PITTSBURG — Everyone kept asking him to tell his story.
So he made a book of his life.
Ninety-two-year-old Bryan Sperry published a book in 2012 called “The Life of a Country Boy” to share with friends and family about his life. He said many people were intrigued by his stories of World War II, teaching and bees and he hoped if the “young” read the book they “will have the courage and faith to live their life according to God’s plan.”
All the memories in his book, he said, are a blessing. The book is kept right next to his recliner in his room at arms reach where he resides in a retirement home in Webb City.
Bryan grew up in Lawrence on a small farm he helped take care of with his family.
He played football in high school and was on the varsity team.
His love of football and sports traveled with him all his life.
Throughout his college career he played sports, when he started teaching high school he coached sports.
At the age of 89 he had an opportunity to score a touchdown during an alumni scrimmage. His smile — which was from ear-to-ear — and video of him running down the field went international.
“Everybody had a lot of fun,” Bryan said. “I had friends in Europe who sent letters about that.”
Bryan began agriculture classes at K-State where he played football, but about a semester in he left and went into the Army — December 29, 1943 to be exact.
He said he was then 5 feet, 9 inches tall and 158 pounds — a bit taller than he is now, Bryan said with a laugh.
Bryan said his training did not come close to combat conditions.
After D-Day, from June 1944 to August 1944 he fought in the Battle of the Bulge — the final major German counteroffensive.
He was part of a division of 15,000 men and one of their first of four assignments was to be additional forces for four other battles.
“The Bulge was a surprise attempt by the Germans to split the allied forces,” he said. “This started on December 16, 1944 and ended on about January 27, 1945.
“The Germans pushed into Belgium and Luxembourg a distance of about 65 miles. Our division never gave up ground, and our regiment was in reserve at first in Belgium ,while our other two regiments were attached to the 3rd Armored Division to plug up holes in the line.
He said they were out in “a forest of fir trees with limbs weighted to the ground with snow.”
They dug fox holes in preparation for an attack.
Bryan said at precisely 3 a.m. on December 24, 1944 company K of the 289th Regiment of the 75th division was setting up a roadblock.
“A column of eight German tanks came up with the road and attacked our road block,” he said. “Richard F. Wiegand knocked out the lead tank with a bazooka.
“He was killed.”
He said he gives credit to Richard for saving his life.
“I have felt for years that this event may have saved my life since I was the gunner on an anti-tank gun not far from the spot,” Bryan said.
The rest of Bryan’s experience during the war included getting blasted with “screaming mimi mortars” and “American fighter planes had dog fights up there with the Germans, and occasionally a parachute would come floating down,” he said.
He also spent time in foxholes and he had many near-death experiences with shells and tanks surrounding him and his battalion at various times.
Many of these events were in the cold, which “was the coldest winter the coldest winter in 40 years. He said his hands stuck to the steel of the anti-tank gun — he didn’t have any gloves because they were not well prepared for the winter weather.
During and after the battles he witnessed the aftermath — homes, barns and more destroyed, along with the death of many soldiers.
Bryan himself shot down two aircraft.
His stint in the army was relatively brief, he was in for only a few years.
He didn’t really want to have a career in the military — Bryan wanted to be a teacher.
Because there were so many soldiers to bring back home, Bryan found himself at Shrivenham American University where he studied agriculture and joined the football team.
After leaving the military, Bryan received an acceptance letter for the University of Kansas University where he played football while earning his degree.
“I wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “Dad went to be a teacher and I know about it.”
He said his father was once a teacher and had many other obligations alongside farm life.
After completing his degree, he began teaching at a high school in Hiawatha.
The story of how he ended up in Pittsburg is quite interesting, his daughter Mlee Sperry said.
Teachers did not get paid during summer vacation and so her father decided to get a seasonal job. He met a beekeeper in North Dakota named Ben Gilberton. During the summer he would assist with the beekeeping. Ben was ready to leave the life of bees behind and so Bryan and his brother Ken decided to purchase the apiary. Soon enough, they realized beekeeping doesn’t sustain two families and so Bryan went back to school to pursue a master’s degree at North Dakota State University.
After the completion of his degree, as one does, he searched for a job.
He helped make hives here in Kansas when he became a resident.
With plans to work at a “large” university he decided to go with Pittsburg State University where he worked for over 34 years as a math teacher, retiring in 1995.
He created three math books, “Programmed Algebra,” “Programmed College Algebra” and technical calculus text called “Programmed Guide.”
Bryan and a few other professors created a special relay for math students called “Math Relays.”
The event got its name because the professors — who were all once coaches in the past — were fans of track.
“We decided to run mathematics like a track meet,” he said.
Bryan said “gobs” of students came to the event year after year.
“It is something they can do that is fun and they get a chance to see how good they are,” he said.
During his stint at PSU he was also a faculty advisor for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for 17 years.
Since he was a veteran of World War II, he had the opportunity to share his experience with students over the years.
As a veteran and someone who was young when sent to war, he encourages youth to realize that war can happen any moment.
Also, from someone who was once a “benchwarmer” in football who eventually made the starting lineup, anything is possible if people “take the word ‘can’t’ out of (their) dictionary.”
— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.