he made history.

That month, the Brooklyn soldier and his unit helped liberate the Nazi-run Ohrdruf concentration camp, one of the most gruesome sites of World War II and the first camp closed by US troops. .

Andreadis and his division dutifully guarded the grounds of central Germany with tanks as Adolf Hitler’s reign crumbled.

“It was a difficult time,” said the heroic veteran, now 96, of his wartime service.

Some 77 years later, Andreadis’ heroism will be honored Thursday at a Veterans Day ceremony on Long Island with fellow vet Sgt. Julius Fiorini, 99, of West Babylon.

The event at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage is a tribute to soldiers who flew battle tanks in the fight against European fascism on the 80th anniversary of the Sherman tank.

“This is, unfortunately, probably the last call to reconnect these veterans with their mounts,” said Gary Lewi, a museum spokesman.

The Museum of American Armor’s M4 Sherman tank will be the centerpiece of Thursday’s ceremony, honoring crews who fought European fascism in the tank.
American Armor Museum

The war vehicle is considered the crown jewel of the museum’s collection and will be shown in action during the ceremony.

The Sherman – a medium tank manufactured in the tens of thousands and deployed by several American allies during the war – was a mainstay in the fight against the Axis powers.

With lighter armor and smaller guns than most German main battle tanks, Sherman crews had to outwit and outmaneuver their Nazi enemies in order to ambush and overwhelm Third Reich forces.

“You had to be incredibly brave,” Lewi said of the men manning the Shermans. “It’s not really a tank issue, it’s a GI issue.”

Andreadis’ first time boarding a Sherman was as an 18-year-old city boy fresh out of high school when he was made “gunner”, who loaded the small tank’s main gun.

“The first Shermans, they were lightly armored,” Andreadis, who now lives in Hempstead, told The Post.

“They had a 75mm gun which didn’t do much damage, especially to the Tiger,” he said, referring to the dreaded Nazi heavy tank.

Yet when asked about his earliest wartime memories, he laughed.

“Lousy food,” he said.

Pfc.  Jim Andreadis when he was 20.
Pfc. Jim Andreadis when he was 20.

In December 1944, his unit was nearly sent to reinforce Allied positions during the Battle of the Bulge – the brutal German counterattack near the Belgian border. Instead, the tanks were sent east to liberate the Ohrdruf concentration camp.

After Andreadis and his division liberated the camp, which was littered with piles of rotting corpses, US General George Patton called the defunct camp “one of the most appalling sites I have ever seen”.

“[It’s] history,” was all Andreadis would say about the fateful mission.

Andreadis’ unit was then sent to Czechoslovakia, where they were told to meet the allied Soviet forces, who were on the front lines fighting the Nazi soldiers.

“They were very tough,” Andreadis said of the Russian troops. “We expected soldiers like us, in full uniform. But very few had uniforms — they [just] had a cap with a red star on it.

After encountering Russian troops on what would soon become the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, Andreadis said, they were given “30 days to get out of Czechoslovakia” and when the war officially ended he was in a field outside the Czech town of Pilsen. , mounted on his Sherman.

He was ordered to remove his belongings from the tank and soon found himself working as an army mail clerk, trading 75mm shells for letters for the rest of his enlistment.

“I went from a tank to a jeep,” he joked.

When Andreadis returned from the war in 1946, he was 20 years old and frustrated.

“No money, no education – thank goodness for the GI Bill,” he said.

Andreadis perched atop his Sherman in Czechoslovakia after the cessation of hostilities.
Andreadis perched atop his Sherman in Czechoslovakia after the cessation of hostilities.

The vet then studied structural engineering and built a career in the New York area.

Andreadis said he planned to attend Thursday’s ceremony with his son and daughter and had invited his parish priest.

The ceremony will involve a moment of silence for all service members who died in their Shermans.

“They don’t teach World War II in schools anymore,” Andreadis said when asked about the significance of Thursday’s ceremony.

“The United States was lucky [in the war]”, said Andreadis. “We have not suffered here. [Americans] really didn’t know what war was like.

“I saw cities razed to the ground,” he said. “It really rocks you.”

Additional reporting by Natalie O’Neill

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