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Lieutenant Colonel William Brustman

3rd Platoon, H Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment

Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry  Regiment

William Frank Brustman was born on February 17th, 1919 in Obernburg, New York to Jacob and Mary Brustman. He was was one of nine Brustman children in the small farming community in rural New York and graduated from the nearby Jeffersonville High School in Jeffersonville, New York. He enlisted into the US Army on September 11th,  1941,attending boot camp at Camp Croft, South Carolina. About halfway through his training, the  Japanese attacked  Pearl Harbor. In an interview with the Tri-County Independent, he was quoted to say:

“Everything in my life, at that point, seemed to change. I just remember it so well. You were constantly reminded by noncommissioned officers and the officers over you that this is going to be a war. No more fooling around in training. You’d better get serious and put everything you have into it. And I must tell you, that it sorts of set me on fire. I competed against everyone in my platoon and I soon became an officer. “I must tell you; I just had a high school diploma. I did not get an opportunity to go to college. And when I became an officer, I was in competition with regular Army Officers, West Point Officers, college commissioned officers. I did not have any of that, so I just tried harder. I wasn’t going to be outdone by someone on my right or my left,” he said. “I was short on education, but I was not short on motivation."

He served  as an enlisted man, reaching the rank of Staff Sergeant prior to entering Officer Candidate School, graduating in 1943. He was then assigned to M Company, 3rd Battalion, 361st Infantry Regiment, 91st Infantry Division as the commanding officer of the company's 81mm mortar platoon.

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World War II: Let 'er Buck

The 361st Infantry Regiment was the first of the 91st Infantry Division’s units to deploy to Italy, sailing aboard HMT Samaria. The British transport shop steamed into the Naples harbor, the American soldiers offloading and moving inland to a staging area near Bagnoli, Italy, 16 kilometers away. They were assigned to VI Corps, and following a welcome speech given by the fifth Army Commander Lieutenant General Mark Clark, the regiment was assigned to the 36th Infantry Division. It was common practice in Italy to rotate inexperienced regiments between more seasoned divisions, allowing the regiments to gain valuable combat experience prior to engaging the enemy within their organic division. The 361st Infantry Regiment stayed with the 36th Infantry Division for about a week before being assigned to the 34th Infantry Division where they would see combat against the Germans as the 34th Infantry Division advanced along Highway 1. 

Brustman’s platoon remained in reserve with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 361st Infantry Regiment until June 16th, when the battalion assisted the regiment’s 2nd Battalion in assaulting Pointe d’ Istria. While 2nd Battalion was engaging the heavily dug-in German garrison in the town, 3rd Battalion crossed the Ombrone River via an abandoned dam single file before advancing from the east towards the town. The battalion was reorganized at 11:00 AM and promptly marched 1.5 miles through thick brush to launch a surprise attack on the German forces in the town. K, L, and I Companies assaulted the town, with K and L Companies flanking towards the north to capture two hills while I Company assaulted directly from the east. 
K & L Companies assaulted Hills 61 and 66, taking the hills by 7:30 PM that night. Private First Class Thomas Gibson, a member of L Company, was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross during the fighting. During the battle, he personally destroyed two German machine gun positions, cleared a German block house, and was credited with at least sixteen confirmed kills.

Brustman, then a First Lieutenant, was present at the battle, assisting K and L Companies in their flanking maneuver. When K & L Companies assaulted the two hills, Lieutenant Brustman put his mortar platoon into action. Despite intense mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire, he advanced through open terrain and established a forward observation post well ahead of the rifle platoons. Despite being under constant enemy fire, he adjusted the fire of his mortars, directing it on German strong points. For his courage, he was awarded a Commendation for Meritorious Service certificate awarded by the 91st Infantry Division headquarters, but it is believed this was upgraded to a Bronze Star Medal for with ‘V’ Device for Valor.

In an interview conducted following the war, Brustman spoke about his time in service during World War II, saying "in each case, the bullets were flying, and you receive casualties... you must deal with the casualties you receive and  that could happen on a daily basis." 

I Company assaulted with all its platoons abreast, advancing through an olive grove and an open field, resulting in heavy casualties as the Germans utilized extremely accurate mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire. By the end of the day, Ponte d’ Istria was captured, inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans, and capturing 80 prisoners of war.

Brustman fought with the 91st Infantry Division from the moment the division set foot in Italy to the end of the war, fighting in the vicious campaigns to break the German’s Gothic Line, finishing the war with the capture of Treviso. The 91st Infantry Division was then transferred to the city of Gorizia on the Yugoslav border. While there, Brustman saw some of Field Marshal Tito’s troops in the city, moving through the streets below his quarters.


In 1989, Brustman was retroactively awarded a Bronze Star Medal for Meritorious Service during World War II, which was likely an upgrade for a second divisional certificate for service in the fight to break the Gothic Line.

Click on a photo in this slideshow for a closer look or click on the arrows at the edges of the slideshow to look through the photos.

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