Pete and Tom DeBrular: Brothers In Arms.

On Tuesday, we introduced you to Pete DeBrular, the Garveston Twelve and our quest to find Pete’s living relatives.  Yesterday, on Letters From War Wednesday, we featured Pete DeBrular’s last note home, written on June 2, 1944, just two days prior to his death at Garveston, England.

Today, we are pleased to announce that we located Pete DeBrular’s brother, Tom, who himself has an amazing story of life and death while serving with the 62nd Seabee Battalion on Iwo Jima.

The five DeBrular brothers grew up in Cromwell.  Pete and Tom were the youngest, close in age and relationship.  Their father died when Tom was just one-year-old, leaving their mother to raise five boys on her own during the Great Depression.  It proved too much.  Tom’s mother died when he was just nine.  And his brother, Pete, was only eleven.

The three eldest DeBrular brothers were old enough to fend for themselves.  But Tom and Pete had nothing, but each other.  The pair was sent to an orphanage, the Indiana Masonic Home, in Franklin, Indiana.  “Thank the good Lord, Dad was a Mason,” Tom said.  “Pete and I had nowhere to go.  The Home was there for us, when we really needed it.  To this day, I have very fond memories of the place and the people.”

Sgt. Pete DeBrular - 492nd Bomb Group

Pete graduated in 1941 and soon after fell in with the U.S. Army Air Corps.  Following stateside training, he joined his crew at North Pickenham, England as part of the 856th Bomb Squadron, 492nd Bomb Group, 8th Air Force.  Pete served as a waist gunner aboard a B-24 Liberator, piloted by Lt. Ray Sachtleben.

Tom graduated from the Masonic Home’s high school in 1943.  “My brothers were already in the Army and the Air Force,” Tom said.  “They all told me to do something different.   So I went to Toledo to see about the Navy.  There’s this Navy Petty Officer, with this big old beer belly and he starts telling me about the Seabees, the Construction Battalion.  Well, it’s sounding pretty good.  My whole family had been in construction or carpentry. Heck, my grandfather was a carriage maker during the Civil War.  So I signed on with the Seabees.”

While Pete and his crew mates were seeing to bombing runs over Northern Europe, Tom was rebuilding Pearl Harbor.  “We spent thirteen months there, fixing it back up after the attack,” he said.

Rigorous combat training followed on Maui.  “They really worked us hard,” Tom continued.  “We trained on every kind of weapon you could imagine.  After three months, we were ready.  We just weren’t quite sure for what.”

It was also while on Maui that Tom found out about the death of his brother, Pete.  “That was tough,” Tom admitted.  “We were about as close as brothers could get.  Pete had kind of always looked out for me.  And just like that, he was gone.  My commander said that I could take the rest of the week off, but that wasn’t going to bring Pete back.  I just kept at it.”

Tom DeBrular - 62nd Seabee Battalion

On Christmas Eve 1944, Tom DeBrular and his 62nd Seabee Battalion boarded a vessel bound for Iwo Jima.  “When we got near the island, those ships were just blowing that place to bits,” Tom said.  “I think we all kind of thought that there wouldn’t be anything left.  We were wrong.  Of course, the Japs were all hiding down in the protected tunnels and caves, just waiting for us.  The first waves went in on the morning of February 19.  They allowed our guys to land.  Things got stacked up.  Then they hit us.  It was brutal, just terrible.”

The 62nd Seabees washed ashore only days later.  “The tanks couldn’t get anywhere on that soft sand and ash,” Tom explained.  “The tank tracks would just spin.  We had to lay steel matting down to get the tanks off the beach and onto the hard pan.  Once there, they really started doing some damage.  The tanks, with their flamethrowers, were very effective at burning out the caves and bunkers.   They would just light those things up.”

Almost immediately, the Seabees began working on runways.  “That’s why we wanted Iwo,” Tom said.  “That’s why it was so important.   I remember seeing the first plane land.  It was a spotter plane, a piper cub.  And it made it.

“I got assigned to a grease truck, me and this corn-fed Iowa farm boy.  He was a sweetheart, just the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet.  He’d do anything for you.  I was supposed to be the driver.   Only one problem—I’d never driven a car in my life.  Heck, I grew up in an orphanage.  I never had anything, including a car.  Well, I struggled.  After a couple of days, this kid from Iowa says, ‘Would you like me to drive?’

“I said, ‘Absolutely!’

“They’d line those dozers up along the runway, and we’d go down and grease each one.  That ash and sand really fouled things up on the dozers, so you had to keep them lubed up.

“Of course, the Japs didn’t want us get those runways up and running, so they kept bombing us.  I remember the one day they came bombing the runway I was on.  I was with this crazy Cajun from Louisiana named, Jimmy Foxx.  The D8 dozers were huge and set up pretty high, so we crawled underneath this thing for protection.  So we’re lying on the ground, underneath this dozer and I look over to the side and this Jap bomber comes crashing down, with both engines on fire.  This thing’s sliding right for us.  I literally peed my pants.  I thought we were goners.  At the last second, this bomber veers off and slides across the runway and comes to rest in a ditch.  The fire reaches the bomb bay and those bombs start blowing.  Then the ammunition starts burning off, shooting everywhere.  I’ll never forget it.”

The 62nd Seabees would spend the remainder of the war on Iwo Jima.  Following VJ Day, Tom hitched a ride home aboard the USS Cummings. In 1948, he married Geraldine Schlabaugh.

Tom DeBrular - Battle of Iwo Jima Veteran

In 1998, in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary, Tom and Geraldine flew to England.  While there, they were able to visit the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, the final resting place of Tom’s beloved brother, Pete DeBrular.  “The people there were just wonderful,” Tom said of the experience.  “The wind and weather has been hard on the stones, so the guy had to rub the writing with water, then with sand, to make it legible.  It felt good to see where Pete is buried.”

And now, some 14 years later, thanks to the truly amazing residents of Garveston, England, another visit may be in the works.  Stay tuned.

3 Responses to “Pete and Tom DeBrular: Brothers In Arms”

  1. Ronald Buskirk says:

    I have heard Mr. Tommy *(I say that with respect) relate this story a couple of times and the faith he has is never changed. His belief in a higher being clealy shows through all that has crossed his path.

    Mr. Tommy, I applaud you for ALL of you sacrifices and work then and now for our World, Nation and Community!

    Ron B

  2. Steve Kaluza says:

    And Tom DeBrular doesn’t look a day older than the day I met him.

  3. Bill Ellis says:

    Mr. DeBrular,
    I really enjoyed your story. I have a friend, Arnold McKerely, from Alabama that was in the 62nd Sea Bee Battallion and has also related many stories to me. I would like to write a thorough story about him and the 62nd Sea Bee Bat. However, I have had a hard time finding information. If you have additional info that you would like to share or a source for more info, I would greatly appreciate it.


    Bill Ellis 205-602-2019

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