John Balbick of Batavia is shown here in 1945 with the tractor he drove hauling artillery and supplies for 256th Field Artillery Battalion during World War II.
John Balbick
Balbick was later drafted. He was sent to Scotland with the 256th Field Artillery Battalion.

The table by his favorite chair in the living room is stacked with books about World War II and a map showing the route his battalion traveled across Europe.

Balbick’s unit was responsible for providing support to troops wherever they were needed. Their trip to the Ardennes took them across England, France and Belgium.

His job was to drive a supply tractor on tracks hauling the 30-foot barrel of an artillery gun. The gun and its trailer weighed 13 tons, Balbick said. When assembled, the gun could shoot a shell eight inches in diameter and four feet long up to 20 miles. He said P-51s would identify their targets for them.

The Battle of the Bulge began at 5 a.m. Dec. 16, 1944, when the Germans began an offensive to split the lines of the Allied forces. The weather was freezing cold and prevented the Allies from launching their planes. Balbic remembers the snow on the ground.

To reach the Ardennes, Balbick’s unit had to cross the Rhine and he was the first, successfully driving his rig across platforms laid on pontoon boats which had been strung across the river to form a bridge.

In addition to hauling the gun, Balbick’s tractor was loaded with 350 gallons of gasoline.

“If I had gotten hit, I would have been gone,” he said.

Their position at the Battle of the Bulge was several miles behind the front lines. Balbick said they dug trenches to sleep in but the fighting was so fierce and close, when a shell landed near them, the ground shook so hard the dirt in the trenches would fall in on them.

“I finally decided to go sleep in my tractor,” Balbick said.

Balbick had several close calls, but luckily escaped being injured, although several of his buddies were killed. They were stationed in France when one of their men set up their radio in a parking lot.

“The Germans discovered it and bombed the hell out of us,” Balbick said. “I was standing next to my sergeant when he was shot in the arm.”

He said he was always in fear of being bombed or strafed by enemy aircraft.

He remembers a day when a German plane flew overhead with an Allied P-47 firing right behind it. The German crashed and Balbic said his engine was embedded 11 feet in the ground.

They were bombed again while picking up land mines. The Germans dropped a bomb killing two of the men in Balbick’s unit.

Balbick was discharged in January 1946 as a corporal. He received a Service Medal, American Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern World War II Victory Medal.

After the war, Balbick returned to Western New York. He and Gladys had known each other from Curtiss Wright, and met again one night at the Richmond Hotel, where she had gone to hear the organist. They started dating and were married in October 1947.

The Balbicks have four children, Judge Robert Balbick, Mary Anne Metz and Elizabeth Genesky of Batavia and Nancy Balbick of Wyoming.