Charles Francis Bruns, a native of Villa Grove and a World War II veteran, and Jill Knappenberger, a Champaign resident who also served during World War II were honored on the Senate floor Nov. 29 by State Sen. Chapin Rose.
As a baby, Charles received the nickname “Chickie,” which was later shorted to Chick. The nickname stuck with him throughout his life. Chick played in the Corn Belt and Eastern Illinois baseball leagues where he had a two-week tryout for the Chicago Cubs.
Chick joined the U.S. Army on July 31, 1941, and served with the 3rd Division, 10th Combat Engineer Battalion throughout WWII. He took part in five invasions during the war:
1. North Africa - November 8, 1941
2. Sicily - July 18, 1942
3. Italy - September 20, 1943
4. Anzio - January 22, 1943
5. Southern France - August 15, 1944
Throughout his European tour, Chick was also a witness to iconic events as:
1. Construction of a Bridge at Point Calava, Sicily known as "The Bridge in the Sky"
2. General George Patton beating British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery to Messina, Sicily
3. The Liberation of Rome
4. Crossing the Siegfried Line
5. The destruction of the swastika atop the Nuremberg Stadium
6. The Liberation of Dachau Prison Camp
7. The bombing of Hitler’s home in Berchtesgaden
Chick ended his military service on August 15, 1945, at the rank of Technical Sargent. His complete diary, photographs, and his letters home to his parents are preserved on the website 70yearsago.com.
After returning to Champaign, he was employed in August 1945 as a typesetter by the News Gazette, where he worked for 39 years.
He married Rita Marie Fleshner on January 10, 1946, and they had two sons, Charles Frances, Jr. and John Fleshner. After Rita’s death, Chick married Marian Ingerrsol in 1999. After Marian’s death in 2009, Chick continues to live in Champaign.
During his life, Chick served as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader. Chick was a Life Member of the Knights of Columbus, Life Member of the VFW #5520, and Life Member of the Disabled American Veterans. In October 2012, Chick and 67 other WWII Veterans went on an Honor Flight to visit the National WWII Memorial in Washington DC. On March 27, 2015, Chick was appointed to the rank of Knight of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest distinction. The French government pays tribute through this award to the soldiers who did so much for their country.
Jill volunteered for overseas duty with the American Red Cross during WWII and spent 19 months in the European Theater of Operations as a clubmobile operator. She worked with combat troops in the front-lines. In December 1944, she was caught in the Battle of the Bulge, where she witnessed her brother killed in action and was completely cut off from food, ammunition, and communication by enemy for six days.
Born in Evanston and later attending school in Bloomington and the village of McLean, and college at the University of Illinois, Jill currently resides in Champaign. She says it’s an honor and privilege to be recognized as a woman who served in WWII.