You have probably seen him walking in North Bend every morning. Ninety-three-year-old Burt Mann has seen it all. As a World War II veteran, Mann has been all around the globe, from living on the street, to fighting in a war, to owning a business.
Mann grew up on the streets of Chicago. His parents died when he was young, so he ended up homeless. Eventually he was taken in by a butcher who gave him a job and a place to sleep.
Mann worked there for a few years and eventually left to make it on his own.
Years later, when he was 21, Mann and some friends were spending an average Saturday night having barbecue spare ribs, when they heard the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked.
“Within three days I enlisted,” he said. “Not only me, but every American there.”
That began Mann’s long journey acorss the earth. He first went to Camp Claiborne in Louisiana, then known as “the hellhole of the South.” It was hard for Mann to take orders after spending his life as a tough punk in Chicago. He had to learn to follow orders the hard way.
He trained there for three months before getting the call to go overseas and fight in the war. At pier 27 in New York, Mann and his fellow soldiers were packed on to the SS Nieuw Amsterdam, a Dutch ocean liner used as a troop transport for most of the war and the second largest crew ship in the world at that time.
It took 12 days to get to Scotland. From there they traveled in boxcars into England, where they trained for D-Day. Preparing to fight on D-Day was very difficult for him. As Mann explains the story his eyes drop, the pain of his memories is written across his face. He holds back tears as he describes his feelings before going into Normandy.
“I prayed to God, ‘save me God I don’t want to die,’” Mann recalled. “I wasn’t the tough guy I thought I was. I was nothing, I was afraid.”
On June 6, 1944, the waves coming into the beaches of Normandy were so rough, the Higgins boats they rode were being overturned. Soldiers were drowning before they ever made it ashore.
“I cut off all my gear and I waddled into shore. I got behind a blown out jeep, stuck my head in that muck and didn’t move,” Mann said. “They couldn’t kill us all, that’s why I’m here. I wasn’t as good as my buddy next to me, but my time wasn’t up I guess.”
On the third day of fighting he was hit by shrapnel and was sent back to England for several operations. Mann carries those “souvenirs” to this day.
After his operations, he was sent to the Riviera for rest and relaxation. He remembered the massive cafeteria there as being beyond his expectations. Anything from a peanut butter sandwich to a filet mignon was available.
“I got nauseous from all that good food because I was used to eating K-rations. Here it is, you’ve got everything in the world in front of you and you can’t enjoy it,” Mann said.
After his recovery, he thought he was going back home but instead, he was sent to Manila, Luzon, the capital city of the biggest island in the Philippines. Mann wasn’t ready to fight again, but he didn’t have a choice.
While in the Philippines, Mann and his fellow soldiers were preparing to invade Japan, but after about a month or two of training the U.S. ended those preparations by dropping the “A-bombs.”
“They took us from Luzon and we had to go and do police work in Yokohama, Japan for two or three months,” Mann said.
When his time in Japan was up he was able to come back home.
“So I left from New York and came home to San Francisco,” Mann said. “At the government’s expense, I got to see a lot of the world.”
Once back in the U.S., Mann got married, started a family, and served as a police officer in Chicago for 12 years. Eventually he bought a restaurant and tavern and was able to put his two sons through college. He moved to North Bend when he was 69.
Now Mann is very happy with his life and says he has no regrets. He found more purpose and happiness after becoming a Jehovah’s Witness seven years ago.
“I never had God in my life,” Mann said. “You want to know what it’s done for me? It’s taken all the horror and bitterness out of me, everything is gone, it’s unbelievable.”
Now you can see him making his daily rounds on North Bend Way, talking to all the people he meets.
“I go out every morning usually between 7 and 7:30 (a.m.) and preach the good news,” Mann said. “I was against the world, but now I’m with the world.”
Burt Mann has lunch with some friends, Snoqualmie Police Officers Grant Boere, Scott Bruton, and Police Chief Steve McCulley.